9 Great Ways To Keep Files Synced Between Two (Or More) Computers & Devices

Households and offices that are packed full of gadgets and computers can be a great thing, but they can also make syncing files between them difficult. For example, you might have some sensitive financial docs on your main home PC, but you can’t easily share them with other devices. Sometimes people then resort to emailing files back and forth, but this can be a PITA – especially if someone edits one of those files, and people lose track of which file is the “latest”.

There are two main ways of ‘fixing’ this problem: cloud-based file sync solutions, and local-only ones (although you can sometimes use a mix of both). So this video explores nine different ways that you can keep your files shared/synced between different devices.

The individual sections of this video are:

  • 0:00: Intro
  • 1:10: 1 – File Syncing
  • 2:31: 2 – Cloud Apps
  • 4:47: 3 – NAS
  • 7:56: 4 – The Chaos Approach
  • 9:43: 5 – Shared Folders
  • 11:02: 6 – Remote Desktop
  • 12:35: 7 – USBs
  • 13:40: 8 – Git
  • 14:46: 9 – FTP
  • 15:58: Summing Up
  • 16:52: A Note On Backups
  • 17:18: Final Thoughts

If you prefer text over video, please read on for the guide/transcript version of this video.

Video Transcript & Guide

Hey everyone, every household nowadays seems to have a dozen different “computers” ranging from phones to tablets, and laptops to PCs. This can be GREAT, but it also makes sharing files consistently between them all quite difficult. You might have all your photos on one device, and all your sensitive financial documents on another – SOMETIMES without having an easy or effective way of accessing those files from a different device. There are two main approaches to solve this problem: cloud and local.

Cloud: The cloud’s so easy man, just chuck your files there, and let the Cloud Gods sort it all out. You can just chill here, while your data chills up in the peaceful cloud kingdom.

Me looking like a hippy saying the cloud is awesome
Me looking like a hippy saying the cloud is awesome

Local: You gotta wake up and see the cloud for what it is – a virtual panopticon designed by soulless corporations to monitor and manipulate us. Don’t be a cog in their machine. Keep your files offline and hidden.

Me looking paranoid in a hoody saying that local control of files is best
Me looking paranoid in a hoody saying that local control of files is best

Which one of those BEAUTIFUL people is right? Well I can think of NINE different ways that you can keep track of your files across a range of devices: some of these are cloud-based, some are local-only, and some use a mix of both.

#1 – File Syncing

The first method I wanted to cover is a local-only method, and it’s to install file syncing software like SyncThing or Resilio Sync.

Screenshot of the Syncthing homepage
Screenshot of the Syncthing homepage

SyncThing is free and open source, while Resilio’s is MORE of a paid solution (there is a free “tier” for personal use, but it’s naturally restricted compared to the paid for versions). Whichever software you use, though, both of these effectively “push and pull” files between a configured set of devices, meaning that I could ensure that all my phone’s photos are always available on my desktop PC as well.

YES I can naturally achieve this by using Google Photos or iCloud, but the point of Syncthing and Resilio is that you can keep your files on your own computers and servers AT ALL TIMES – you don’t need to rely on some third party cloud servers from Google or Apple. That’s the key point here. Back in the day, many Linux users would use a tool like rsync to ensure that files are propagated to all required devices, and that still works well, BUT these two tools are more user friendly and often easier to manage for the average user.

So they could be a good option to explore if you like the idea of having ‘cloud-like’ file sharing, without a cloud:

Resilio blog post saying to skip the cloud
Resilio blog post saying to skip the cloud

The main downside of this option is that you need to install extra software on your devices (your phone, your laptops, your computer – everything), compared to things like iCloud that already exists on all your Apple devices for example.

#2 – Cloud Apps

That brings me onto the second method, which is to use cloud-based methods. This might mean One Drive on Windows systems, Google Photos and Drive on Android phones and Chromebooks, or iCloud on those overpriced white devices – SORRY, I meant to say “Apple products”.

iCloud on Apple iOS
iCloud on Apple iOS

These programs will usually already exist on many of your devices, meaning that if you wanted to share photos between an Android phone and Chromebook (for example), you just need to launch Google Photos on both and – HEY PRESTO – it’s there on both. Simple. Because the photos are backed up to Google’s cloud servers, you can pretty much access them anywhere. Or if you build a spreadsheet with Apple Numbers, you can store it on iCloud and access it from any of your other Apple devices really easily too.

