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BTSync, Dropbox Alternative

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Dropbox is a revolutionary product. It has made it simple for anyone to share files between computers, access those files from a phone, automatically load photos from my phone onto my computer, and make it easy to share files publicly. Who needs USB sticks anymore?

Why would I even want to quit Dropbox?

Dropbox comes with some strings attached that I don’t like. There is no client for my Raspberry Pi, for example. Every file I share is also uploaded to the cloud, and while they score 4 out of 5 stars in the EFF’s privacy rankings, there is no technically enforced guarantee that my data isn’t shared with others. They have been in the news with security incidents that make it clear files on their service are not encrypted. In fact, by the nature of how their software works, they cannot be.

Bittorrent Sync (BTSync)

BTSync is a software that sets up a private swarm of computers that share folders between them, just like regular bittorrent clients share the files defined in a torrent among them, except that changes in the folder are synced, too. It’s free, easy to set up, and secure by design. There is no cloud server that keeps a copy of all my data, and as long as at least one machine in the swarm is reachable, I can sync my folder to a new machine. Folders are shared by exchanging a secret key, a short alphanumeric string, and computers discover each other either on the local LAN or over the internet.

BTSync can share multiple folders, anywhere in the file system (no central Dropbox folder here), with different people. I can share the baby pictures with Mom and Grandma, travel plans with the rest of my group, music with the living room computer, and a public folder with my web server, or any other combination.

Example use: Hack The Future

For Hack The Future, I have a folder of all the installers for software that we mentor. It’s shared between the loaner laptops we have, but it’s easy to share that folder with somebody else, and rather than downloading big installers over a museum’s slow internet connection, the new machine will pull in everything from the local network, with the existing computers sharing the load.

Example use: Raspberry Pi

I said earlier that my complaint about Dropbox was that there is no client for my Raspberry Pi. BTSync has an ARM client, and I use it to seed folders that I want to have access to at any time. The Pi is my only “always on” machine, and takes over the role of the Dropbox cloud servers.