BitTorrent Sync Review

I have been a SkyDrive user since it went public, I used every version of Microsoft Live Mesh, I worked with Microsoft FolderShare and even used MSN Messenger’s shared folders feature a ton of times. Also although I never used Dropbox that much for myself, I had to use it a couple of times to share some files with people who used Dropbox.

Each of these programs had their advantages and disadvantages. MSN Messenger used to let you have synced files and folders with your buddies, FolderShare was supposed to be a stand-alone improved version of what you had in MSN Messenger, Mesh synced files between your devices and the cloud, and currently SkyDrive and Dropbox let you share files between your devices and the cloud.

Both SkyDrive and Dropbox clients have an almost similar mechanism: You install the client, you will choose a folder on your machine, and then everything you have in that folder on every machine and your cloud storage will be synchronized. You might be able to exclude some files so that they are not synced, but that’s almost all the control you have.

A couple of days ago, with the release of BitTorrent Sync 1.0.116, as a fan of the protocol, and as someone who was looking for an advanced sync app, I decided to give it a try. At first, the UI looked too confusing, since whether to share a folder, or to sync with an already shared folder, all you work with are two textboxes: One for a “Secret,” and another for the path to the local folder.

bitsync-1

But then after playing with the software for a couple of minutes, it became so straightforward to use. To share a folder, you just need to choose it, and generate a unique secret identifier for that folder by pressing “Generate.” then you will put this secret into your other machine (or give it to your friends,) and they will open the same dialog, but instead of generating a new secret, the existing secret will be entered, and there it is, you have set up sync on that folder using the power of BitTorrent protocol.

Since it uses BitTorrent to sync, you will have typical BitTorrent features like DHT and Trackers, and also NAT traversal and UPnP port mapping. Each folder you share can have its own configuration, so you can choose to disable DHT and Trackers on one folder, and have them enabled on another. Deleted files can be set to be moved to a “trash” folder to make sure files are still somewhere even if something nasty happens, although this feature can also be disabled on a certain folder if you want to. Also you are able to use this app in your LAN when you are offline, since it looks in the local network using UDP broadcasts.

Another neat feature of BitTorrent Sync is that not only it supports multi-way syncing, you can “one-directional” syncing, meaning that the content of a folder will be copied to the other machines, but the other machines can’t change the contents of the original machine. You can even have a mixed-syncing in which some machines are only receivers of the content and cannot update it, and some machines can fully-sync. These configurations are possible thanks to the “Read only secret” feature of BitTorrent Sync.

bitsync-2

There are other features like “One-time secret,” which is a secret that works for only 24 hours. This is to make sure that if you share something with people, they won’t be able to spread the folder after 24 hours. Also to disconnect a folder from a sync swarm and make another one (for example in case you don’t want to share something with someone anymore,) you can just create a new secret for the folder.

Compared to SkyDrive and Dropbox, BitTorrent Sync has a lot of advantages and disadvantages. Since the nature of SkyDrive and Dropbox is cloud-based file sharing, you have your files available online meaning that you can download them from the web or share certain files using a URL among your friends. BitTorrent Sync currently doesn’t have a cloud based storage (although I think BitTorrent Inc. will provide a paid service with cloud based storage at some point.) You also cannot share individual files with your friends (Obviously you can do it using the normal BitTorrent app or uTorrent,) and finally it doesn’t work in networks that have blocked BitTorrent (some workplaces.)

BitTorrent Sync doesn’t have versioning support, although it is promised on the website for later versions. Since there is no cloud based storage involved, and everything is encrypted, and it can work even inside local networks, it can be thought of as a secure and private sync app. Also unlike SkyDrive and Dropbox, you have advanced controls on your sharing configuration, and you can have multiple folders shared with different configurations.

To summarize, here’s a list of notable features of this software:

  • Multiple folders can be shared, each with different settings.
  • Read-only/Read-write (a.k.a one directional and two directional) sharing of the same folder between different machines.
  • One time secret for more secure and private sharing.
  • Perfect for large files, thanks to the BitTorrent protocol.
  • Can be completely private, and even works in local networks with UDP broadcast.
  • Supports DHT, Trackers, Relay Servers, NAT traversal, UPnP Port Mapping.
  • Supports TCP on LAN connections.
  • Upload/Download rate limit.
  • Choice to keep deleted files in a separate folder (Sync trash.)
  • Encrypted.
  • WebUI for remote control.
  • Config file in JSON format for advanced configurations on servers.

To learn more and download BitTorrent sync, click here.

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Posted on April 28, 2013, in Blog and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Thanks, best review I have found while trying to decide if this is for me. I too have used SkyDrive a lot as well as Dropbox. Something you might like to comment on. Sharing secrets with people at a distance by email seems to me to be a potential problem. Either they have to be encrypted themselves or you need to send them by snail mail or other secure method.

    • Sure, but sending folder links with edit permission to the others in other services is the same. And here the 24-hour one-time secret can help a bit with this problem.

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