The good thing with THIS approach is that it’s often ultra simple and seamless, plus you can still access Google and Apple cloud files from a Windows device for example. Or if you mainly use the Windows cloud software – One Drive –  you can access Microsoft OneDrive cloud files on Android and Apple products simply by installing the OneDrive app. This is all great, BUT the downside of relying on cloud storage is that you’re putting all your sensitive files and photos onto other company’s servers and placing your ENTIRE trust in them. These cloud services often have a single point of failure, such as your iCloud login which can POTENTIALLY be targeted in phishing scams – allowing hackers to then access all your files.

Equally cloud services CAN shut down, just like Amazon shut down Amazon Drive last month. If you relied on Amazon Drive for all your file storage and syncing needs, then you’d NOW be out of luck. The other downside of cloud storage is that it’s not really free. iCloud and OneDrive only give you a paltry 5 gigs of storage for free, which isn’t much – especially in the era of high-res photos.

Google gives 15 gigs which is a bit better, but to be honest, ALL cloud services want you to pay them for extra storage:

Google One storage prices here in the UK
Google One storage prices here in the UK

THAT’S their business model. I use – and so pay for – closer to 100 gigs of Google Drive storage, for example. And this is the main problem of cloud storage, and it can get quite expensive: costing £80 per year for 2 terabytes of storage.

#3 – NAS

This brings me onto the third file sharing approach that you can try out: a NAS. This stands for Network Attached Storage, and it can be a local-only way of sharing files, OR it can be a mix of cloud and local. Basically you can buy a mini computer and insert some hard drives into this, and then attach it to your home network (either by plugging it into your router, or a network switch).

Picture of my Synology DS220 plus NAS
Picture of my Synology DS220 plus NAS

Then the various devices around your house can access the files on this device (on the NAS), either by connecting to the NAS as though it’s any other Windows folder OR by downloading an app on your phone or tablet. The beauty of the NAS approach is that allows you to get 4 terabytes of storage (for example) for LESS THAN the price of one year’s of Google Drive storage – sort of! A NAS can cost anywhere from £80 to, well, THOUSANDS. If all you want is a simple one-bay NAS (meaning that it can fit one drive), you could pay £80 for the NAS and then buy a 4TB drive for another £80, so you’ve then spent £160 in total.

This will give you some really awesome storage capabilities, both on your local network AND over the internet (so you can access your files if you’re travelling). However the problem here is that if that single drive fails, you lose EVERYTHING. All your files. The solution to this is to pay for backup storage, although this can get EXPENSIVE – Synology’s own backup service costs 335 euros per year to protect all your files for the more expensive plan. That’s not cheap, although there ARE some cheaper alternatives out there. Another option is to buy a 2-bay NAS and then install a second hard drive, and run it in RAID mode.

The two bays and drives in my Synology NAS
The two bays and drives in my Synology NAS

This basically copies the data to both drives, which means that if one drive fails, your files are still protected – because they are on the other drive. You can then buy a new drive, install it, and the RAID array is rebuilt (which is a fancy way of saying that your files get copied back from the single, healthy drive to your newly purchased drive). Here’s the thing, though: RAID is not a backup. If your house burns down, or your NAS is stolen, then you’d still lose all your files. So while a NAS IS an awesome investment if you have LOTS of files to store and access, it probably won’t work out cheaper than cloud storage once you factor in backup costs.

The Synology C2 cloud pricing in the UK priced in Euros
The Synology C2 cloud pricing in the UK priced in Euros

What I personally do is buy a small amount of backup space and ensure that my most crucial files are backed up there, and then I rely on RAID for everything else. Yes RAID is not a backup, I know, but I’m happy with this approach and it works out cheaper than cloud storage overall… even though I ALSO pay for 100 gigs of Google Drive storage. I like storage, I guess. You can configure a NAS to only run over your local network by turning off any cloud access features, and this then means you have an entirely offline, local-only file sharing system – wahey!

But if you want to access your files when traveling, or you want to use cloud-based storage solutions, you’re then heading into virtual panopticon territory. Just kidding, sort of. I personally trust Synology more than many of the big tech companies, so I’m personally happy to enable Synology cloud access and also use their backup solution. But your mileage may vary.

#4 – The Chaos Approach

The FOURTH way that you can share files between different devices is a cloud-based approach that I like to call the “chaos approach”. This is where you and your partner, friends, colleagues (whoever) use a combination of email, Messenger and WhatsApp to share random files with each other, without any consistency, system or rules. It IS a quick and easy way of sharing files, of course, because everyone in an email or chat group can access those files. But there’s a downside: IT’S PURE CHAOS.

