Research: Synchronising files

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If you regularly work on multiple computers – a laptop and a desktop, for example, or one machine in your college or department and another at home – a file synchronisation (or ‘syncing’) service will help ensure you always have access to the latest version of all your material, without the hassle of emailing files to yourself or saving them to a flash drive.

Syncing services

Not all services work in exactly the same way, but syncing software typically asks you to specify which files or folders you want to keep synchronised. A copy of these is uploaded to a server, and used to update your other computer(s) next time you connect to the Web. It’s usually also possible to access your documents by logging in from any computer with a Web connection or via a mobile device. Some services store past versions of files, so you can revert to an earlier one or rescue a file that’s been accidentally deleted.

Many services offer a basic account with limited file space (typically about 2GB) free of charge, with the option to pay for more storage and features if you choose to. 

Synchronising Sensitive Data

Using third-party cloud based services such as DropBox, Apple's iCloud, or Microsoft's SkyDrive will mean that you will lose some control of your data. For non-sensitive data this may not be a problem. However for data that is confidential or personally sensitive, this could mean a risk of breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 or other legislation - even if a security breach is outside your control.

You should take care to ensure that confidential data is adequately protected using tools such as encryption and password protection of individual files. It is also important to apply the same level of security controls to any copies of data.


Because syncing your files ensures you have multiple copies of each item (on your own machines, and probably also on your syncing service’s server), it can also function as a form of backup.