SyncBack is a Windows utility to backup and synchronize files. It is used for file backup, rather than disk image backup. SyncBack is noteworthy because it has an impressive selection of advanced features to control how files and folders get backed up and synchronized. While it doesn’t do disk imaging, it’s a complementary program for backing up personal data. Often people prefer to backup their system and personal data separately, as it gives greater control and flexibility.
SyncBack is available in three versions – SyncBackFree which is free, and SyncBackSE and SyncBackPro which cost $40 and $55 respectively. The free version is very powerful in itself. Most of the extra features available in the premium versions are visible but grayed out to show what’s available (and presumably to entice users to upgrade). Here I am primarily focusing on SyncBackFree.
The main SyncBack window is uncomplicated. It lists the existing backup profiles (if any) with details of backup type, last run, and next scheduled run. As would be expected, the main window is also the place to set up new backup profiles and edit global settings and preferences.
A backup profile is an individual backup configuration specifying the directory to be backed up, the backup destination, as well as a lot of optional extra settings. To create a new backup profile, click New in the main window. Alternatively you can double click on an existing profile to edit it. When creating a new profile, you will be prompted to enter a profile name.
On creating a new backup profile, you will be prompted to select a backup type. The three basic backup types are Backup, Synchronize and Mirror. Backup copies all new files and directories to the destination every time it is run. If something is deleted from the source, it is not deleted from the destination. Mirror is the same as Backup, except anything deleted in the source is also deleted in the destination. This is an important distinction, since if you accidentally delete a file, it will also be deleted in the destination when using Mirror. However, the file will not be lost when using Backup. Since intentionally deleted files will not be deleted at the destination using Backup, this will create a lot of clutter over time. Generally, using Mirror is a better option if the data is also being automatically versioned. In this example I am using Mirror.
Synchronize is a bidirectional synchronization of the data between the source and destination. In its basic version, if a file exists on one side but not the other, then it will copy the file to the other side by default. This gets a bit complicated when deleting files. If a file is intentionally deleted on one side, it will get be copied back from the other side by default. You can optionally set SyncBack to automatically delete files that haven’t been modified in a certain number of days, or to prompt for user input so you can decide on a case by case basis. The paid versions of SyncBack have what they call SmartSync which keeps a record of previous file states so that it can figure out automatically when files are deleted.
After selecting the backup type, specify the source and destination type. In SyncBackFree there isn’t much to choose from, and in this example I am backing up from an internal drive to a network path (which are grouped together), so can leave this at the default setting. If backing up to an FTP server or a cloud service instead, this should be specified at this stage.
Once the backup profile name, backup type and location types are specified, the main profile setup window appears. Here, you are prompted to enter the source and destination paths.
Once the source and destination paths are selected, SyncBack will list a detailed description of the backup profile.
In this example, it shows what mirroring does by default, i.e. files only on the source are copied to the destination, and files only on the destination are deleted. It also provides the full list of file exclusion wildcards, which by default excludes common files of no interest for backup like the Firefox lock file, Internet Explorer temporary data and Recycle bin.
To add to the list of excluded files and directories, click Change Filter, and add to list of Files/folders NOT to copy. In the example below, I am excluding the Virtual Machines directory as this is backed up separately.
Profile setup can be set to either Simple or Expert modes, depending on whether or not more advanced features are required. In simple mode, you can specify a schedule and backup direction. The schedule can be specified to be run on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
The backup direction can be set for either Backup or Mirror mode.
To switch to expert mode, click on Expert on the left hand side panel in the profile setup. This provides a large number of advanced options.
In simple mode, scheduling is done with a fairly standard set of options. In expert mode, there are many options to determine When a profile should be run. It can be triggered by a hotkey, run every X minutes indefinitely, run only when idle, whenever changes are made, when a certain disk is connected, stopped if running for longer than X minutes. Note some of these features are only available in SE/Pro versions, and appear grayed out in free version.
Similarly there are more options to decide how files and folders should be overwritten and copied under Decisions – Files/Folders, e.g. what to do when the same file has changed on both source and destination, when a file exists on destination but not source, and when the file contents are the same but the properties are different.
There are many copy related options under Copy/Delete. This includes what copy method to use, e.g. switching to Windows Explorer based copy will allow deleted files to be copied to Recycle bin. There is also an option here to verify file copy operations using checksums.
There is a file versioning feature where files can be versioned on either the source or destination for a specified number of days and versions, although this option is only available in the paid versions.
When comparing changes between files in source and destination, look at Compare Options. Here you can tweak comparisons based on file size changes, time stamp changes, and attributes like read only or system files.
There is an option to compress individual files as zip files in the backup destination, although this will run a lot slower than a direct copy. It can be sped up by using one of the faster compression options, while sacrificing compression size.
The compressed files can be encrypted using standard zip format encryption. The SE/Pro versions of SyncBack also have 256 bit AES encryption.
Log files are stored locally as HTML files viewable in a web browser, however, they can also be sent by email once SMTP credentials are setup.
Once a backup profile is set up (and when re-running an existing profile in interactive mode), SyncBack will show a window with the differences between source and destination, which indicates what files and folders will be copied and deleted. Typically once the initial backup is run, further backups will be set to run in unattended mode, where they run in the background and will only show anything on screen if there is an error. There is also an option to do a simulated run, which will run the backup profile as if it was doing a normal run but won’t actually copy/delete any data, i.e. it will just tell you what it would do.
There are various global settings to determine behavior of SyncBack, that are common to all backup profiles, e.g. what to do when the computer shuts down or hibernates, disabling standby/hibernate. One feature I find useful is to delay running the backup operation until some time after the computer starts, e.g. set a delay of 5-10 minutes after startup, so it won’t slow the machine down when initially starting background processes. Alternatively, individual backup profiles can be set to only run when the computer is idle.
SyncBack is a top class file backup utility. I’ve included it here since I handle the backup of personal data separately, so find it to be a good compliment to disk imaging software. As can be seen with some of the advanced features listed above, the devil is often in the detail. There are scenarios where it’s useful to explicitly select what happens when a file needs to be deleted on one side, or ignore certain file attributes that don’t get copied between different file systems. SyncBack is the type of program that’s well suited to people who like a fine grained control of everything, and don’t mind digging into the options to figure out the best customizations for their needs. Explanations for the advanced features are easily accessible. Clicking the help button on each sub window will pop up the documentation specific to that window. I also like that once you’ve set it up and configured unattended backups, SyncBack leaves you alone and runs quietly in the background.