What happens is that a colleague will email you a spreadsheet, and they ask you to check it. You change something, and email it back. A month later, your boss asks for a copy of the spreadsheet – and someone accidentally sends them the original spreddy. (Yes I said spreddy, I worked in an office for a DECADE and words like “spreddy” now exist in my vocabulary – sorry)! Anyway, your boss now gets confused because your own work isn’t reflected in this spreddy (or file).

OR your partner sends you a cute picture they took of your kids, dog, pet goat, whatever. BUT instead of sending it via a cloud link, they sent it directly in Messenger or WhatsApp:

Photoshopped image of my wife ‘sending’ me goats on Messenger!

Your partner then loses this file after changing phones. A year later they ask to see that cute picture again.

Partner: “You definitely have it. I sent it on Messenger a year ago, just before Christmas. Wait no, it was just after Easter. And check WhatsApp, I think I sent it there actually.”

And you can’t find it. You THEN get into trouble. And it’s somehow MY FAULT that I can’t find this random file amongst a sea of random messages. I’m guessing all this of course, this has totally never happened to me. But hopefully this shows why it’s not ideal to “share files” over email, Messenger, WhatsApp (whatever), because it can be quickly get out of control.

#5 – Shared Folders

The fifth approach is a local solution that works especially well in office environments, and it’s to use shared Windows folders (or “File Sharing” if you use Mac). Focusing on Windows though, by default all the files on your computer are limited to just your computer – no-one else can see them. So your downloads, pictures, anything under “Documents” – they are all “private” to your PC (unless you’re in work, in which case the IT department will probably be able to access them of course).

But what happens if you need to share a bunch of files or pictures with someone else? Well one option is to right click a folder, go to Properties and then “Sharing”. You can then choose one or more users that should ALSO be able to access this folder. When you’re done, Windows will give a file path that you can send onto other users in the network – such as the same office.

Creating a shared Windows folder
Creating a shared Windows folder

Then can then use this to see the files in this folder. You can also set things up so that other people can put new files into the folder, or change what’s already there – it’s up to you. This approach can work very well in an office (like I mentioned), where everyone is using Windows. BUT it doesn’t work too well in a typical household because the Windows file share can’t always be opened on a Mac, Android phone or Chromebook, something like that.

#6 – Remote Desktop

Another way that you can share files between multiple devices is to use remote desktop software. This isn’t a local solution because it requires an over-the-internet connection, but it’s not really cloud-based either. This method requires something like Teamviewer or the Remote Desktop software built into Windows.

You can use this to “transport” yourself from one computer to another. For example when I used to work for other people, we would sometimes remote desktop into our work computer from home using Teamviewer.

Contemporary Room Workplace Office Supplies Concept
Contemporary Room Workplace Office Supplies Concept

Essentially I would open Teamviewer here, connect to my work computer’s Teamviewer instance, and then I could drag and drop files between the two computers. In other words, I could “pull” files from my work computer, onto my computer here. Or I could transfer a file from this PC, to my work one.

Screenshot of the Teamviewer homepage
Screenshot of the Teamviewer homepage

This can work very well if you’re only really looking at syncing files between two computers, but it quickly gets confusing if multiple people with multiple devices are using multiple remote desktop sessions to “share” files. This then becomes a bad version of shared folders, essentially. File transfers are often fairly reliable in software like Teamviewer, but it can be a bit buggier on Windows’ own Remote Desktop software. If you’re using the Windows one, then make sure that you click “Show Options” before starting a session, and then go to “Local Resources” at the top and ensure that everything under “Drives” is ticked. This will then show the various drives under your “This PC” section, and it SHOULD work fairly smoothly after that.

#7 – USBs

The seventh way of sharing files is entirely local, and it’d make my paranoid friend happy. USBs:

Me holding up loads of USB sticks
Me holding up loads of USB sticks

And external hard drives. Basically you can “go old school” and store all your files on ‘detachable storage media’ (to use the technical term). Once you’ve loaded what you need onto one of these devices, you can unplug it and take it to another computer. Plug it in, and you can EASILY access the files on there. Bliss. This method works really well still , but there are a couple of downsides:

  1. Firstly it works well for people within the same household or office, but it’s naturally not practical to ship USBs off to colleagues on the other side of the world every time you want to share files with them.
  2. Secondly many workplaces are now PARANOID about USB storage, and they often block “unexpected” USBs. In other words, if you’ve been working late at home on a presentation and put it on a USB to take into the office, you might not be able to transfer it to your work PC because it might not load up the USB. Whoops.

