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Geek Throwdown: How to sync two or more Macs?

Enter the Octagon

Here’s an experimental new feature: The Throwdown. Take a problem that lots of people face and tell us your personal favorite way to deal with it — in as much detail and with as much persuasion as you can muster.

Today, a lot of us are living on two or more Macs -- which is great, except for the challenge of keeping the contents and settings of multiple machines effortlessly in sync.

Now before you pop in, holler "dot mac," and jump back on your Segway®, consider that many folks (including your author) are looking for a lot more than simple document syncing and perfunctory preference sharing. How about if your needs are more nuanced:

  • Can it intelligently sync "~/Library" stuff like "Preferences" and "Application Support" for your apps (so that Quicksilver, for example, is with you and tweaked to perfection wherever you go)? Is it smart enough to know which items not to sync?
  • Can it do smarter comparisons than "which one is newer?" -- consider that someone on 4 or 5 Macs may run into complex versioning problems that currently make .Mac very confused. For text, can it do diff3-style merging?
  • Will it update often enough (and automatically enough) that I can trust when I sit down at a new machine, I'll know everything's up to date without checking (or manual re-updating)?
  • Can backups be easily automated? And is it easy to restore across all machines?
  • Does it work for people on airplanes? If your solution requires a live internet connection for active usage (e.g. traditional WebDAV), what happens when that access is no longer available?

You get the idea. You have a system; now tell us about it. Bow to your sensei, then spare no detail.

How do you sync your Macs?

rsync? ChronoSync? Synchronize? Unison? Something you made yourself?

What are using to sync your Macs, and how are you using it?

Keith's picture

Mounting and unmounting portable Home folder drives


Yeah, that was me on the kGTD forum! Sorry, I never checked back to see your question. Ethan's Kinkless installer is one of about four programs I have ever used that mistakenly assume that everyone's Home folder will be in the /users directory. I have always found a workaround.

To answer your kGTD question, yes, under Panther it used to be that If you accidentally logged into the account without the external drive attached, OS X would create a home folder for that account in a folder with the name of the external disk in the /Volumes subdirectory on the startup disk. For example, if your account was called "Prion" and your external disk was called "External," then OSX would create a folder in /Volumes called "External" and would put a "Prion" home folder into it. You then wouldn't be able to use the external drive as a home folder for the "Prion" account until that automatically-created "External" folder was deleted, which was a pain because of permissions. (In 10.1 days, I used to boot into OS 9 to do it.) But Tiger got smart, and it doesn't let you do that any more. If you try to log in without your external drive mounted, it will ponder for a bit and then tell you that you can't do that right now.

I always log in as another user to eject the external drive after logging out of the account that has its home folder on the external drive. This might not be necessary but I do it anyway. I figure that until a drive is ejected, it's probably still mounted, even if no one is logged in. I never tried your sleep idea.

You may also find that sometimes you need to log into a dummy account in order to mount your Home folder drive before logging into the account that uses it. My Powerbooks started making me do this then when Tiger came along, but then I got a Mac Pro and for some reason it doesn't. Perhaps in Tiger it was decided that Powerbooks would not mount external drives until login, in order to save power, while no one worries about power usage with a Mac Pro, so it's configured to mount all the drives immediately at startup? I have no idea. But logging into a dummy account never took more than a few seconds anyway.

I do not set up the external drive to ignore permissions because SuperDuper preserves all the permissions. (Indeed, I believe it complains if you have the external drive set to ignore permissions.)

You are correct that each volume must have a unique name, but this won't stop you from plugging in two disks with identical names. Try it sometime -- if you mount two disks named "Prion," you'll find that OS X invisibly calls one of the disks "Prion-1." You can see this in the /Volumes folder. Just be sure that this invisible renaming is terminated before you try to log in using your Home folder on the external drive. If your Home folder is on "Prion" but OS X has temporarily decided to call it "Prion-1" because another "Prion" was already present when your Home folder drive mounted, then you won't be able to log in until you get OS X to call "Prion" by its original name again. The easiest way to do this is to eject it and then remount it. (I eject, turn it off, then turn it back on again.) This should work just the same with an external drive and a disk image, I suppose.

I have no reason to suspect that any of this will change with Leopard. So far it's worked since 10.1 and the only changes have been improvements, like when Tiger got smart enough to refuse to let me log in when I hadn't yet plugged in my Home folder drive. I guess we'll see soon enough, though!





An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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