Keeping Files Synced

The first Mac I bought was a second generation MacBook Air. I bought it specifically for development and portability. I was in a long distance[1] relationship with my then girlfriend, now wife. So I was traveling a ton.

That laptop was my main development machine for over three years. Can you imagine? It only had 2 gigs of RAM and a 120GB hard drive[2].

During this time, I had a couple of hardware issues. I ended up replacing the hard drive out of warranty. Three times. I was frequently worried about what I would do if it died completely. It seemed inevitable.

My wife suggested I buy an iMac instead of a new laptop. By this point, I was living in Germany. Her thinking was, since I did not travel as much, it would be better to go for power and a large screen to make development easier. She was absolutely correct.

On the german version of Craigslist, I found a slightly used, barely a year old Mid 2011 iMac at a fantastic price. So I bought it.

The problem

Now I had a problem. I had two computers I regularly used. My iMac when I was at home and my MacBook Air when traveling. How could I best keep files synced between the two?

Old solution

Admittedly, my original solution to the problem was super clunky. Are you ready for this?

Flash drives

Flash drives.

Lots and lots of USB flash drives. I had a tiny bag full of them with me at all times[3].

This did have some positives. USB drives are universal. They work with everything. Additionally, they are relatively cheap.

However, they’re not optimal. They are slow and insecure. By insecure, I mean that if I were to lose one, anyone could read the data off of it. They’re not that hard to lose, either.


At some point, I had enough. I was tired of constantly swapping USB sticks between computers trying to remember which file was where and, more importantly, which file was the most current version. It was not a very well organized system.

I wanted something like Google Drive or Dropbox, but private. Something I controlled.

New solution

I own a Synology DS413, which doubles as a file server and a part of my backup system.

While searching for open source solutions to the problem, I discovered that Synology has an app for that. It’s called Cloud Station.

Cloud Station

I simply installed a package on my NAS and downloaded the client app to each of my Macs.

It does exactly what I want. It seamlessly syncs files between my computers.

Cloud Station screenshot

I rarely have syncing conflicts. When it happens, Cloud Station syncs both files and clearly names them as having a conflict. It’s usually trivial to figure out which copy I want.

I keep my current projects in the Cloud Station folder and link to them from elsewhere in my directory structure. I do this to prevent having to copy more files than necessary between my computers.

So far I am very happy with this setup. It is fast, easy, and secure. Well, as secure as my home network.

Desktop syncing in macOS

In the WWDC keynote, Craig Federighi introduced desktop syncing for macOS Sierra. While this could possibly work for what I’m doing, it scares the hell out of me!

I strive to keep a clean desktop on both of my Macs. I usually, utterly fail. If the desktop were my primary method to sync files between computers, all hope would be lost.

Do you have another solution for syncing files between computers? Is it better than mine? Let me know!

You can find me on Twitter. I’m @yonomitt.

Have a nice day,

  1. US - Germany  ↩

  2. Not SSD  ↩

  3. Ok, maybe not all times. But it did more or less permanently live in my backpack, which I took with me most everywhere.  ↩