BitTorrent Labs has just lifted the lid on a new torrent-based cross-platform file syncing application dubbed BitTorrent Sync. It is currently only an Alpha release, but if it keeps heading in the right direction then it should have a bright future.
How it Works
If you’ve ever used Box or DropBox then you have a pretty good idea of how BitTorrent Sync works – the key difference is that there is no cloud-based server. This brings about perhaps the only limitation: syncing only takes place when at least two of the respective systems are on. Let’s say that you have three systems in sync: A, B, and C. A and B are on and C is off. If you add a file to the sync folder in A, then it will sync it with B. The next time C comes online with either A or B, it will sync. Obviously, this is something that works more easily if one of your systems is always-on.
Setting up BitTorrent Sync is reasonably simple. Install the application and open it. You are presented with two choices: the top option is the one to pick if you are setting up BitTorrent Sync on a new system. The bottom choice allows you to enter a secret code. After setting up BitTorrent Sync for the first time, the application will generate a secret code for you to enter on other systems. The easiest thing to do at this stage is to copy the code, and email it to yourself. When you install BitTorrent Sync on the next system, you choose a folder, enter the secret code and you are done. Your files will now sync as long as both systems are online (or networked). There are no limits with regard to file size, and your storage space is literally only limited by the amount of space available on your hard drive – a slightly less convenient version of DropBox.
After this, you can set up new folders… with their own secret codes – which is kind of a big deal, because it means that you can set up different syncing protocols for different folders. You can share one folder with your family, another one with co-workers, etc. That almost amounts to a game changer for anyone who does collaborative work.
Sync speed is limited by two factors – the speed of your Internet connection (if you are not networked) and the speed of your network (if you are). I found sync operations to be significantly faster than any of the cloud-based services that I use. I dumped my 4.8GB DropBox file collection into my BitTorrent Sync folder and things started transferring. It was automatic and really fast – so fast that by the time I realized that it had worked… it was already finished and that was a multi-gigabyte set of files.
Room for Improvement
There were a couple of things that I was not thrilled about. While the program was ridiculously easy to install, I think that things would have been a lot trickier had I not thought to copy and paste the first secret code into an email. I am sure that there is a way to generate another one or to pull up the same code, but it needs to be easier to find.
The next issue of sorts harks back to my earlier comment about making the sync folder(s) easy to find. At this stage, there does not seem to be any easy way to jump to a folder. Finding folders manually is a chore.
A mobile version would be great. I’m not just talking smart phones, I’d love to see something that could be run of a USB stick.
I loved the speed, I loved that the setup was truly effortless, I love that it bridged the operating system divide from day one and I love that it is free. There is room for improvement, but as it stands it is very, very good. It will be really interesting to see the feature set improve and see the application progress to a proper release.
Download it here for free.