SyncToy: Yet Another Useful Windows Backup/Sync Tool

I am obsessive about backing up. In addition to using Dropbox for backing up to the cloud and Genie Timeline to backup my data to an external hard drive, incrementally, I also keep an up-to-date copy of all my data on another external hard drive using Microsoft’s SyncToy.

Configure SyncToy to back up/sync your files

Setting up SyncToy is not overly complicated, but it is essential you pay attention to how you want the sync to actually work, lest it delete everything!

SyncToy uses a novel method of syncing called Folder Pairs. Instead of broadly defining what your sync options will be and then selecting individual folders, you can decide on a piecemeal basis which folders you want to sync and in what manner you want them to be synced.

After downloading and installing the program, start it up and click on “Create New Folder Pair”.

synctoy - create new

Choose Folders (Step 1)

On the next page, you select the the folders you want to sync.

Firstly, the “Left Folder” is generally speaking the “base folder”. What this means is that you will make most of your changes in this folder, and have those changes synced to somewhere else. So, in my case my “base folder” is my “Documents” folder.

The “Right Folder” is the folder where you want your data synced to, in my case it is a folder called “Documents” on my external hard drive (H:\).

synctoy - left-right folder

Sync Action (Step 2)

This next step is the most complex and it will determine how SyncToy will function.

In version 2.0, there are three sync choices available: Synchronize, Echo and Contribute.

Synchronize: This action will mirror two folders (i.e. the Left Folder and Right Folder), keeping the latest changes made to the files in either folder. New and updated files are copied both ways. Renamed and deletes on either side are repeated on the other. New folders and deleted folders are also propagated both ways. In short, this provides the standard “sync” function (like Dropbox). This is most useful in situations where you frequently update your files and folders on two sets of devices.

synctoy - sync

Echo: This action will mirror the Right folder to be an exact image of the Left folder. Any changes make in the Left folder are synced and reflected in the Right Folder. On the other hand, any changes in the Right folder will be deleted to maintain the image integrity. This is the sync action to use if you wish to merely backup your data from the Left Folder to the Right Folder.

synctoy - echo

Contribute: This action will add changes from the Left Folder to the Right Folder. New and updated files are copied from the Left Folder to the Right Folder. This is broadly similar to Echo, however the key difference is that nothing is deleted in the Right Folder (unlike Echo).

synctoy - contribute

In summary, if you would like to keep two sets of devices completely in sync, you should use Synchronize. If you wish to ensure that one set of data is backed up, you can use Echo or Contribute.

Name Sync Action (Step 3)

Finally, you must provide a name for your newly created sync action.

synctoy - name

Change Settings

Once your sync action is created you can edit the sync action by clicking on “Change Action…”. You can also change the sync options by clicking on “Change Options…”.

synctoy - settings

You can change a number of options, allowing you to customise a number of settings including specific folders to exclude.

synctoy - options

synctoy - exclude folder

Running the Sync Action

Once the sync action is created you can run it by clicking on “Preview” or “Run” to start the sync action.


Clicking on Preview shows you the changes (deletions, overwrites, renames and creations) that will be made to the files and folders in your Folder Pair and Run will automatically start the process. I would advise clicking on Preview and ensuring that the changes are what you expect.

synctoy - preview

Since this is the first time I am running the sync there are 6,735 new files and 916 folders will be created. In successive operations there would be more deletions, overwrites and renames.

If you are satisfied you can then click on “Run”.

synctoy - run2

synctoy - run3

Depending on the number of files and folders that will be changed this can take quite some time.

That’s it, you can now run this programme as many times as you please to keep your data backed up.


Microsoft’s main revenue source is Office and Windows. However there are numerous gems, such as SyncToy, that are often missed but which provide an easy and free solution to a difficult problem.

SyncToy is a versatile programme that can sync an unlimited amount of data between two sources. In my next article I will outline how I use it to keep my netbook and desktop in sync.

How would you use SyncToy?

Abhiroop Basu

Abhiroop Basu is an opinionated tech and digital media blogger. As a doe-eyed twenty-something, he started his first blog TechComet to comment on anything tech-related that caught his omniscient eye.

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