Transferring files between computers is something we all have to do from time to time and there are several situations where this can be necessary. You might want to transfer files from one computer to another, such as work to home, desktop to laptop, or even to a friend’s computer. If both you and a work colleague or friend have identical copies of files, you can work on them together. Editing videos, photos and music with others is a lot simpler if you can each have an identical copy of the files in the project.
BitTorrent is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you want to sync files and folders between computers, but it is well worth considering. There are pros and cons of using BitTorrent Sync, so let’s take a look at why you might want to use it and what the limitations are.
BitTorrent Sync advantages
All of the sync services listed and others like them, provide online storage space. Your files are stored online by the companies, which may be convenient, but there is an issue of privacy and security. Just how private and secure are they? Could the service be hacked? Could usernames and passwords be leaked on the internet? Could someone hack into your account and get access to your files?
This is a constant worry for anyone using Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, OneDrive and others. Somewhere out on the internet is a copy of all your files and hackers could get to them.
BitTorrent Sync does not store a copy of your files online and the company does not have access to them. The software creates a secure connection between two computers – your own or you and a work colleague’s or friend’s – and sends the files directly from one to the other. The data is encrypted using AES-128. No files are stored on the internet and they only exist on the two computers that are linked. BitTorrent Sync is therefore more secure.
To sync two computers, you click the Add folder button in the top left corner of the window. You can create a new empty folder for shared files, or you can select an existing folder to share, even if it contains files. BitTorrent Sync then generates a web URL that contains a secure key. This must be given to the person you want to sync with and there are options to email it or copy it to the clipboard, which could then be pasted into a messaging app.
When the other person receives the URL, such as via email, they click it and it opens BitTorrent Sync. It creates a subfolder with the same name in the Documents. This means that the computer that initiates the link chooses which folder to share and the other receives a copy of it in the Documents folder. You could add a reverse link too, so the other person could share a folder on their computer that is created and mirrored in your own Documents folder.
There are some useful security features and you can make the shared folder read only (one-way syncing) or read-write (two-way syncing so the other computer can send files too). There is an option to set an expiry date on the link, so you could make it expire in one day, three days or whatever you want.
You can specify that the link can only be used a certain number of times, including just once, so if a dodgy friend posted the link on the web or accidentally shared it, it wouldn’t work for anyone else. You can also specify that the person you share the link with must be approved. So if someone else got hold of the link and tried to connect with your shared folder, you would simply deny them access.
The security features are good and it is a safer way to share files with other people and computers.
BitTorrent is designed for sharing big files and it is often used for downloading 3 or 4GB Linux distros for instance. Whereas some online file storage services place limits on the size of files that they can cope with, BitTorrent Sync does not. Big files are not a problem.
Unless you pay for online storage, you will soon run out of space if you try to sync or share large files like Linux distros, CD images, raw video footage and similar large files. Even sharing photo and audio collections could cause you to run out of space
The speed with which you can send files from one computer to another is limited only by your internet connection. You are not going through an online storage service that may be busy with thousands of other users all syncing files. BitTorrent Sync should therefore be faster.
BitTorrent Sync is available for Windows PCs, Apple Mac OS X, Linux, Android and iOS. That covers about 99% of computers and devices. No matter what computer or device you have, you can share or sync files and folders.
BitTorrent Sync disadvantages
The main disadvantage of BitTorrent Sync is that both computers have to be up and running and online in order to exchange files. With Dropbox for example, you can simply drop files into the folder and switch off the computer. The other computer doesn’t even need to be on. At any time, it can be powered up and the Dropbox folder syncs with the online storage.
Dropbox and other online storage is more convenient, but then someone else has a copy of your files. With BitTorrent Sync the two computers exchange files directly.
Another disadvantage is that you have more work to do to create the synced folder link. You can install Dropbox on a second computer, log in and that’s it. With BitTorrent Sync you have to create a link, send it to the other computer, click the link, add the connection, authorise permission and so on. It sounds more work than it actually is, but it isn’t as straightforward as using a desktop and laptop computer with Windows 8 and OneDrive.
Is BitTorrent Sync right for you?
Some people will prefer traditional online storage for syncing and sharing files, but it can be useful to have BitTorrent Sync as an option too, such as when you need to share really big files with people.
If you can't find it after installing it in Windows 8, click the arrow at the bottom of the Start screen to go to the all-apps listing. Right click BitTorrent Sync and pin it to the taskbar.
There are versions for Linux and you can sync with other Linux computers or Windows computers. Just go to the downloads page at BitTorrent Sync.