BitTorrent Sync

Today Forbes has an article about how BitTorrent Sync is taking off. I’ve been using it since the beta was opened up, and I’m very impressed.

I run it on my phone. When I take a photo or record a movie, it sits in the DCIM folders (the name is part of the DCF standards for digital cameras). When the phone finds my home network, Sync automatically does a 1-way read-only sync of all the camera files to my Mac and my home server.

I run it on my tablet. When I have a PDF or other file I want to read later, I throw it in a folder on any of my computers. When I power on the tablet, it pulls all the new files across the network and I can tap to open whichever one I want to read next.

I run it on my laptops. When I find a cool new font while I’m working on web design, I toss it into the appropriate folder. When I go to my Mac after work, by the time I’ve logged in Sync will have transferred the data across.

The thing is, because it runs across my home network whenever possible, BitTorrent Sync is fast. Sure, SpiderOak is supposed to use LAN connections when possible, but it never seemed to work that way.

It also works over the public Internet. If I’m away from home and really need some file that didn’t have time to sync before I left, I can sync using free WiFi at a coffee shop, or tell BitTorrent Sync to use my wireless data plan to do the sync.

It’s also painless to set up. No accounts, no logging in, no extra passwords, no firewall changes, no servers to configure. Each sync folder has a 40-character secret which enables access to it, analogous to a URL. Copy that to the destination system(s) by whatever method you like and you’re done.

You can use these secrets to share files too. Set up a read-only sync folder, send the secret code to a friend via e-mail, they can paste it into their BitTorrent Sync and the folder will download via BitTorrent. Want to share 2GB video files with a collaborator? With BitTorrent Sync, you won’t pay to do so. Academics are using it to share terabytes of research data.

And the big point Forbes makes: It’s secure. All data which goes across the Internet is encrypted. There’s no cloud provider the NSA can force to disclose your data or keys without telling you.

Oh, and it’s free and works with NAS systems and headless servers. If you’re geeky enough you can run it on any random Linux VPS hosting plan and make your own DropBox alternative.

Got a computer you leave running at home? Then why pay DropBox $100 a year for a measly 100GB of on-the-go file access, when you can stick a 2TB hard drive in your computer for that price?

You might be worried about the battery implications of running a P2P client on your phone, right? Well, don’t be. At least on my phone, BitTorrent Sync uses less battery than “Cell standby”, i.e. remaining connected to the mobile network ready to receive a call.

In short, BitTorrent Sync is the best thing since rsync. It’s easily the best thing Bram Cohen and team have ever done. It has replaced my use of Google Drive, Box, and AeroFS. I still use SpiderOak, but increasingly just to keep an offsite encrypted backup of medical and tax records.

BitTorrent Sync is part of the bigger redecentralization movement, also known as the indie web movement, which seeks to break out of the walled gardens and move back towards the decentralized peer-to-peer system the Internet was designed to be. It’s also easier (on Windows, Mac and Android) and better than the centralized options, so give it a try if you value your freedom.