Deciding on "best" sync software

I’m in the process of evaluating how we, my boss and I, use sync and backup software. I’m her tech support which is a very questionable selection on her part. ;) LOL

Systems: We both use iMacs mostly but also use travel computers for a significant part of the year.

I follow what Joe recommends in his TC of Backing up your Mac. I’ve found the TC books extremely helpful.

Currently, I use CCC for a daily backup and Dropbox for syncing. That approach has two shortcomings. One, Joe’s convinced me it is a good idea to have versioned backups. I don’t currently. And two, Dropbox is not syncing the Mac OS folders Desktop, Documents and Downloads.

All the CCC backups for my wife’s and my Macs go to my external hard drives. I have two that I swap monthly. We don’t perform any backups when we are using our travel computers.

Objective: In terms of syncing, we both would like to make computer life as easy as possible when using our travel computers. And I’d like to be able to access all my documents on my iPhone.

Dropbox has performed well for all my sync wants except for those 3 folders. I was thinking of adding iCloud Drive to the mix for that. From our experience, Dropbox is only fair on customer support.

My assumption is that we are raw beginners compared to most TidBITS Talk users.

So, if any of you have any recommendations for changes to our sync, or backup, approach, I’d welcome your opinions and related information. Thank you for listening.

My philosophy is that the best backup method is the one you don’t have to think about - it should be as automatic as possible. To that end I use 3 primary tools, Time Machine, CCC, and BackBlaze. We’re retired so it’s all personal stuff. We dumped Dropbox a year ago and went completely to iCloud. Works well for syncing our photos and documents.

At home we use 2 iMacs and have older MBAs for travel. All have SSDs large enough to not have to optimize storage. Don’t want to worry about bandwidth when traveling for downloading what we need.

Each iMac has an external SSD that gets a CCC clone (with Safety Net) daily. This is our primary backup for restores if needed. For additional backups I have a Mac Mini with some JBOD enclosures with large hard drives. One is used as a TM destination and another is used as a CCC destination. There’s also a media drive.

For offsite backup, the media drive and the CCC backups are backed up to BackBlaze, requiring only a single license. I pay extra for a full year of versioning.

Last but most important all these backups must be tested on a regular basis. I prefer to test different recovery scenarios for different disasters. Examples include “stupid human tricks” like deleting or mangling your own files, failed OS upgrades, hardware failures, malicious acts like malware or ransomware, fire or flood, and loss or theft.

This backup strategy works well even while traveling. We’re in Florida for a couple of months. I’ve created and modified files while here. Those files get synced to iCloud. The iMac back at home is still running (on UPS in case of power loss) and gets the files synced from iCloud. They are then copied to the Mac Mini and then backed up to BackBlaze. I can go into BackBlaze here and verify that my new files have been backed up.

I have been using Goodsync for many years to keep data folders synchronised between an iMac and Macbook:

Very happy with Chronosync. It duplicates drives daily, as well as folders over to my NAS.

A number of years ago we used Folders Syncronizer successfully. It’s a small utility that worked well - full disclosure we haven’t used it for a long time.

I also note that Forklift - along with being a Pathfinder like Finder alternative - can do syncing but I’ve only done basic testing. I must look at it further.

Both of these companies have been known to sell via BundleHunt offers which occasionally pop up. From memory Forklift cost me $3 and I replaced Transmit with it - it has a nice FTP client and I prefer the interface to Pathfinder (and it’s not a subscription).

DropBox does versioned backups if you pay them a little more.

If it was me…I would stick with one syncing solution over two syncing solutions…and either switch to a large enough iCloud storage space and do everything there…or I would just arrange that the Desktop, Documents, and Downloads folders got periodically duplicated to some subfolders in DropBox…which would then get synced…and just put aliases to them named DB_Desktop, DB_Documents, and DB_Downloads on the desktop or Sidebar in Finder. Actually, I direct all downloads to my folder Junk which used to be at the root but can’t do that any more so /Junk got moved to /Users/Shared/Junk instead.

Setting up CarbonCopyCloner jobs to sync those folders to a subfolder in the DropBox folder is pretty trivial and if you enable the history feature you’ll get all the older versions as well as the versioning that DropBox will provide.

Note that in latest versions of their app…the DropBox folder is no longer at the root of ~ but got moved to ~/Library/CloudStorage…although it didn’t get moved on all of my machines and as of today it’s back at the root of ~ on my up to date 14 M1 MBP and I can’t remember if I did that or the DropBox app did that.

I would stick with DropBox myself over doing it all on iCloud since iCloud is much more particular about stove-piping files and say Numbers wants to store them in iCloud/Numbers and only there and it’s deliberately difficult to put them where you want them verses where Apple says you should want them.

