Jul 26 3:19pm

Backup vs. Sync: What’s the difference?

We are big time advocates of backing up your data here at For3. You never know when a catastrophic failure could occur on your favorite device and if you’re not backing up your data, all could be lost. Forever.

One question I get asked frequently is, “what’s the difference between backups and syncing?” Cloud technologies have really brought syncing to the forefront so, what better way to describe the difference than an explanation from Seagate, one of the leading hard drive manufacturers around.

File Synchronization (or ‘synching’) is the process of ensuring that two or more locations contain the same up-to-date files. If you add, change, or delete a file from one location, the synchronization process will add, change, or delete the same file at the other location.

Backup refers to copying of data from one location to another.

Sync is not a backup.

Sync keeps two copies of your most recent changes at all times–one locally (the file you’re working with) and another in another location, for backup or remote retrieval.

Backup copies files on a schedule and only captures the change since your last copy.

So now, I imagine you’re asking, “OK, which should I use?” Great question! The answer: you should probably use both.

Backups are great if you have to restore files due to a failure, or if you have to restore a previous version of a file because you’ve made changes and overwritten previous changes you wish you could get to.

Sync is great if you might be accessing files on more than one computer, and also works as a backup if you’re confident you won’t make changes you wish you could revert later. However, some sync services are getting smart enough to offer file revision history, so you can actually go back, much like a backup, and retrieve a previous version of a file.

How do I use sync? I use SugarSync to sync all of my pictures on my computer to my phone, automagically. I take new pictures, move them to my computer, they’re moved to my phone and I have them available, much like a person carrying pictures in their wallet.

Need help understanding backup vs. sync, or want For3 to help you get your data under control and secure? Just let us know and we’ll get you on the road to stress free file management.

About the author

Having spent over 15 years in the IT space, Shawn now consults directly with residential and business customers alike on all things technology. An avid Googler, Shawn will take an Android phone over an iPhone any day but his computer loyalties still lie with Microsoft.

  • DianeH

    I synched my files, but now realize I only need the backup…is there a way to remove the synch from my external drive (WD Passport Elite) to save space?

    • Shawn Wallace

      What program are you using to sync your files?

    • What program are you using to sync your files?

  • Muhammadh Abubackar

    Hi, I have backed up my phone 2 months before. Now I have deleted many unwanted files from my phone and added new files. Now if I sync, will my phone takes the unwanted files from backed up file or my computer erases the files to look similar with my phone?

    • XC

      I also have this question… for sync, which one syncs to which? phone sync to pc or pc sync to phone?
      I guess it looks at time stamp. it always replicate all the actions since last sync.

      • Shawn Wallace

        XC, that’s the thing — sync is just that. It makes all synced platforms look identical. If you have 10 photos on your computer, and you sync your phone to your computer, your phone now has 10 photos. If you delete two of those photos from your phone, then sync, those same two photos will be deleted from your PC.

        Let me know if you need more assistance!

      • XC, that’s the thing — sync is just that. It makes all synced platforms look identical. If you have 10 photos on your computer, and you sync your phone to your computer, your phone now has 10 photos. If you delete two of those photos from your phone, then sync, those same two photos will be deleted from your PC.

        Let me know if you need more assistance!

    • Shawn Wallace

      Muhammadh, so sorry for the late reply. It seems I wasn’t getting email notifications for new comments.

      This all depends on how you set up backup and sync processes. What did you use to backup your phone? What are you using to sync your phone?

      If you’re concerned about backing up photos, I’d suggest installing Google Photos. It backs up everything for you and you never have to worry about running out of space. If you let Google optimize your photos for you, you get unlimited storage.

    • Muhammadh, so sorry for the late reply. It seems I wasn’t getting email notifications for new comments.

      This all depends on how you set up backup and sync processes. What did you use to backup your phone? What are you using to sync your phone?

      If you’re concerned about backing up photos, I’d suggest installing Google Photos. It backs up everything for you and you never have to worry about running out of space. If you let Google optimize your photos for you, you get unlimited storage.

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