We remember a time when “back up” meant hitting the “clone drive” button—and that was about as hard as it got. Unfortunately, things have changed. Now that we measure our digital lives in terabytes instead of megabytes, it’s just impractical to copy the entire contents of one drive over to another as part of a routine backup schedule.
That’s why we like 2BrightSparks’ SyncBack program. With but a few clicks of a mouse you can ensure that only the files you care about most are either backed up on a regular basis or, better yet, automatically synchronized between two locations at once.
These are just a couple of the powers promised by the freeware version of SyncBack. In the following guide, we’ll show you how to use this simple application to transform your normal backup procedures (or lack thereof) from time-consuming, self-starting routines into precise, automated awesomeness.
After installing the free version of SyncBack, available at www.2brightsparks.com, you’ll be prompted to set up a profile. A profile is simply this: Which folders do you want to back up, where do you want to put them, and how do you want the backup to happen?
In the freeware version of SyncBack, you get one of two options to choose from: backup or synchronization (below). Which one you choose is entirely up to you. The backup option works just like every other backup you’ve ever run: Files are copied from one location to another at a given interval you schedule or, for the lazy user, whenever you open SyncBack and run the profile.
A synchronization, on the other hand, is like a Star Trek replicator for your files. The second you make a change within a folder that SyncBack is scanning, the program will automatically perform the same operation on a target folder you specify. This includes adding files, deleting files, changing the contents of files—anything.
For the purposes of this article, we’re going to work with the backup option. So select that, hit OK, and we’ll keep going!
Once you’ve named your profile, you’ll see SyncBack’s default, basic mode for configuring the ins and outs of your backup profile (below), but you don’t need that. You’re hardcore. Click the Expert button on the bottom of the window.
Whoa! A ton of new tabs and options open up before your very eyes (below). We’ll deal with them in a bit. For now, start your trip down backup lane by selecting which of the three options in the Simple tab best fits your file-copying needs. We’re going to use the app to back up our specific Windows user folder, so we’ve selected the option that throws all subfolders of a target folder into the mix.
And while we’re on the topic, be sure to select the source folder you’ll be backing up at the top of SyncBack’s Profile Setup window. Yes, you’ll want to select the destination folder as well. Leave the subdirectories option just as it is for now: We’ll customize our folder selections in a bit.
One of the most important configuration screens within SyncBack’s Profile Setup window can be found on its Advanced tab (below), for it’s here where you’ll set the specific rules that govern the various what-if situations that come up during a typical backup. Unlike a conventional backup application, SyncBack dumps your files into one folder, period. There’s no way to maintain multiple backups over a given time period, per se.
What should SyncBack do if a file is on your source drive but not on your target? Send it on over! What should SyncBack do if it finds the same file on both? This is a backup: Overwrite the contents on the destination drive with the source file (either always, or only if the file is newer than the older version on the destination drive). And, our favorite, what should SyncBack do with all the files on the destination drive that are no longer matched on the source? We live dangerously—and we appreciate an uncluttered backup drive—so we say delete these. If you want to keep these legacy files around, however, you can certainly tell SyncBack to do so. The power is yours, backupateer.
Again, we need to stress that we’re selecting the options that make the most sense to us for our own backup profile: Your choices may—and will—vary, especially if you want to synchronize your folders instead.
Tied for importance alongside SyncBack’s Advanced tab is its Filter tab (below) and, to a lesser degree, its Sub-directories tab. You’ll use the former to select the specific files and folders you want to exclude from your backups. It seems counterintuitive—that you’d want to remove subfolders and files from the primary directory to be backed up—but hear us out.
In our case, we have a whole ton of information within our Windows user folder that we really don’t need to duplicate. Links and Favorites? Unnecessary. Folders that have been created by third-party programs? Unchecked—we only want to back up the primary data that is otherwise irreplaceable on our drive. Those are just a couple examples.
As for files, do we really need to back up anything that ends in .tmp, .htm, or .html? Nope. What about .bak or .log files? Gone. To eliminate these, we merely need to introduce them into the “Files NOT to copy” screen by using a wildcard—*.tmp, for example—to remove them from our main backup.
It’s a lot easier in our example—copying our Windows user folder—to go in and select only the direct folders within the Windows\Users\[our name] directory that we care about. You can do this in one of two ways: In the Sub-directories tab (after selecting the “Let me choose what sub-directories to include” option in the Sub-Dirs drop-down menu at the top of the Profile Setup window), or by adding these directories within the related option in the Filter tab. The first choice only excludes the specific folders you have not checked on the screen: Any new directories in the parent Source folder, created after the fact, will be added to the backup by default.
Confession time: You’ll have to use Windows Task Manager to schedule SyncBack backups if you want them to happen when the program isn’t running in the background of your operating system. That’s a ton of work, and we actually don’t mind having super-quick access to our backup profiles with a background-running SyncBack (accessed via an icon in the Windows taskbar).
So, we much prefer SyncBack’s simple, “Run this profile every...” option, to be found within the Background tab of the Profile Setup screen (below). Set the time interval in seconds, minutes, hours, or days, and SyncBack will automatically process your backup profile at whatever Windows priority level you set.
If you’ve used our previous tips to exclude folders and files that don’t need to be backed up, you’ll find that SyncBack’s “every [interval]” backup scheduling is hardly irritating. But more importantly, you’ll find a fresh version of your files on your backup location each and every time you need to access them—which, we hope, is quite rarely.