The other thing I would do for travel is to get yourself a couple of Samsung T7 SSD drives…about the size of a credit card and less than 1/4 inch thick…and set up CCC jobs to clone the entire laptop drive to them on mount and set them on a schedule with email notifications on every run. That way you get a nag email that says ‘backup to T7-1 failed, please insert it…you stick the cord in and it auto runs and you eject the drive and put it back in the bag or wherever. I keep those backup drives on my person and not in my computer bag…and at least in my case I’m downloading photos to Lightroom daily if it’s a photo related trip and running the clone job daily to both drives so that there are 3 copies of those images, one on the laptop and 2 more on SSDs that are in other places including my wife’s daily carry bag.

Thanks Neil. Very helpful. Thank you for taking the time.

But I didn’t understand all of your post and I can’t blame my bifocals. ;) LOL

Para #3 lost me… You’re suggesting that I have CCC sync folders to Dropbox. I don’t understand how to do that with my CCC folders on my external backup drive. Plus not sure what is the goal.

I’m also not sure if you are saying to use CCC or Dropbox for the versioning including whether that results in the type of versioning that Take Control of… recommends.

Para #4… I hope you moved it and that Dropbox didn’t and doesn’t. I prefer the Dropbox folder in the ~ location though if I switch to iCloud Drive I would then move all my docs to Documents.

Para #5… I know a stove pipe hat but not stove-piping. ;) LOL This para lost me but not sure if it is applicable to our two systems.

Para #6… Thanks. When you say clone do you mean a duplicate of the Data Volume or the whole drive/partition? I’ll re-read the section on photos as I didn’t totally track on all of that.

Thanks again. Much appreciated.

OK, let me try again then…don’t want to lose ya.

You’re suggesting that I have CCC sync folders to Dropbox…not sure if you are saying to use CCC or Dropbox for the versioning

Using CCC to clone the iCloud folders to DB in a subfolder would then let you use a single sync system vice having some in DB and some in iCloud. Setting up the source and destination folders in CCC appropriately is pretty easy…and you could use CCCs Safety Net feature on the destination folders in DB to get versioning without having to pay the extra bucks to DB…but cloning them there would need more DB space but if you’re like me and have 2 TB then space isn’t an issue.

Para #4… I hope you moved it and that Dropbox didn’t and doesn’t. I prefer the Dropbox folder in the ~ location though if I switch to iCloud Drive I would then move all my docs to Documents.

I liked DB at ~/DB myself, much less deep in the folder hierarchy…DB says that it got moved because of Apple’s rules…but if that’s actually correct then I don’t understand why it only gets moved sometimes and not on other machines…I gave up trying to figure it out.

Para #5… I know a stove pipe hat but not stove-piping. ;) LO.

Has to do with how Apple’s apps store docs in iCloud. Numbers stores them in a folder named Numbers and (unless it’s changed recently) at least on iOS it won’t store them anyplace else and only Numbers has access to the Numbers doc folder, they can’t be seen by other apps that might also read Numbers files. Also can’t (at least when I tried) make subfolders under Numbers folder in iCloud to store by project or client or whatever (iOS side, macOS I think always allowed more control. Personally I like my folders arranged the way I want them and not the way Apple wants them…and since iCloud didn’t do it my way I just used DB and never really switched back or tried iCloud for doc storage and sync afterwards because “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

Para #6… Thanks. When you say clone do you mean a duplicate of the Data Volume or the whole drive/partition?

Only the data partition…the OS one is read only and all that so no need to bother syncing it…CCC lets you specify just the data volume which is all that’s needed. That gives you backup for files you might change on the road…if those changes are stored in DB or iCloud then they will get synced to the cloud depending on bandwidth, wifi availability, etc…but I always like to have my own backups as well…especially as I might take 20 or 30 GB of photos in a day…they build up fast at 20 frames per second and 45 MB per frame…and if I’m on a photo trip to Africa or the rain forest or whatever those images aren’t replaceable…so they get backed up from the camera card to the laptop daily and from the laptop to the 2 Samsung T7s so it’s (almost) impossible to lose all copies of those images…and in the field trying to get that much data synced to any cloud is just too hard and time consuming.

Hope all that helps…ask away if you have further questions. Another good thing about DB over iCloud is that you can more easily share files with those on some other OS…I’ll agree that DBs support isn’t superb but I’ve never really needed much support. At home our laptops get backed up daily via wifi to our pair of desktop Macs using a CCC job that simulates Time Machine since the latter is unreliable over a network connection and just fails either completely or won’t work on machine B despite it being setup identically as the one that works perfectly on machine A…whereas CCC clone jobs of /Users (which includes all the DB and iCloud folders) via wifi to another Mac just works. You just need to select Remote Mac as the destination rather than share a destination on the other Mac and mount the volume before selecting as the destination…the former just works and the latter works most of the time but not always for me. So my DB folder…in addition to being on the DB server and both of our laptops and both of our desktops (wife and I share the same DB folder)…it also gets backed up separately via the CCC TM-like job to the RAID attached to the Mac Studio that does my Lightroom processing, home file server services, print server, etc.

