Software Spotlight: FreeFileSync

So I have a 3TB Western Digital MyCloud at home. I got it with good intentions – you never want to have anything you can’t afford to lose in only one place. The only problem is, the “syncing” software it comes with (I use quotes because it literally doesn’t work), is some of the worst software I’ve ever used. It’s right up there with HP printer driver software, Adobe software installers, and the bloatware that comes with Lenovo/HP PCs as far as “this makes me want to go play in traffic” level of frustration:

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This is the product download page for my NAS. Do I need My Cloud, Quick View, SmartWare, Sync, or Access in order to get everything working? The answer is yes, and even then good luck getting anything to sync. It only syncs certain file systems. Certain file types. External drives are not supported. You cannot force a manual sync. If one thing doesn’t sync right it breaks the whole process and you have to rebuild the database (a command nestled in the bowels of the admin console), remove and re-add the drive from the software, and more often than not completely re-install all of the software you had to get in the first place. 10/10, WD.

In a last ditch effort to get everything working, I went to the support forums and the general consensus is, “why are you using WD’s sync software”? Enter FreeFileSync, a name I read practically every post.

A couple housekeeping items before we jump into that, though. First, WD decided to have my NAS default to a DHCP address, because apparently we want our storage devices pulling new IP addresses all the time. Neat. Set it static and reserved the IP on my router. The only other thing I had to do was map the drive by its UNC name to a drive letter. At this point I snagged the software and loaded it up in a matter of seconds.

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The interface is very simple, and has lovely red and green buttons to guide you. The concept is simple: Source on the left, destination on the right. You save each pair of sync entries to a configuration file that can then be customized to your liking.

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Again, source on the left and destination on the right. You can queue up as many directories as you want. Hit “Compare”, and it’ll tell you what’s different. I’ll go into the comparison and sync variants in a second.

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Obviously, your speed is determined by how everything’s connected, but that many items in under 9 minutes is pretty decent in my book. Keep in mind this was from a regular SATA HDD over ethernet to my NAS.

5There are 3 basic sync variants, and then a custom setting as well. Basically you can decide on a per-sync pair basis how you want the sync to function. Two-way compares each side at the same time and keeps them looking alike. Mirror keeps the entire source synced to the destination. Update would be the equivalent of an incremental backup.

6There are 5 categories for the sync variants, and a customizable action associated with each. From left to right: Item exists on left (source) only, item on left is newer, conflict/item cannot be recognized, item on right (destination) is newer, item exists on right only. If you follow the action icons as shown above, this means that the configuration is set up to copy the file from the source to the destination if it doesn’t exist, update it if it’s newer, update the destination if something goes weird, update the destination even if the source is older, and delete whatever’s on the destination that isn’t on the source.

You’ll have to do a bit of thinking before you commit to a variant. Since I can get to my cloud from anywhere, I want to make sure it’s a two-way sync. If I had it set up as a mirror, the second I saved something to it via my web login, it would delete it the next time my PC at home checked in. Sad day. But FreeFileSync (which I will now refer to as FFS… ffs.) is only half of the picture. Fasten your seatbelt, we’re going to make this thing sync in real time.

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The software download comes with RealTimeSync (which I will now refer to as RTS, which should please you Starcraft players), which turns your one-time sync configuration into a proper syncing application. The first thing you need to do is save your FFS configuration as a batch file. This will determine you how each sync process will perform.

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Once you open RTS and open the saved batch file, it will do the rest for you. You hit the big “Start” button, and it tucks itself away in your taskbar and waits for changes. That’s literally it.

I feel like I don’t even need to give the disclaimer “for being free…” with this software. It’s brilliant. It’s open-source and being constantly updated. It’s easy to use and works flawlessly. Really makes you wonder why a company as large as Western Digital can’t even come up with something that works half as well as this does. Stick to making unreliable hard drives (I love you Samsung EVO), and stay out of the software market, WD.

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