Don't Shuffle Your Files. Sync Them


If you’re of a certain age, you’re probably familiar with the concept of sneakernet. Before the internet was on everyone’s computers, you had to move files between PCs using floppy disks or cassette tapes (yes, really!).

People still use sneakernet today. Instead of passing files around on cassettes or floppies, they use USB flash drives or email.

While simple, sneakernet does have several drawbacks. The biggest problem is that it’s easy to confuse versions of a file when moving it. That might not be a big problem when it’s just you, but if you’re working with others then mixing up versions could become a big problem very quickly.

Going Another Way

Why not use file syncing services instead? Why use them?

They’re easy to use. They’re easy to set up. And many of them have free plans, and you can get more storage by paying a modest fee each month.

Many syncing services have mobile apps, which means you can work on your plain text files no matter what device or operating system you happen to be using. As long as you have a text editor installed, of course.

What’s Out There

Syncing services have bloomed like a hundred flowers. Here are some that I’ve tried over the years and am most familiar with:

In the proprietary world, there’s Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, SugarSync, and OneDrive.

With the recent revelations about Dropbox sharing customer data with scientists and Google giving third parties access to information, you might want to avoid proprietary solutions. Instead, look to the open source world.

On the open source side of the fence, you have ownCloud, Nextcloud, EteSync, and SyncThing. You can run them on your computer or, use one of the many ownCloud or Nextcloud service providers who host your files.

Those don’t work for you? Well, they’re not the only games on the web. Check out this list of services at Wikipedia.

For the Techies

If you’re of a more technical bent, you have a few interesting choices.

First up is using rsync to synchronize files across your computers. rsync can determine which files to transfer and which parts of those files have changed. It’s not easy to use, but if you have the technical nous, you can write scripts to automate the process.

Next, git, which software developers use to track changes to their code. You can set up a server running git, and move files between your computers and devices. Or, you can use hosted software like GitLab or GitHub.

Finally, an interesting solution that uses Amazon’s web services. In early 2018, a developer named Eric Miller emailed me about software he wrote that can sync text files to encrypted AWS buckets.

You don’t need to shuffle your files around (unless you want to, of course). There are other options out there that are easy to set up and use, and which can save you confusion and prevent headaches.

Have a favourite way of syncing your files? Share it, with the hashtag #plaintext or #plaintextproject on Mastodon or Twitter.