BitTorrent Sync vs Dropbox

For many years, I stored the majority of my data in Dropbox. A few months ago, however, I migrated to BitTorrent Sync (BTS), and haven’t looked back. This article explains why.

Synchronization of multiple folders

Dropbox provides synchronization of a single folder—your “Dropbox” folder. In my case, however, I wanted to synchronize data across multiple folders—some shared with my wife and others shared with our kids.

BitTorrent Sync Pro ($40 per year) allows the synchronization of any number of folders. (The free version is limited to ten folders.) Here’s what my setup looks like.

As you can see from the screenshot, I maintain six synchronized folders—three shared with my wife (BTConfidential, BTCabinet and BTDownloads), one shared with my kids (BTFamily) and two (BTVault and BTMedia) stored elsewhere.

Speaking of BTVault and BTMedia, you’ll notice their icons look different. That’s because they are selectively “excluded” from my MacBook Air, to save SSD space. This feature is discussed later in the article.

Economics

Dropbox costs me about $120 per year. To share data with my wife, without having to purchase a second subscription, required installing Dropbox on her Mac, but logged into my Dropbox account. Sharing data with my kids, however, would have required purchasing paid Dropbox accounts for them, as our shared “Family” data exceeds the Dropbox free account level.

For $40 per year, a single BTS license can be used on multiple computers. And if you can get by syncing up to 10 folders, it’s free!

(I paid for the Pro version, and in the process of writing this article realized I could still be using the product for free. But I like BitTorrent Sync so much that I’m happy to have paid, in support of its success and future development!)

Better selective sync

Say you have a folder of software installers in Dropbox that you don’t want consuming space on your MacBook Air’s SSD. The Dropbox solution is to exclude that folder by disabling it in the “selective sync” settings. The problem, however, is that once you’ve excluded a folder via selective sync, it becomes invisible to the local host, making it difficult to get at that data when you ultimate need to.

BitTorrent Sync also supports selective sync, but dramatically improves on the Dropbox implementation by allowing you to continue to see the contents of excluded folders locally, and—here’s the killer feature—also allowing you to access that data on demand!

Using this feature, I store my archived files (like software installers) in my “BTVault” folder, on an internet-hosted Mac (that I’ll discuss later in the “cloud copy” section).

Within that excluded BTVault folder, here’s a screenshot of my Adobe CS installers, as seen from my MacBook Air.

You can see that on my MacBook Air, this folder contains a bunch of “.bts” files—which are tiny “aliases” to the original files stored elsewhere.

Now here’s what’s great—If I need an installer locally, I just double-click it, and it downloads in place! And when I’m finished with installer, I simply delete it in the Finder, and shortly thereafter I’ll see its “.bts” alias re-appear.

It’s almost like magic!

Synchronization speed

Since my wife, kids and I are usually on the same LAN, BitTorrent Sync allows us to synchronize our files much, much faster than Dropbox, even though both technologies support “LAN sync”.

The following illustration explains:

With Dropbox, if I edit a 30MB file on my MacBook Air, it first has to upload the changes to the Dropbox servers—which over our pathetic Spanish ADSL line might require two minutes. The Dropbox servers then communicate those changes to my wife’s computer. At that point, my wife’s computer fetches the changed file directly from my computer, via Dropbox’s LAN sync.

With BitTorrent Sync there is no intermediate “server”; rather, it’s based on a direct “peer-to-peer” technology. With BTS, as soon as I edit the file, my wife’s computer (nearly) instantly receives the update over the LAN.

This technological/speed advantage is immensely noticeable when big changes are made—such as renaming a folder full of files, or conducting a major re-organization of a folder.

What about a “cloud” copy?

Of course, one of Dropbox’s selling points is that their service provides an off-site cloud-based backup of your data, something not natively provided in the BitTorrent Sync peer-to-peer architecture.

To achieve this functionality for myself, I run BTS on a Mac mini that I have hosted at Mac Mini Vault. (That computer is where the source data of my BTVault and BTMedia folders is stored.)

For those requiring a cloud-based BitTorrent Sync installation, and not needing or wanting to maintain an internet-hosted Mac mini, BTS can also be run under Linux, opening up a wide range of lower-cost hosting options.

What about versioning?

Another selling point of Dropbox, is that they maintain backups of your modified and deleted files. BitTorrent Sync can, on a computer-by-computer basis, be configured to locally store copies of modified and deleted files, but I don’t personally use that feature.

Instead, I run CrashPlan on all my home computers, as well as my internet-hosted Mac Mini, for versioned backups of all our data. Of the 2.5TB of total data I have backed up, nearly 800GB is stored in CrashPlan’s cloud-servers, “CrashPlan Central”.

What about iOS access?

BitTorrent Sync is available for the iPhone and iPad, and provide similar functionality to the Dropbox app.

The major short-coming (comparatively) of the BTS app over the Dropbox app relates to accessing video files. Dropbox allows you to stream video data, whereas BTS requires you to download the entire file to your device before viewing. But as I’ve recently moved my photos and videos to iCloud Photo Library, that’s becoming less of an issue.

Reliability

When considering data synchronization, reliability is of utmost importance, and here Dropbox shines. I’ve tried several other cloud-sync services in the past, and none measured up to Dropbox.

Fortunately, BitTorrent Sync is built on top of the same underlying technology used in the time-tested BitTorrent peer-to-peer software. It should, and in my experience has proven to be (so far), extremely reliable.

Conclusions

As mentioned at the top of the article, since migrating to BitTorrent Sync, I haven’t looked back and could’t be happier! It allows me to share data both privately with my wife and across my entire family—fast and reliably—for about $30 per year.

That doesn’t mean I’ll completely discontinue use Dropbox, though, since it’s become the de facto backend storage of most apps—including our own very own Rego. But at the end of this year, I do plan to downgrade Dropbox from paid to free, saving myself $120 per year.

10 thoughts on “BitTorrent Sync vs Dropbox”

  1. Very useful, thank you. How have you found the integrity of extended attributes is maintained between devices, something Dropbox excels at?

    1. As far as I can tell, that works fine. When other sync systems I’ve tried had problems with extended attributes, those problems manifested themselves always in making package files unusable. I’m regularly syncing modified package files, and their apps have continued to work with those files just fine.

  2. Nice breakdown! I recently made the switch from Dropbox to Google Drive. I considered BitTorrent Sync as well, but I like the web access and backup aspects too much. The P2P speed of BT Sync would definitely benefit me if I shared more documents, like you do with your family.

      1. Huh? I don’t think I quite understood you.

        It’s targeted towards mainstream users, as a replacement for BT-sync or Dropbox, not necessarily to be bundled pre-installed (I don’t think anyone actually does this).

        Note that you can run your server, but it’ll the default if you don’t, and will work out-of-the-box.

        1. Software that’s targeted to “mainstream” users isn’t delivered in a tar.gz file, run from the terminal and interfaced via a web browser accessing a localhost port.

          1. The tar.gz isn’t really for end-users, if you’re an end-user, you should install it via your OS’s repositories/software centre. 🙂

            There’s a few desktop-UI around, but it’s a good point that the website should point users to those as well.

  3. I used BTS version 1.x successfully, running it on a Synology drive and syncing the Synology file repository with two Macs and several iOS devices.

    I recently tried to move back to that solution with BTS version 2, but a big problem is that it will not allow you to set up sync with non-empty folders on those remote devices.

    Plus, there are some implementation changes between versions one and two that make set up and configuration more confusing than it needs to be.

  4. i know this is bit older post (but far newer then crash plan) how have you found BTS as looking at using it to sync around 400GB of data (and in the process of getting crashplan as well)

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?