Synchronizing Windows directories

I’ve been using Allway Sync to keep my two new Windows machines in sync. It’s pretty good. I sync one machine to an external hard drive, then sync that drive to the other machine. So really it’s three copies. Allway Sync also supports various Internet services for syncing, like Dropbox or its own cloud service.

The sync algorithm seems relatively robust. It’s a bidirectional sync, so changes on both sides can propagate at the same time. There are safety features like a sanity check if too many files changed. It tracks metadata and deleted files so deletes can propagate. It also keeps old versions of things in a hidden _SYNCAPP folder. I haven’t delved into details of how it handles a single large binary file that’s only partially changed, I don’t know if it has binary diffs or if it just copies the whole file over.

The UI is pretty awkward. Mostly it’s just ugly. But it’s also a bit confusing. I believe you have to define a new job for each folder you want to sync. (There is a way to sync one source folder to multiple destinations.) I finally found that if you enable the toolbar, there’s an icon for “sync all jobs at once”. I haven’t tried the automatic syncing yet, it seems to rely on a service watching for change file events and/or on a timer.

The trick now is figuring out what all in Windows I can safely sync. My Steam apps folder is safe to sync, and saves me from having to download a 30GB game twice. Syncing my Documents folder seems to work too and propagates some app settings, game save files, not to mention my actual work output like source code and text documents.

The part I’m on the fence about is syncing my Roaming profile. That should keep many more app settings in sync, and my first time copying it seems to have worked OK. But there’s a lot of random stuff in there that doesn’t quite seem like it should be copied, like Slack’s cache files. OTOH the Roaming profile was designed to be copied from one machine to another, so it should work? Edit after trying it I think syncing the whole Roaming profile is a bad idea. Parts of the folder, like Microsoft, seem to be treated specially. Also it makes the most sense to sync when nothing is open that writes to that directory, ie before you log in, and that’s awkward.

It’s free, but there’s a limitation on the number of files. The license is $26 but that’s for a single machine. $16 for a second one.

There’s a bunch of other sync options too. For a long time I used Unison to sync file systems. It works great and I’d still use it for a Unix command line. There are Windows build but I couldn’t get the GUI version to work. I also get nervous using Unix tools to manipulate Windows filesystems.