Utility SpotlightSyncToy

Jay Munro

Download the code for this article: SynctToy (971KB)

A HEADACHE THAT plagues IT pros, network admins, and Help Desk staff alike is the call from a user whose computer went south without a backup. Getting even the savviest folks to save their work to the network rather than just locally can be difficult. SyncToy can help.

Originally designed to synchronize digital photographs between camera, computer, and external drives, SyncToy is a flexible and reliable way to backup almost any kind of file. Running on Windows Vista™, as well as Windows® XP and Windows Server® 2003, SyncToy works with local, external, or USB drives, as well as network or workgroup shares.

SyncToy uses a paired-folder architecture where you specify a left and a right directory. You can create as many folder pairs as you want and synchronize one or all with a single button click. To create a folder pair, you walk through a quick four-step wizard where you type or paste a path, or browse to a location for the left and right folders. SyncToy understands UNC file naming (such as \\MyServer\Joe_smith\backup\) as well as local drive mappings and paths (E:\doc_backup). Once paths are entered, you choose one of five actions that SyncToy will perform when comparing the folders.

Sync Copies new and updated files in both directions. If you rename or delete a file in one folder, that action is replicated in the other.

Echo Copies new and updated files, and performs deletes and renames only from the left folder to the right.

Subscribe Copies updated files from right to left, and only if the file already exists on the left. Changes made on the left will not be replicated to the right.

Contribute Copies new and updated files on the left to the right, while ignoring deletions.

Combine Keeps multiple machines in lockstep by copying files that exist on one side but not the other. Files that are deleted or renamed on either side are not affected or replicated.

Once you select the action, pick a friendly name for the folder pair, and you're finished. SyncToy currently does not let you edit paths or change the name once you create a folder pair, so if you make a mistake, select the folder pair, click delete, and create it again. You can set options including which files and subdirectories to include and whether to save overwritten files to the Recycle Bin (on by default).

Synchronizing files with SyncToy

Synchronizing files with SyncToy(Click the image for a larger view)

The main SyncToy dialog box displays folder pairs on the left, along with the paths, options, and actions for the selected pair. The All Folder Pairs option lists all your folder pairs, and you can do a Preview or Run All on the checked pairs. As you'd expect, Preview goes through the motions as if actually performing the sync, but makes no changes. This is definitely worth doing if you're going to schedule unattended syncs. Preview displays a report, which tells you what operations it would have done. If all looks good, click Run.

Scheduling is not built-in, though the Help file has a fairly good walk-through for both Windows Vista and Windows XP schedulers. Non-technical users might need help setting this up, but you only have to do it once, as all changes to folder pairs, actions, and options are done in SyncToy itself.

Like all Power Toys, SyncToy, while written to the same standards as regular shipping software, is not supported by Microsoft, but rather through community forums and documentation. So you're on your own. The Help file is written for all use levels and covers the features quite extensively. The UI is intuitive enough that you get the basics the first time around.

So download SyncToy and show your users how to back up files. You'll all sleep better.

Jay Munro is a writer on the Win­dows User Assistance team at Microsoft, specializing in Internet Explorer. Previously, he was a project leader with PC Magazine labs.

© 2008 Microsoft Corporation and CMP Media, LLC. All rights reserved; reproduction in part or in whole without permission is prohibited.