Best Ways to Sync Files over Wireless Connections

Symbolic Cloud - CeBIT 2014
Nigel Treblin

Nothing beats the convenience of wireless when copying files between devices. Using a network cable or a USB stick can do the job but requires having the right hardware nearby plus physical access to both the host and target device.

Fortunately, all modern brands of computers, phones, and tablets support wireless file sharing and syncing. Most allow more than way to do it, so part of the challenge is choosing the option that works best for you.

The Difference Between File Sharing and File Syncing

File sharing involves making one or more files accessible to others for copying or download.

File syncing involves automatically copying files between two (or more) devices so that the devices all maintain the same file versions.

Some file sharing systems also support file syncing but others do not. Key features to look for in a file syncing solution include:

  • control over which files in a folder tree are targeted for syncing
  • ability to set the frequency at which syncing happens
  • file versioning, allowing older copies of synced files to be restored in case of data loss
  • ability to work across different kinds of devices and operating systems

File Syncing with Cloud Services

The major cloud file sharing services also offer file syncing feature including

  • SugarSync
  • Syncplicity

These services provide desktop applications and mobile apps for all popular operating systems. Because they are designed to work uniformly across different kinds of devices, they can be the only file sync solution a person needs. They should be the first option a person considers for file syncing unless the restrictions of a cloud solution prove to be a showstopper. Possible issues with cloud services include cost (the services are not free except for restricted uses) and privacy concerns (the need to expose data to a third party in the sky).

Syncing Files with Microsoft Windows.

Microsoft supports the OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive and Windows Live Folders) system that enables Windows PCs to use a native interface for syncing files to Microsoft’s own cloud. OneDrive apps for Android and iOS enable phones to also sync files with Microsoft's cloud. Additional options exist for those who only need to sync files between Windows computers.

Syncing Files with Apple Devices

iCloud is Apple’s cloud-based system designed for syncing files between Mac OS X and iOS devices. Original versions of iCloud were limited in their functionality. Over time, Apple has expanded this service to be more general purpose. Similar to the cross-platform support of Microsoft OneDrive, Apple also opens up iCloud to other platforms including via its iCloud for Windows.

Syncing Files with P2P File Sharing Systems

The peer-to-peer (P2P) file-sharing networks popularized years ago were used for file swapping rather than file syncing. BitTorrent Sync was developed specifically for file syncing, however. It avoids cloud storage (no copies of the file are stored elsewhere) and sync files directly between any two devices running the Sync software. Those with very large files benefit the most from BitTorrent's P2P technology (being free of subscription costs and also designed for high performance). BitTorrent Sync is an interesting solution for who need cross-platform support and are looking to avoid the complications of cloud-based storage.