How to keep your information in sync

Keeping track of all your information can become a chore if you keep your files in different locations. Perhaps you store some files on a computer, others in folders on a network server, and still others on mobile devices such as portable music players, personal digital assistants (PDAs), or mobile phones.

How can you be certain you’re working with the most recent versions of your files when you have copies scattered everywhere? And how can you make sure you have all the files you want on the computer, server, or mobile devices you use without spending a lot of time copying files manually? The easiest and most efficient way is to sync your files automatically using Sync Center.

Illustration showing how information is kept in sync between a computer and several mobile devices
Using Sync Center, you can keep your information in sync between your computer and a variety of network folders and mobile devices

What is sync?

In Windows, sync (short for synchronization) is the process of keeping files in two or more locations matched with each other.

Sync can be one way or two way. In one-way sync, every time you add, change, or delete a file or other information in one location, the same information is added, changed, or deleted in the other location. But no changes are ever made to the first location because the sync is only one way.

In two-way sync, files are copied in both directions, keeping files in sync in two locations. Every time you add, change, or delete a file in either location, the same change is made in the other sync location. It doesn't matter whether you made the changes on a computer, a mobile device, or a folder on a network server; the same changes will be made in both locations. Two-way sync is commonly used in work environments, where files are often updated in more than one location and then synced with other locations.

Where do I go to sync?

Sync Center is the place to go to sync your computer with network folders, mobile devices, and compatible programs. Sync Center can automatically keep your files and folders in sync in different locations.

Open Sync Center by clicking the Start button Picture of the Start button, clicking All Programs, clicking Accessories, and then clicking Sync Center.

How difficult is it to set up sync?

In the past, the sync process was so complex that many people relied on a system administrator to set up sync for them. With Sync Center, you can do it yourself. There are no server settings to worry about, even if you sync with a folder on a network server. All you have to do is tell Sync Center what files and folders you want to sync, where to sync them, and when. This set of rules—which represents a partnership between two or more sync locations—is called a sync partnership.

How does sync work?

Every time you sync files between two locations (such as between a computer and a mobile device), Sync Center compares the files in both locations to see if they still match or if any have changed. It determines if any files need to be updated in order to stay in sync.

  • If the files differ, Sync Center determines which version of each file to keep and copies that version to the other location, overwriting the other version there. It selects the most recent version to keep, unless you have set up the sync partnership to sync differently.

  • If a file has changed in both locations since the last sync, Sync Center flags this as a sync conflict and asks you to choose which version to keep.

  • If the files are identical in both locations, Sync Center does nothing because the files are already in sync.

  • If you have added a new file in one location but not the other, Sync Center will copy the file to the other location.

  • If you have deleted a file from one location but not the other, Sync Center will delete the file from the other location.

What are some of the different ways I can sync?

The following scenarios illustrate several of the most common and useful ways to keep your information in sync. Using Sync Center, you can sync:

  • Music stored on a portable music player and music stored on a computer. You store your main collection of music on your computer, and you want to make sure that any music you add to or delete from your computer is also added to or deleted from your portable player. But you don't want any songs you delete from your portable player to be deleted from your computer, so you create a one-way sync partnership between your computer and music player. If you add or delete any music on your computer, Sync Center will add or delete the same songs on your music player.

  • Files stored on a computer and in a network folder. You work collaboratively with your colleagues on a set of documents stored on a network server. You set up an Offline Files sync partnership with this network folder. Now any time you disconnect your computer from the network or the server loses its network connection, you can continue working on those files without interruption. The next time you reconnect to the network folder, any changes you have made are also made to the files in the network folder.

Note

  • The ability to sync with network folders is not included in Windows Vista Starter, Windows Vista Home Basic, and Windows Vista Home Premium.