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Build a Private Dropbox With Time Machine Backup Using BitTorrent Sync

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Build a Personal, Securely Backed Cloud

Welcome to the second part of a series on leveraging the power of BitTorrent Sync, the company's first foray into the commercial file synchronization and sharing space. In the prior tutorial, I introduced BitTorrent Sync and showed you how to set it up to synchronize and share files across your devices and with other users. Since then, they've continued to greatly improve the platform.

In today's episode, I'll guide you through setting up your own personal cloud with a Time Machine backup for restoring to any point in time. You'll have a secure, safe cloud at your home backed up by Apple Time Machine and completely accessible from any device you choose to install Sync on, e.g. laptops, tablets, phones, etc. I find this solution very appealing compared to Dropbox. I'm not ready to drop the box completely, but I'm getting closer.

Also, since Envato Tuts+ published the first piece, BitTorrent's basic personal plan became free. You can read more specifics about the personal plan levels here.

Sync Personal Pricing Plans

Interestingly, I configured today's setup early last year and was incredibly excited to complete this episode. However, this happened and I had to delay completion of it until now. I hope you enjoy it.

As always, I do participate in the discussions below. If you have a question or topic suggestion, please post a comment below. You can also reach me on Twitter @reifman.

Reminder About Sync's Feature Set

Sync is ideal for mirroring your own content across platforms and devices or for sharing large files amongst teams. If available, Sync operates over your fast local network and only resorts to the web when necessary.

Services such as Dropbox offer limited free storage and they are likely accessible by the surveillance state; this became perfectly clear when Condoleeza Rice joined its board. They're also obvious targets for hackers. Sync stores data on your devices using distributed cryptographic security, making it much more difficult to compromise.

Sync is ideal for photos, videos, and large files shared by teams. Sync says it can easily handle 100 GB files and multi-terabyte folders. It's also sophisticated enough to operate on incremental file changes, so there's no need to move entire files when small updates are made.

It's compatible with almost every platform and device you can imagine: Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, etc.

You can read Sync's detailed feature summary on its website. It also offers explainers for some popular use cases:

Building a Sync Server With Time Machine Backup

Let's start planning today's tutorial work. Let's discuss the hardware, cloud drives and mobile devices.

Recommended Components

While there are many ways you can approach building out a great Sync solution, here's what I'm using in my showcase today:

  • Primary computer: Apple Mac Mini. You can use any primary machine. I decided to go for a fast Mac Mini and store any meaningful data on the external cloud drive.
  • External hard drive for File Share: Stores the original archive of my cloud data, although additional files will be added from other devices.
  • External hard drive for Time Machine: Stores the Time Machine backup of my system and the cloud drive. I won't address additional offsite cloud backups in this tutorial, but they are easy to find via DuckDuckGo or the big guys.
  • Laptop and mobile device for data portability: iPhone, MacBook Pro, etc. I use these devices to remotely connect to my Sync-powered Cloud.

I've been relatively happy with my Western Digital storage drives outlined below:

Sync External Hard Drives from Western Digital as examples

Ultimately, any solid, fast external drives should work well.

The Steps Ahead

Here are the steps that I'll guide you through to set up your cloud:

  1. Install Sync on our server
  2. Format our File Sharing cloud drive
  3. Encrypt our new cloud drive
  4. Configure Sync on our server
  5. Install and configure Sync on a portable device
  6. Format our Time Machine drive
  7. Configure Time Machine on the second drive

You can perform steps 1 to 5 first and steps 6 and 7 for Time Machine-powered redundancy when you're ready. Don't wait too long though—my editor would be disappointed in you.

Getting Started

Verifying Equipment

First, let's make sure we have what you need to start.

Your Primary System

Any fast primary computer will do. Again, I'm using a $699 Mac Mini for its enhanced speed. 

Sync MacMini Pricing Options

The External Hard Drives

The prospect of Sync becomes especially powerful when you integrate it with your own network-connected cloud drive.

You might check out Western Digital's MyCloud Personal Storage or MyCloud EX2 or check out Sync's other device page. Set up at home or your small business, you can have a 4 TB RAID-backed cloud server for about $400 up to 16 TB for $1,000.

