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Introduction to BitTorrent Sync

BitTorrent Sync

What's BitTorrent Sync?

Sync is BitTorrent's first foray into the commercial file synchronization and sharing space, and it's an impressive one.

BitTorrent Sync provides secure peer-to-peer sharing between your desktops, laptops, smartphones, tablets and network-connected peripherals. By eliminating a central repository, Sync gives you enhanced control over your data. By frequently using your local area network for file synchronization, Sync provides vastly faster performance (up to 16x).

Isn't BitTorrent Just for Downloading Game of Thrones?

If you're like me, you've probably only used BitTorrent for downloading legally distributable independent documentaries.

Back in the days just before YouTube, I built a popular website called CommonBits to share Fair Use political clips. CommonBits was featured in Progressive peek at TV's Web potential in The Seattle Times and frequently mentioned on Boing Boing for its Daily Show clips

In order to share files, we used the open source BitTorrent server. Ultimately, the YouTube guys had more commercial success (to say the least).

In Sync, it's great to see a commercial application of BitTorrent that we can all make use of.

In fact, I've wondered for a long time why no one's built a peer-to-peer podcast synchronization service on BitTorrent. And Microsoft's latest Windows 10 release makes use of peer-to-peer technology for its app store and updates.

What You'll Learn

In this tutorial, I'll introduce BitTorrent Sync and show you how to set it up to synchronize and share files across your devices and with other users. 

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 or email me directly.

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. They're also obvious targets for hackers. Sync stores data on your devices using distributed cryptographic security, making it much more difficult to compromise. 

BitTorrent Sync Skip the Cloud

Sync is also sophisticated enough to operate on incremental file changes. There's no need to move entire files when small updates are made.

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

BitTorrent Sync Desktop and Device Compatibility

Sync becomes especially powerful if you connect it to your own network cloud storage.

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

How Much Does It Cost?

The basic version of Sync is free, while the Pro version is $49.99 annually. For comparison, Dropbox offers 1 TB of storage for $99 annually.

Here's a comparison of features between free and pro versions of Sync:

BitTorrent Sync Pricing Free vs Pro

Getting Started With Sync

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

Then, I went to the AppStore to download Sync for my phone—here's what the iTunes view looks like on the desktop:

BitTorrent Sync iTunes Store iOS App

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

BitTorrent Sync QR Code to Link Devices

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

As your peer-to-peer device network expands, you can browse them from the app or from any device:

BitTorrent Sync MacBook Devices

Setting Up Sync on iOS

Here's what the startup on iOS looks like:

BitTorrent Sync iOS Connect

In this case, I chose Link a device already running Sync 2.0 and the app scanned my QR code.

In addition to syncing files, you can also use Sync as a backup for photos and video:

BitTorrent Sync On iOS

Camera Backup

The iOS to Mac OS X camera backup was blazingly fast over my local WiFi connection:

BitTorrent Sync Camera Backup

Sharing With Sync

Sync also offers powerful sharing features. You can set permissions and expiration dates and share via email or QR codes.

BitTorrent Sync Share Folders and Files

Sync will generate an email for you to send:

BitTorrent Sync Share via email

Unfortunately, recipients are required to install Sync in order to download your file. This may be prohibitive for a number of people or scenarios.

Security experts have also raised concerns about vulnerabilities created by this link sharing server, which BitTorrent has downplayed. Hackers have alleged that the NSA has asked BitTorrent to provide back doors to its service.

Also, at least currently, Sync sharing isn't built into OS X folder actions, e.g. you can't right click from Finder to share, as you can with Dropbox.

Private Cloud Storage

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

Western Digital Personal Cloud

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 personal uses, I find this very appealing compared to Dropbox.

Open Source Alternatives

There's also an emerging open source alternative to Sync called Syncthing.

Syncthing An open source synchronization alternative

It's in active development and fully transparent. Currently, there's an Android app but it's not available for iOS yet. It's not as mature as Sync yet, but perhaps it will be in the future.

What's Next?

I hope you're intrigued by BitTorrent Sync. It definitely adds a new dimension to cloud file synchronization and sharing options—especially for teams that need to quickly share files.

Overall, I was impressed with the level of polish, performance and flexibility that Sync offered. I thought its powerful feature set was a bit more complicated than a service like Dropbox, but not needlessly so. I look forward to seeing the product evolve.

Please feel free to post your questions and comments below. You can also reach me on Twitter @reifman or email me directly. You can also browse my Tuts+ instructor page to see other tutorials I've written. 

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