But in general, this is one of the cheapest and quickest ways of sharing files within a household.

#8 – Git

Screenshot of Github
Screenshot of Github

Having said that, the eighth approach I have for you is EVEN cheaper than USBs, but definitely not quick or easy. Git. Wait NO I’m not calling you a Git. I mean that you could use a version control system called Git to manage access to all your files. Git is used by programmers and web developers to manage all the technical files that make up software and websites. It’s actually a pretty cool technology because it allows HUNDREDS of people (potentially) to work on the same set of files, without anyone clashing.

I mean, people WILL clash and work on the same file at the same time, but there’s a process to then resolve that. If you had a set of project files and wanted multiple people to work on them at the same time, then Git could really work well. Essentially you would create a Git repository, either locally on your computer using Git For Windows or using a cloud based solution like GitHub. Other people then install a Git client onto their computer, and can then start accessing the files in your Git repo. This can get a little bit technical so I won’t dive into it more, but Git can work really well – especially in technical environments.

#9 – FTP

Ninth but not least – and yes I know that’s not the right phrase – is to use FTP. This stands for File Transfer Protocol and it’s QUITE LITERALLY a computer standard designed for file sharing and syncing. Isn’t this EXACTLY what we wanted in the first place? Well yes, but it’s a bit like Git – it’s a bit of a technical approach. As a result, the average PC user probably won’t want to start sharing files with their housemates or colleagues via FTP.

Screenshot of Filezilla which is an FTP client
Screenshot of Filezilla which is an FTP client

But if you DID want to explore this option, you would need to create an FTP server on your Windows machine – either by using a third party program, or by enabling “FTP Service” within Windows Features and then laboriously configuring your new FTP server via the Internet Information Services Manager. Once this is all set-up, you basically have a super-powerful Windows Share that then allows other users to connect to it and download (or add) files. You could either configure your FTP server to be local-only so that only your colleagues can use it, or enable remote access so that it (sort of) becomes a cloud-based file sharing approach.

To be honest though, the average user isn’t going to need – or want – to set up an FTP server so that they can share funny pictures of their dog with their partner. This is mainly used in technical environments.

Summing Up

Phew, so that’s the nine methods all laid out. I started with the common, “user friendly” ones and then degenerated to really technical approaches which most people won’t use, but in my opinion they’re still good to know about. As you can tell, though, some of these methods work best in certain environments. For example, shared Windows folders will work well in office environments where everyone else uses Windows. Or cloud storage like iCloud works really well for a non-technical person who just wants to easily keep their files synced up – and have an easy way of sharing those files with other people. There’s certainly nothing wrong with cloud-based approaches…

[Paranoid Tristan pops up, ranting]

Me looking annoyed at another more paranoid looking me
Me looking annoyed at another more paranoid looking me

Pipe down my paranoid amigo. It’s fine to put all your files on the cloud as long as you understand that there could be some risks – especially if you use a weak iCloud password and have two-factor authentication disabled. Or if you stored everything on Amazon Drive and then it shut down.

A Note On Backups

Also if you DO use a local-only method like storing everything on USBs, consider whether you need off-site backups. No-one expects a disaster like their house burning down, but it could happen – and you could then lose all your files. Off-site backups doesn’t have to be ultra expensive though – it could be as simple as putting your most important files on a USB, and keeping that USB at a trusted friend or family member’s house.

Final Thoughts

That wraps up today’s video. I covered a LOT of different methods, but I didn’t want to dive into LOADS of detail on any specific method because otherwise this video would have been 10 hours long or something! But if you did want more information on a particular method, please drop me a comment down below, and I’ll reply back and maybe create a more detailed tutorial in the future. I hope you found this video useful – if you did, please click the thumbs up button. While the YouTube algorithm is FAIRLY smart, it does also boil down to more likes equals more exposure. If you wanted to see more videos from me, then please also subscribe to me if you haven’t already – and thanks for watching!

cropped A picture of me Tristan
About Tristan Perry

Tristan has been interested in computer hardware and software since he was 10 years old. He has built loads of computers over the years, along with installing, modifying and writing software (he's a backend software developer 'by trade').

Tristan also has an academic background in technology (in Math and Computer Science), so he enjoys drilling into the deeper aspects of technology.

Tristan is also an avid PC gamer, with FFX and Rocket League being his favorite games.

If you have any questions, feedback or suggestions about this article, please leave a comment below. Please note that all comments go into a moderation queue (to prevent blog spam). Your comment will be manually reviewed and approved by Tristan in less than a week. Thanks!

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