Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
Linux Part 18
by Alan German
These days I
am almost Windows-free, as I use Linux for almost all of
my computing needs. Nevertheless, there are still some
tasks for which I still resort to Windows, and these are
mainly related to making backups.
Typically I make full image backups of my hard drive
using Acronis True Image and, while the rescue CD runs in
a Linux environment, and could be used to create backups,
I still find it convenient to boot into Windows and use
the hard-disk version of the program.
Similarly, even though I now routinely run inosync to
provide a real-time backup of my data partition (Exploring
Linux Part 16), I still like making
intermediate backups of certain file folders, and even of
the entire data partition, on my hard drive. For these
tasks I was using PC Magazine's wonderful (but,
regrettably no longer free) WMatch utility program, and
Microsoft's free SyncToy utility, respectively.
But, there are equivalent Linux programs available for
the latter. It's just that I haven't got around to trying
any of them. Well, at least, I hadn't until now!
I decided to start small and look for a utility that
would make a backup of a file folder on the hard disk to
a USB memory stick. Yes, I know that earlier (Exploring
Linux Part 9), I said you could do this with
rsync, but this is a command line program, and even using
a bash script file doesn't make the process all that user
A lot of chat on the web suggests using Unison, an
open-source utility that includes a graphical user
interface; however, use of this package isn't
straightforward as it seems to require some considerable
tweaking of file permissions before it will successfully
Then, I came across FreeFileSync on SourceForge touted as
...an open-source folder comparison and
synchronization tool... optimized for highest performance
and usability without restricted or overloaded UI
interfaces. This sounds perfect for my purpose!
FreeFileSync comes in both Linux and Windows flavours,
but take care which operating system you are running when
you go to download the package. The choices offered are
those for your current OS so, if you want a Linux
version, download it on your Linux box.
The download arrives as a .tar.gz file, meaning that it
is a compressed tar archive a Tape ARchive or
tarball compressed using the GNU zip (Gzip)
protocol. I researched how to unpack the tarball and
expected to have to use the terminal command: tar
-zxvf FreeFileSync_v3.9_Ubuntu_10.4.tar.gz, where
the switch z filters the file through gzip, x indicates
that the files in the archive are to be extracted, v
produces a verbose listing of the extracted files, and f
indicates that the archive file name is provided.
But, then I found a much easier way to achieve the same
result. Simply double-clicking on the .tar.gz file in
Ubuntu brings up the File Roller archive manager,
complete with an Extract button! I created a FreeFileSync
folder and extracted the files from the archive. Included
amongst these was a file named FreeFileSync. This is the
executable version of the utility.
Double-clicking on this file brought up the program. Now,
it was simply a matter of selecting the source folder on
my hard disk, and the target folder on my USB memory key,
by browsing both drives, and pressing the Compare button.
Well, maybe it wasn't quite that simple. To my mind, the
browse function is enabled a little clumsily. Simply
clicking on the browse button only gives a list of places
on the system that are already specified. I found that I
needed to select Browse Other in order to open up
a tree directory from which I could readily select any
particular drive and folder of interest. Not terribly
directory comparison only lists files that are different
between the source and the target. In the case shown, the
text file for the current article, and an associated
screenshot, have not yet been backed up to the USB drive.
To do so, all that is required is to press the
Note (in the text displayed just above the synchronize
and compare buttons) that the program has been configured
to mirror the source files on the target
drive, with files being compared based on their date-time
stamps. Any new files in the source folder will be copied
to the target, any updated files will be overwritten in
the target folder, and any files deleted from the source
folder will be removed from the target. This ensures that
the target folder is maintained as an exact copy of the
While these are my preferences for a backup system, the
program is configurable using the two cog-wheel type
buttons. File comparison may be made by date and time, or
by file content. Synchronization can be set to be
two-way, mirrored, updated (no target deletions), or even
customized to the user's preferences. Deleted files can
be sent to the trash, to a folder of the user's choice,
or erased immediately. The Advanced menu option allows
considerable further configuration of the program,
including language selection, and a global setting to
ignore one-hour time differences (daylight savings) on
The Help menu is relatively brief, but very informative.
The basic program operations are clearly described with
the use of coloured illustrations. More complex tasks to
be undertaken by the advanced or specialized user are
explained in some detail.
One final idiosyncrasy of the program worth mentioning is
that, while the program ran fine on my Ubuntu 10.04 test
bed, it refused to run at all on my Ubuntu 8.04 LTS
production machine. The workaround for the latter turned
out to be truly bizarre download the Windows
version of FreeFileSync and install and run this
version of the program under Wine! However, the good news
is that, for this setup, the browse function leads
directly to a tree directory, and successful completion
of a folder synchronization is terminated with a pleasant
musical trill from the system speaker.
Personally, having used WMatch for many years, I find the
lack of a list of all files a little
disconcerting, but perhaps I can assure myself that the
end product is indeed a true backup copy, and so a
display of only the new and/or changed files is all that
is really necessary. Time and additional use of
FreeFileSync under Linux - will tell!
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Ottawa Personal Computer Users' Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON K2G 1S6
opinions expressed in these reviews do not necessarily
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