The Danger of File Syncing Between Computers

So, I started using SugarSync here at work. It’s a great tool — not only does it sync files I’m working on between my work computer and my MacBook, but it makes those files accessible from my iPhone. So, I’m in a meeting a need to pull up some notes that I didn’t bring with me — it’s right there on my phone.

But, there is danger.

Yesterday, I worked remotely from my MacBook all day. It was great.. zero distractions and I got a ton done. I then came to the office this morning and logged on to my work computer. My document was still open there from when I worked on it at the office 2 days ago. Oh, that’s an old version, I thought.. I’ll just close it. I close it, it asks me to save changes, and I always say “Yes”.

This is where the danger comes in. To the sync application, that is now the latest version of the document because it has a newer time stamp. The sync application will pick up that version and transfer it to my MacBook, overwriting the version that was there which was the newer version I had spend and addition 10 hours working on.

Fortunately, in this case, I could see what was going to happen and I disconnected my MacBook from the network before it could. But, I could have easily lost a day’s work.

Another danger to watch out for is cascading deletes. A lot of syncing tools will, by default, sync deletes. So, if you accidently delete a file from one computer, the tool will see that and delete it from all of the others. Your file that you thought was backed up is now gone.

So, in conclusion, be very careful when using sync tools. I use to use one as my only method of backup until I realized all of the potential dangers. As long as you know what to look for, they are terrific time saving tools. Just be careful!

Update: Since writing this post, I have been told that SugarSync does keep older versions of files, instead of overwriting them, and it moves deleted files to the Trash so they can still be recovered. When I get a minute, I need to test that out and see how it works (with some much less important documents!).