SyncToy File Synchronization from Microsoft
by Alan German
everyone knows that I'm a sucker for file synchronization
utilities. So, when I found out that Microsoft was giving
one away, I could resist taking a look. SyncToy follows
in the fine tradition of PowerToys where useful utility
programs developed by Microsofts in-house
programmers are made available outside of the Windows'
operating system. While SyncToy is dedicated to the
specific task of file transfer between two directories,
it does offer a useful range of intelligent transfer
In most synchronization programs, one directory is
typically named as the source and appears on the left of
the program's main window. The second directory is named
as the target and, as you might have guessed, is shown on
the window's right side. SyncToy uses a somewhat
different screen format and terminology. There are
designated left and right folders but, depending on the
transfer option selected, either of these can be the
source or the target for any given file.
One option is to synchronize the two directories such
that any new or updated files in one directory are copied
to the other directory (i.e. file transfer occurs both
ways). Similarly, renaming or deletion operations that
have been conducted in one directory are repeated in the
other. Thus, this option gives the best of both worlds -
all the most recent changes made to either directory are
made to the other, and the files in the two directories
end up being identical.
Another file transfer option is Echo, which copies new
and updated files from the left folder (source) to the
right folder (target), and repeats any renaming and
deletion of any files in the right folder that have
occurred in the left folder. This option essentially
mirrors the source directory to the target, and hence is
very useful for file backup operations.
The other options make your head spin! They're probably
easier to follow if you think solely about the file
directories being the left and right folders. The
Subscribe option copies any updated files from right to
left but only if the file name already exists on the
left. No renaming or file deletion operations are
conducted with this option. The Contribute option copies
new and updated files from left to right. Renames on the
left are repeated on the right. No deletions are
repeated. In Combine, new and updated files are copied
both ways, but nothing happens to renamed and deleted
files. So, pick your poison. There has to be an option
for everyone here - somewhere!
The good news is that SyncToy lets you assign multiple
folder-pairs and each folder-pair can have
different synchronization options assigned to it. And,
not only can you choose one of the file transfer methods,
you can also specify which files should be included, how
the file comparison should be conducted, if
sub-directories are to be included, and if deleted files
should be sent to the recycle bin.
Running SyncToy involves selecting a folder-pair from a
pre-defined list. A Preview option runs the selected file
transfer method and displays the results without making
any changes to either directory. As noted earlier, the
file display differs from most other synchronization
programs. There is no two-panel display, with full
listings of both directories, and the various changes
identified with colours and arrows. SyncToys
display is pretty basic, with just a simple list of the
files to be transferred, and each change, based on the
prescribed options, having an action (e.g. New, Delete)
associated with specific source and target folders,
occupying a single line. There is a check box for each
file listed that can be left as Active or
turned off to prevent the transfer or deletion from
taking place. Pressing the Run button processes all of
the active file transfers.
Depending on your intentions, and the options you have
set, some care may be needed before committing to the
previewed file transfers and deletions. For example when
using the Synchronize function, files deleted in the
right folder will be flagged for deletion in the left
folder, rather than the still-available files in the left
folder being copied to replace the deleted files in the
right folder. Similarly, an updated file in the right
folder will be set to overwrite the equivalent file in
the left folder. Synchronize effectively looks at the
newest action conducted on a file as the basis for its
proposed action If you are trying to keep the right
folder as a backup of the left folder, you should select
Echo rather than Synchronize.
As a partial safeguard, both delete and overwrite entries
are displayed in red, to highlight these pending file
operations. Nevertheless, at least initially, it would be
prudent to check each line of the file transfer preview
display to ensure that the proposed action to be taken on
the source and target directories is indeed that desired.
In addition, there is an excellent set of help files that
describe all of the programs operations, complete
with exemplary screenshots. So, before you commit your
data to SyncToys actions, the help menu is
certainly worth a visit.
The program provides options to change the
file-synchronization method, and the other options that
have been chosen, for any folder-pair that has been
selected on the main screen. It also allows scheduling of
a file synchronization task, and the ability to run a
selected group of folder-pairs or all of the available
folder-pairs in a single file-transfer session.
One minor downside of this program is that a comparison
produces small hidden files both named
SyncToyDirectoryId.txt in the two directories
being included in the comparison. The programs
operation hints at the existence of such files by
indicating that it is retrieving prior comparison data.
However, it isnt clear to me why any such
information needs to be stored. It shouldnt take an
age to conduct a real-time directory comparison of
whatever changes have been made recently. Still, for most
users, these files will remain hidden and - being out of
sight, out of mind - will not constitute any problem.
This review is based on an older release (Version
126.96.36.199) of SyncToy that runs under Windows 2000.
Nowadays, Microsoft is positioning Version 1.2 of the
program (SyncToy for Windows XP) as an adjunct for
digital photographers (see:http://www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/using/digitalphotography/prophoto/synctoy.mspx).
SyncToy for Windows XP (Freeware)
Originally published: December, 2006
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The opinions expressed in these reviews
do not necessarily represent the views of the
Ottawa PC Users' Group or its members.