How to Sync and Access Your Data Across Devices | WIRED

How to Sync and Access Your Data Across Devices | WIRED

Moving your data from one device to another is a hassle. It’s annoying enough that most software services these days offer some kind of data transfer tool when you set up your new device. Unfortunately, most of the time these “migration helpers” are garbage.

I’m in the unique position of having to use new devices all the time, which is a lot of fun and a pain in the ass when it comes to setting them up. after years of doing this, trying new services, and tweaking my systems, I’ve finally settled on a way to have all my data and eat it wherever I go, no matter what device I use. here’s how.

Reading: How to connect all devices together

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The core of my system is a file synchronization service. I tried them all and decided on nextcloud, which I host on my own server. there is also a hosted version available. if you want a more familiar name, dropbox, google drive, and offer roughly the same features.

Once you install the app for whatever service you decide to use, it runs in the background and syncs your files with a remote server. how this works varies a bit. for example dropbox by default creates its own folder and syncs everything you put in it. one of the things i like about nextcloud is that you can tell it which folders you want to sync. you don’t have to change anything about where you store your files.

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When you change a file on your device, the service syncs those changes with the server. any other device also connected will pull those changes. This way, you can easily go from working on your phone to working on a tablet or working on a laptop, without realizing that you’ve switched devices. even if you don’t test hardware for a living, this makes life simple: you always know that all your files are available on all your devices.

The best way to think of this synchronization system is that the server’s copy of a file is the canonical file. the “real” file lives on the server, which is like the library of all your files; you’re just “checking out” those files on whatever device you’re using. if you get rid of a device, your files are not affected. In my case, once I was done testing a laptop, I reset windows (or macos) and my files are gone from the device, but are still in my “library” on the server.

I store everything on nextcloud, but it takes a long time to sync gigabytes and gigabytes of media every time I try out a new laptop. so I only sync a few key files to new devices, mainly my docs folder and a notes folder. it’s about five gigabytes of data and typically takes less than 20 minutes to download.

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