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You can move files and create subfolders with the Files app. Numbers and other apps can also navigate through the file system in their open dialogs. Or you can open a file in its appropriate app from Files. (I tested all this on an iPad because I don’t have Numbers on an iPhone.)
Of course this is all easier on the Mac side.

OK, let me try again then…don’t want to lose ya.

You are very kind. Thank you.

I wish I knew how quoting and the like worked here on Adam’s site. I’ll go on a search after this but for now I’ll just wing it.

Using CCC to clone the iCloud folders to DB in a subfolder would then let you use a single sync system vice having some in DB and some in iCloud.

I like that plan of just one sync system. But this oldie is confused. I use CCC to backup the Data Volume of my Mac to an external hard drive connected to my Mac. I back up my wife/boss’ Mac remotely from my Mac to another partition on that external. That’s done daily. That is all I do and all I’ve ever done with CCC. So I’m probably missing many of the features of CCC.

Let me try to understand what you are proposing … If I backup (Mike Bombich is trying to get us not to use the word “clone” ) the three Mac OS folders (Desktop, Documents and Downloads) over to Dropbox then Dropbox will sync those along with the rest in the Dropbox folder. Is that what you are proposing as an option? But they wouldn’t necessarily be synced since the CCC backup doesn’t continuously backup or is it able to do so continuously. I suspect I’m missing something important.

I do know that Dropbox has added Dropbox Backup with a default base setting to backup those three folders. When you activate Dropbox Backup, it moves those three folders to your Dropbox folder and creates aliases to them in their usual location in ~/. I think I’m correct but … I’m far from 100% sure. That is one solution to my goal of syncing the three folders.

Setting up the source and destination folders in CCC appropriately is pretty easy…and you could use CCCs Safety Net feature on the destination folders in DB to get versioning without having to pay the extra bucks to DB…but cloning them there would need more DB space but if you’re like me and have 2 TB then space isn’t an issue.

I’m not familiar enough with Safety Net to understand what you are proposing. I didn’t think I could get true versioning with CCC. To be honest, my eyes started to glaze over on reading that paragraph. Apologies. My lack of tech knowledge.

I liked DB at ~/DB myself, much less deep in the folder hierarchy…DB says that it got moved because of Apple’s rules…but if that’s actually correct then I don’t understand why it only gets moved sometimes and not on other machines…I gave up trying to figure it out.

I’m hoping that is not a long term decision. My DB is still in ~/ as is my wife’s and I like it just where it is. I’m picky.

Has to do with how Apple’s apps store docs in iCloud …and since iCloud didn’t do it my way I just used DB and never really switched back or tried iCloud for doc storage and sync afterwards because “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.

I agree. I like my organization. I’ve never used iCloud Drive nor Time Machine. I’ve used CCC and DB for a long time. I did use CrashPlan for versioned backups, Retrospect before CP, but then CrashPlan dropped my type of plan as I recall and since then I’ve been without true versioned backups.

Only the data partition… and in the field trying to get that much data synced to any cloud is just too hard and time consuming.

Thank you. Very interesting and educational. I think I will be following your suggestion of buying backup drives for our MBA laptops. You are not only helpful but a little costly too. ;) LOL ;) LOL

We are heading on our first rain forest trip but sadly we’ve both gone from SLRs to iPhones for all photos. So we won’t take our laptops and I will hope the photos go to the cloud at night. Not very wise but our photography now, probabably always, is not worthy of more.

Hope all that helps…ask away if you have further questions.

It does help for sure. However, anyone who says “ask away” to Norm is making a very risky utterance. ;) LOL

Another good thing about DB over iCloud is that you can more easily share files with those on some other OS… whereas CCC clone jobs of /Users (which includes all the DB and iCloud folders) via wifi to another Mac just works.

I was hoping I could just open my laptop and find my same Desktop and the same contents of my Documents and Downloads folders synced up to real time and in their “normal” locations.

Thanks again very, very much. Really appreciate.

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Different circumstances warrant different solutions. After three decades of tackling disasters as they arose I have waded around in this subject quite a few times, adopting and then abandoning. The criteria I set was to avoid encryption, have a completely accessible copy which can be used to boot any compatible Mac, such that down time is negligible. The accessibility in the Finder means it can be a useful device for moving suff around too. For the last few years I have settled on SuperDuper! by ShirtPocket.com and I am happy and confident it meets all my needs as a self employed professional with several devices. I have a fully accessible bootable clone of my principal work machine and another of my Mini music server. I do often recommend SuperDuper!

You can move files and create subfolders with the Files app.

They must have improved that then…some years back deforestation Files app was the last time I seriously looked at it.

To my surprise, I (bravely) tried using Goodsync between an iMac running Mojave and a Macbook Air M2 running Ventura and it worked.
However I do find the UI of the latest version of Goodsync confusing. It displays a list of services that I don’t use such as One Drive and Dropbox but not mounted drives from the local network (hopefully I can change to settings to overcome this).