Windows XP: Synchronise two computers My Documents using offline files

Difficulty: 2.5

offlineiconThere are many ways in which you can synchronise two folders between machines in Windows XP. You could use the Microsoft SyncToy or other file browsers with sync functionality. They will all do the job but I have not yet found a setup that works as well as offline files. The advantage of using offline files is that it is automatic. The documents will show up instantly on both machines (as long as there is a network connection) even though the syncing only occurs as the machines are booted up and shut down.

This document will show you how to synchronise your “My Documents” folder between two machines. Synchronising your “My Documents” is particularly useful if you have a desktop and a laptop. You can take your documents from your desktop with you on the road with your laptop. This is also suitable if you have multiple computers in your home and would like the documents to be the same on all machines, so you are not fighting with your family over which computer you need to use as all the computers will have your documents.

The synchronisation works both ways so you can update any of the machines and they will all show the same documents. The same goes that if you delete a document from one machine, the document will be removed from the others.

It is recommended that you will have the server/desktop machine on all the time. This does drain minimal power but in my case, my computer works for me overnight so I would not benefit from turning it off. There is also varied views as to if it is better to leave a computer on all the time to protect it from the shock of turning on and off. I have always left my computers on unless there is a storm brewing. Using offline files will still work if you do turn your machines off overnight. The syncing will take place automatically when you have them both on.

This How-to contains a whole lot of other tips you can use along the way such as mapping network drives and changing the location of your “My Documents” folder. This procedure is also a great way to automatically backup your documents in the case that one of your computers fails in some way. You can fix the machine at fault and then copy the files back to it.

What you need:

Two Windows XP computers.
A network connecting them.

Define which computer will be the host of your Documents

Before we begin you will need to define which computer of yours is the host as it is its job to hold the original copy of the documents. I would recommend a desktop which is regularly on and probably the most powerful of your fleet unless you would like to run one as a dedicated server. Once the initial synchronisation has taken place, the drain on this machine will be minimal.

Define which computer/computers will be receiving the documents

You are able to have one or more machines connecting to the host. I will refer to these machines as the recipient.

Sharing your “My Documents Folder” on the host computer

By default, your “My Documents” folder is located on your C drive. The path to this is “C:\Documents and Settings\”Username”\My Documents”. In order for other machines to see this drive we must first share it so that the folder is available to the other computers to see it.

exclimationWe are removing much of the security for your documents. If security is an issue for you, please investigate further. Please ensure that you have backups of your “My Documents” folder before proceeding. I see this as low risk of something failing, even lesser of documents disappearing but you can never be too careful.

Please do the following on the host machine.

startClick “Start”

 
 

mydocpropRight Click “My Documents” and select “Properties”

 

 

 

 

 

 

sharingSelect the “Sharing” tab

Tick “Share this folder on the network”

Enter a Share name – My Documents is fine, you may want to put a $ sign after your share name to hide it from searches, i.e My Documents$

Tick “Allow network users to change my files”

Click OK

 

 

The “My Documents” folder should now have a hand under it to indicate that it is shared. Finally, if you go into “My Network Places”, you should see the “My Documents” folder. It will show up as “My Documents on Computerdescription(Computername)”. Please take note of the computer name.

Changing the path of My Documents on the recipient PC

The next step is to change the path of “My Documents” on the recipient computer to the network path that we have created. To do this, please follow the steps below.

Ensure you are on the recipient PC

mydocpropRight click “My Documents”

Click “Properties”

 

 

 

 

 

 

map networkChange target to \\Computername\My Documents where computername is the name of the host PC

Click “Move”, this will move the contents of the recipients “My Documents” to the hosts “My Documents”, combining the files and folders of both.

exclimationThis will also work if you set security permissions on the folder and map it on the recipient machine as a drive. Your Target would then be Z: or whatever you set it as.

Don’t forget to put the $ sign in if you added it earlier.

Click “Apply”

movingYour computer will now combine the documents from the two machines into one folder on the host. Setting offline files will synchronise them continually and store a copy on each machine. This can take quite some time depending on how many documents you have.

Turning on Offline Files

So now your computers are sharing the same folder for “My Documents” meaning that there is only one copy of all your data unless you backed up earlier. We now need to turn on offline files. It gets easy from here.

On the recipient machine:

folder optionGo back into “My Documents” and click “Tools”

Select “Folder Options…”

 

 

 

offlinefilesonTick: “Enable Offline Files”

Tick: “Synchronise all offline files when logging in”

Tick: “Synchronise all offline files before logging out”

Disk space will have to be larger than your “My Documents” folder

Click “Apply”

 

 

 

Instructing your “My Documents” to sync between PC’s

On the Recipient PC

availableOpen your desktop through explorer and then:

Right Click on “My Documents”

Select “Make available offline”

 

 

syncing

Your computer will now start synchronising the two folders so when you are on your personal network or on the road, you will always have up to date data files. When you are on the network, you are viewing the network drive so you will see updates as they are done on the other computer.

The syncing process takes a long time the first time but after that the process takes much less time.

 

exclimationThere are a number of files that will not synchronise. They are usually archival files or programs. To get rid of any errors, the results tab will show you what files cannot be synced. In most cases you can copy these files out of “My Documents” and place them somewhere else. Looks a little nicer.

offlineiconIf you go back into “My Documents”, your icons should get this blue and white extension. This means the files are available offline.

So now you will see the sync window each time you shutdown and restart. The window should only pop up for a few seconds.

I hope that you have found this How-to useful and that you will check out my other How-to’s at http://www.inspectmygadget.com




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6 comments so far »
 

  1. John said, on March 14, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

    I was going to attempt this but I found that the Properties window of my My Documents window looks different to the instructions (XP Pro SP2, see screen grab at http://home.exetel.com.au/john_avis/mydocumentsproperties.gif). Any suggestions on how I can continue?

  2. John said, on March 17, 2008 @ 7:04 pm

    Thanks again for this excellent article. I have now followed the instructions and set this up so I can synchronise files between my desktop and notebook. I also did favorites using your other article.

    The only issue I had was that I didn’t have simple file sharing enabled so things looked different to your examples until I enabled this.

    All is now working well. There are a couple of things I don’t like about offline files. When I create new files or folders they don’t appear until the folder is refreshed. Also, as I don’t leave my desktop (host) on sometimes when I am using the notebook I find that I can’t delete files at these times.

    Thanks again.

  3. Jamshed said, on August 1, 2008 @ 7:52 pm

    Your work is very excellent

  4. Peter said, on October 20, 2008 @ 4:58 am

    Have just done this, excellent clear instructions.. Thanks

  5. yuan said, on October 30, 2008 @ 6:54 pm

    really helpful 🙂

  6. Hamid Mustafa said, on November 18, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

    Brilliant


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