file synchronization (file sync)

What is file synchronization (file sync)?

File synchronization (file sync) is a method of keeping files that are stored in several different physical locations up to date. The goal is to ensure that any user who accesses a shared file sees its most current version for their specific purposes irrespective of their location or device type.

File synchronization refers to ensuring that a file remains consistent and up to date regardless of user, device and location. As enterprises store more files in the cloud, and as these files are accessed by users anywhere and anytime, it's essential that all users see the same information in a file.

File synchronization has grown increasingly important as enterprises use the cloud as a means for collaboration. Files stored in the cloud might be accessed by authorized users from any location using a variety of devices, including desktops, laptops, smartphones and tablets. These users must be able to view the latest version of each file, which is why file sync is essential. Sync methods are also commonly used for creating backup copies of business files and to facilitate mobile, or any time/anywhere, access to these files.

What is file sync software?

File synchronization software is used to store copies of on-premises data to another device or to the cloud. The files are typically accessed through a web portal.

Sync software is available to sync computers connected to a local area network or wide area network so all devices in these networks can access the current version of stored files. Software can also be used to sync files to USB and network-attached storage devices.

A graphic depicting server boxes linking to various technologies.
File sync software keeps files stored on premises or in the cloud up to date so any user has access to the most current version of a file.

Some examples of file sync software include Box, Syncplicity, GoodSync, Sync and Dropbox. Large cloud service providers also provide file sync services as part of their cloud offerings.

When selecting a file sync software, organizations want products that are easy to use with a user-friendly interface and easily accessible features. The software should also provide adequate storage capacity and work for a wide range of file types, especially the types being used by the organization's users.

Ideally, the solution should let users choose the cloud where the files and data will be stored. File synchronization should also be continuous and operate in real time to ensure no changes are lost and files are updated.

Advanced or professional sync software also provide these features:

  • Archive older files.
  • Verify files to confirm changes.
  • Encrypt files to maintain security.
  • Compress files to save space.
  • Optimize the processor load to prevent system overloading during file copying and synchronization.

How does file synchronization work?

Most cloud file sync products work in similar ways. As users work on files and make changes, the system synchronizes all new changes in real time. By doing this, any users or devices always see the most updated version of the file.

Sync products that synchronize locally stored files usually scan files for changes at some predetermined interval. These scans run automatically during those intervals. When changes are detected, the software syncs all versions of that file to ensure up-to-date versions are available.

Types of file sync

File synchronization can be accomplished in one of two ways.

One-way file sync

In this method, there is a primary device. Any changes made to the master file on this device will be automatically reflected on all secondary devices used to access the file. However, any changes made to the file on any secondary device are not automatically pushed to the master file on the primary device.

This method can create sync problems if the file can be modified on any secondary device. Since the changes will not reflect on the primary device, other secondary devices will not get the latest version of the file.

Two-way file sync

With this sync method, files changes implemented on the primary device automatically reflect on all secondary devices and vice versa. Changes reflect in both directions so the file is always kept up-to-date and all locations are in sync.

The main advantage of two-way file synchronization is that it doesn't matter where changes are implemented. The sync software will ensure that the latest changes reflect in the file so any device accessing the file can view the latest version at any given time.

Benefits of file synchronization

File sync lets enterprise teams to work with the most updated files and access the most updated information in those files. Synchronization is especially important for files stored in the cloud and accessed by users from different locations using different devices.

Automated synchronization software eliminates the need to manually update files, saving time and effort. It also helps team members seamlessly collaborate on a file and make changes as required. Since changes will automatically get saved and reflect in real time, they will always work with the correct version.

Synchronization also eliminates having to access a location. Users only need an internet connection and authorized credentials to see, edit and comment on a document. This is especially useful for remote and hybrid teams.

Finally, file sync improves team communication. There's no need to download synced files from the cloud or send files via email. The possibility of file duplication is also eliminated. All users have access to the same file version, streamlining communication and collaboration.

A diagram of content collaboration's expanding universe.
File synchronization is key to the success of content collaboration technology, which continues to grow and advance, giving organizations several avenues to improve their work.

Challenges of file synchronization

File syncing often presents security concerns to enterprises whose employees use consumer-grade applications to access business files. In addition to creating "shadow IT," these applications may also contain vulnerabilities that threat actors can exploit to compromise the file and the organization.

Another challenge with file syncing is loss of centralized control. Remote and hybrid teams often sync business files to their personal devices, especially if the firm has a "bring your own device" policy in place. If members of these teams leave the organization, the files will still be available on their devices. The company might not be able to control the files on the ex-employee's device, much less wipe them to protect enterprise data.

Accidental moves and deletes are another challenge with file sync. To mitigate these concerns, it's important to use file sync software that enables file recovery. The software should also provide capabilities such as granular permissions, notifications and audit logs so managers can better control files as well as prevent accidental moves and deletes.

Learn how enterprise file sync and share lets users save files in the cloud or on premises for access on desktops and mobile devices. Check out secure file transfer and synchronization services for the enterprise.

This was last updated in December 2023

Continue Reading About file synchronization (file sync)

Dig Deeper on Cloud storage

Disaster Recovery
Data Backup
Data Center
and ESG