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Mac backup/synchronization
July 30, 2014 8:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a user-friendly way to synchronize folders between OS X machines. These are in different locations, and they need to talk to each other securely.

I'd like a way to propagate changes on any machine to the others, relatively quickly. If possible it would be great to preserve change history, but I realize that's not necessarily feasible.

Things I've thought about and decided don't work:

-- cron and shell scripts; would work but I'm sure whatever I'll write will have bugs, and I don't want to deal with fixing them; plus, presumably someone has solved this problem

-- version control á la git: ideal except that the people that will be using these systems are not computer-literate and don't wish to be; so a solution will need to be automatic, basically. Currently the users transfer files using USB sticks.

Anyway, thanks for any help/advice -- it's very much appreciated.
posted by uninformative to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is there some reason Dropbox wouldn't work? It's made for precisely this. No technical knowledge whatsoever needed.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:10 PM on July 30 [1 favorite]

I haven't personally used Bittorrent Sync, but it's marketed as a more privacy-focused Dropbox.
posted by Phssthpok at 8:16 PM on July 30

Dropbox is so brain-dead simple, and preserves version history. Not sure about the security aspect, though.
posted by dondiego87 at 8:30 PM on July 30

Spideroak. It's Dropbox, with encryption.
posted by griffey at 8:50 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]

I use Dropbox (and all other cloud services) with the understanding that they are going to fingerprint and/or pipe your files to various law enforcement agencies, and perhaps do other things with them. They do DMCA takedowns from time to time on shared folders.

But it's pretty idiot-proof, and does versioning. Google Drive is getting better from what I hear, and gives you 15 GB to start, so I'd try that too.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:59 PM on July 30

BitTorrent Sync automatically syncs like Dropbox, is encrypted, and works direct between computers: your data isn't stored on a 3rd party's servers, so there's also no limit to the amount of data you can sync. I've used it for some time and love it. As long as any one computer/server in the group sharing a folder is on, any other computer can sync from/to the folder.
posted by zsazsa at 9:06 PM on July 30

Dropbox or ChronoSync.
posted by ridogi at 11:37 PM on July 30

Another more secure but non-free option is Younited. Everything is encrypted and they're based in Finland so are possibly less vulnerable to NSA or other intrusions than Dropbox or Google. I prefer Younited's interface over SpiderOak, though haven't tried recent versions of the latter.
posted by anadem at 6:43 AM on July 31

Dropbox actually does have versioning of the files you store, and lets you recover deleted files (up to some point—not sure how far back). is another Dropbox-like service. If you get their paid service, you can take advantage of versioning (and a bunch of other stuff, like fine-grained sharing permissions). It also has HIPAA-compliant security.

I haven't used Bittorrent Sync myself, but it's a really interesting idea, because there's no central server. The downside is that your peers need to be running for it to work.

Yet another interesting option is the File Transporter which is a little fileserver appliance you plug into your network. There are a number of other similar products to this as well.
posted by adamrice at 8:11 AM on July 31

i had great luck with dropbox sync for this sort of thing. I had an issue when syncing a ~2g folder of tiny files, but for most other things it has been great and usually "just works."

although it's strangely maintained, i have always loved Unison (not the panic usenet app) to sync files between machines. While it's mostly rsync under the hood, it does a good job of trying to deal well with files modified between machines and doesn't just let "the newest one win" in cases of conflicts. You're still on the hook for a backup strategy, but for sync it's great. its config can seem a bit obtuse, which is a weakness, but it's otherwise pretty good.
posted by nsfmc at 8:16 AM on July 31

Unison. It’s not user-friendly to configure, but it is friendly to use.
posted by at 8:17 AM on July 31

Folks have gone over the consumer options well. Dropbox, BitTorrent Sync, SpiderOak, etc.

For hackerware I can also endorse Unison. The key thing about Unison over rsync is that it works two directionally; it can merge changes made in two separate filesystems. rsync is one way only. You may not strictly need this feature but it can help protect you from mistakes. The drawback is it is sort of designed around manual interaction, I'm not sure how to use it from a cron job. There are some automation options but if there are conflicts, there's no automatic merge resolution.
posted by Nelson at 11:23 AM on July 31 [1 favorite]

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