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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?

Prion's picture

this is where symbolic links come into play


many Carbon programs and some other programs like the infamous Installer expect to find the home folder including your library of things that keep them happy on the local harddrive. The reason I asked about symlinks with your solution was that they can be incredibly handy to solve this problem. Indeed this would be possible with your suggestion of letting the home folder reside in a disk image bearing the same name as the external harddrive for when you need the maximum mobility.

Disclaimer: I have only played around with this because my Powerbook is the latest generation G4 while my desktop is an Intel iMac so I cannot "go real" with this. But intial testing looks reallly well.

What you do: You copy your home folder to its new location preserving its resourceFork with ditto (while this user is logged OUT) and then you create a symbolic link pointing from the old location to the new one. The syntax is: sudo ln -s /Volumes/NewLocation/Prion /Users/Prion

This was figured out by people more knowledgeable than myself but it works very well in testing. As soon as my trusty Powerbook fades into nothingness I hope this will give me the best of both worlds: Give me the a home folder with all my programs, all my files, all everything that I just need to plug into wherever I may be without having to lug my Powerbook with me and without being restricted to a laptop in the first place. (By then Pussycat - the successor to Leopard - will be out and perhaps all this will be irrelevant: eeek).

I was surprised that almost all of the mobility I requested when I bought the Powerbook was actually moving about between exactly two locations: my office and my study at home. rarely I would take the laptop elsewhere in my house and when I did I would just surf the net or watch pictures etc, not something I needed all my data with me. Carrying my home folder with library etc. instead sounds very compelling though and seems to work. Caveat: Testing works really well, for real life experience I need another intelMac.


PS: I really enjoy this discusssion myself, I hope others do, too, and share their experience.




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