For security, I recommend encrypting them via OS X. However, sometimes OS X makes re-entering those passwords a bit difficult. For example, I can't always paste passwords from the amazing 1Password application into the requested password fields and have to laboriously type long passwords by hand. I hope Apple reviews this, because it's about as unnecessary as their restrictions on iOS TouchID. Note: I may have noticed a change in this in the latest OS X update, but I'm not certain.

Installing Sync on My Mac Mini

Visit the Sync download page to get the code for your platform or device. When you run Sync the first time, you'll be asked to link to an existing device or make this your first device. I chose This is my first Sync 2.0 device.

BitTorrent Sync This is my first Sync 20 Device

Then, you'll be asked to Create an Identity:

BitTorrent Sync Create Identity

This secure code links the devices into a peer-to-peer network. Next, you'll be asked to specify a folder location for Sync files:

BitTorrent Sync MacBook Setup Folder

Configuring Your Sync Cloud Drive

Next, I connected my new primary drive to my Mac Mini and reformatted with Disk Utility. I named it Cloud.

Sync Erase and Format Your Primary Cloud Drive

You can encrypt by right-clicking the formatted drive in Finder. Note: I'm using a screenshot example that I created after having created my other drives, but it will work similarly for you on your first and second drive. The example below uses a NO NAME USB drive to demonstrate the action.

Sync Right click formatted drive and click Encrypt

OS X will request your Encryption Password and a Password Hint. It's very important to write these down in a safe place and store them in a password safe such as the one I use, 1Password.

Sync Choose Password for Encrypted Drive

Then, using Sync, I changed my Default Folder Location to it, /Volumes/Cloud:

Sync Default Folder Location

Now, Sync used my Cloud drive as the primary storage for all of my files.

Setting Up Time Machine

Next, I used Disk Utility again to reformat my second drive for Time Machine. I called it CloudMachine:

You can see the selection dialog box here:

Sync Time Machine Drive Selection

Of course, I made sure that the CloudMachine backup drive would be excluded from Time Machine backups: 

Apple has some excellent documentation on Time Machine setup, backup and restore.

Here's ultimately what my desktop MacMini setup looks like. You can see the external Cloud drive with a Finder window, the CloudMachine Time Machine backup drive, and the Sync app with the folders I'm beginning to share with my laptop and mobile devices:

Sync Dropbox The MacMini Configuration with All Drives

Installing Sync on Mobile Devices

Then, I went to the App Store to download Sync for my phone. Here's what the iTunes view looks like on the desktop:

BitTorrent Sync iTunes Store iOS App

Here's what the startup on iOS looks like:

BitTorrent Sync iOS Connect

On the desktop, Sync gives you a QR code for the smartphone app to scan:

BitTorrent Sync QR Code to Link Devices

In this case, I chose Link a device already running Sync 2.0 and the app scanned my QR code. Your device will show your chosen sync folders:

Sync iOS Mobile Sync Folders

In Closing

Now that you have your own local BitTorrent Sync cloud running and backed up by Apple's Time Machine, I hope you're beginning to discover the benefits of distributed access to your data, securely stored and backed up at home.

The Benefits of Your Sync Cloud System

  • Your data is securely and easily synchronized and shared from your choice of computers and devices.
  • You can take mirrors of your content (or portions of) on any number of computers or devices you choose.
  • You have an immediate backup within Time Machine as needed.
  • Your external drive and Time Machine drive are encrypted.
  • You'll benefit from BitTorrent's ongoing, regular and innovative improvements to Sync.
  • Unlike Dropbox, your data is not on stored within a shared corporate cloud server subject to mass attacks (maybe just a small workgroup at most).
  • And finally, the NSA and Condoleezza Rice, another former federal politician associated with overzealous, paranoid defense, is not on your board (unless you ask her).

Please offer your questions, comments and ideas for future study of the Sync platform. It has outstanding potential ahead. You can also reach me on Twitter @reifman directly, or browse my Envato Tuts+ instructor page to see other tutorials I've written. 

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