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The Basics of File Synchronization and Sharing

Get started with file sharing and file synchronization tools, and start handling your files more efficiently and securely.

Imagine that you are working on writing an important document on your office or school desktop. Later on when you reach home, you realize you need to make some changes. So what do you do? In some cases, you could access your desktop remotely, and then copy the document back when you finish the edits. But for multiple documents, it can be a tedious task to get the files and copy them back one you are done modifying them. Wouldn't it be far easier if the same files were available on your home computer?

File sharing is the process of giving access to stored information such as text documents, videos, images or e-books. (Read more on file sharing.) For example, you could physically copy the files between different computers using a USB flash drive or by uploading files to a common Internet server and distributing the link to different people who need access to the file.

File synchronization ensures that every person who uses a file has the latest copy of it. File synchronization can occur through a couple different ways, either a user must upload a file manually to a server on the Internet every time it is modified or the users can use a synchronization tool that automatically updates every copy of the file that exists on every computer.

File synchronization tools work seamlessly across multiple versions of operating systems and hardware platforms. You can create a file using a Windows computer and later access the same file on a Linux PC or a Mac. File synchronization also is a form of backing up the data of a file, which is an important process to safeguard your files.

Two popular applications, DropBox  and SugarSync , are commercially available tools that share and synchronize files across multiple devices, including laptops, desktops and even smart phones! Some other tools for file sharing and synchronization are called MobileMe, Box.net , Carbonite  and Mozy .

For comparison, Google Docs  is another popular way in which files are shared between multiple users. Using a Google account, you can create and modify files that are instantly available to other users who share the file, but it requires the use of its own online editor. If you need to use different software to modify the file, you have to separately download the file, edit its contents and re-upload it to Google Docs.

File synchronization tools, such as DropBox and SugarSync, are relatively secure. Through these tools, you can access files and copy them only to the computers of other users who have been authorized to utilize these files. Unauthorized users will not be able to see your files, unless you choose to share your files with all public users.

Here's how to use file synchronization tools.


Installing Dropbox:

Go to the DropBox website  and click on the download button. Open the downloaded file and follow the setup instructions that display on your screen.

Adding files to Dropbox and sharing files and folders:

You can move files into dropbox by dragging and dropping them into your Dropbox folder. That's it! The files you dropped in will automatically be backed up online and synced to your other computers. You don't have to do anything more. You can even save files directly to your Dropbox folder from any application. Dropbox lets you share your folders with others by creating a new shared folder or sharing an existing one. Once you add other members to the folder, it will appear in your friends or colleagues own Dropbox just as it does in yours. Any changes made to the shared folder's contents will appear instantaneously to everyone who is a member of the folder.

More information on DropBox

For more information on Dropbox, visit the website  or the Help page . Dropbox is available for Windows, Linux and Mac platforms. It is also available on iPhone, Android, iPad and Blackberry mobile platforms.


Installing SugarSync:

Go to the SugarSync website  and download the appropriate file for your device. Open the downloaded file and follow the setup instructions that display on your screen.

Adding files to SugarSync and sharing files and folders:

To set up additional folders click 'Manage Sync Folders' at the top of the SugarSync Manager. The 'Manage Sync Folders' dialog displays a column for each of the computers where SugarSync is installed. Below each computer, you will see the folders that are set up for syncing. You can select additional folders from anywhere in your computer's folder structure by clicking 'Add folders from this Computer'. When the 'Manage Sync Folders' dialog opens, browse until you see the folders or subfolders you want to sync. Check the box next to any folder or subfolder to select it for syncing. Click 'OK' when you are finished. SugarSync immediately begins backing up the files in the selected folders to the cloud.

More information on SugarSync:

For more information on SugarSync, visit the website  or the Help page . SugarSync is available for Windows and Mac platforms. It is also available on iPhone, Android, iPad, Symbian and Blackberry mobile platforms.

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