Windows 7 : Syncing with Network Files (part 1) - Using Sync Center, Settings for offline files

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One of the most common uses for Windows synchronization is for offline files. This is most frequently used for laptop computers but can also be used with desktop systems. To do this, you'll need to have a network location set up on your local computer that connects to a server . You are able to set up offline files to synchronize the data on the server down to your local system. This makes the content available when you are away from that server.

You can edit the data while disconnected from the network, and Sync Center will make sure that the changes you have made while disconnected will be sent back to the server when you're connected back to the network. In the event someone has edited or changed the files on the server, Sync Center will ask for your assistance. Setting up offline files requires several steps, the first of which is making the files and folders available offline.

1. Using Sync Center for offline files

The first step to setting up offline files is to add a network location to your system if you don't already have one. When you have a network location configured, clicking your Computer link should look similar to Figure 1.

Figure 1. A list of Network Locations on my computer.

When you have at least one network location configured, you need to right-click the location and select Always Available Offline. A dialog box will appear showing the progress of the synchronization. At this point, the content has synchronized to your local system, and you can disconnect from the network and still use the files that once existed only on the server. You're able to right-click the Network Location again and this time select Sync. This will make sure that the two locations, the server and your local computer, are synchronized. This process could be a little tedious if you always needed to remember to sync your files before disconnecting. To automate this process, you can schedule the task of synchronizing the files and folders.


Synchronizing with network locations works only on Network Locations local to your network. You are not able to use File Transfer Protocol (FTP) network locations to synchronize content. The Always Available Offline option is not available for network locations not connected to the local network.

2. Using Sync Center

To configure offline files to run on a scheduled basis, you'll need to configure Sync Center using the following steps:

  1. Click the Start button and choose All Programs => Accessories => Sync Center. Or press , type sync, and click Sync Center.

  2. When Sync Center is open, click the link View Sync Partnerships under the on the left side of the window as shown in Figure 2.

    Figure 2. Sync Center with the default appearance for offline files.
  3. Right-click the Offline Files entry and choose Schedule for Offline Files, which will start the Offline Files Sync Schedule dialog box.

  4. Select the network location that you want to synchronize and click the Next button.

  5. You're now able to determine what starts the file synchronization. As shown in Figure 3, you can choose a recurring date and time or have the synchronization start as a result of an event that takes place on your computer.

  6. Based on the selection, you'll initially see two different screens. If you choose the first option, At a Scheduled Time, you'll see the screen shown in Figure 4, which allows you to set when the schedule should start and how often it should occur. The drop-down box allows you to select a range of units from minutes up to months. This means you could schedule the synchronization to happen every minute.

  7. If you choose the second option, When an Event Occurs, you'll see the screen shown in Figure 48-5, which allows you to choose an action that will cause synchronization. You can trigger the synchronization based on when you log on, when you lock Windows, when you unlock Windows, or when the system is idle for a given amount of time.

    Figure 3. Offline Folders gives you the option for setting the schedule for synchronization.
  8. Regardless of what option you choose to trigger the file synchronization, there is a More Options button in both of the windows shown in Figures 4 and 5. Clicking this button provides you the opportunity to tell Windows when to start and stop synchronization. After you've made any changes to the More Scheduling Options dialog box shown in Figure 6, click the OK button.

  9. Next, you'll need to name your synchronization schedule. Enter a descriptive name in the Name text box and click the Save Schedule button.

When your schedule is configured, it will run either based on the time schedule you set or based on the events on the computer. You're able to view, edit, or delete your schedule by opening Sync Center, right-clicking the Offline Folder entry, and choosing Schedule for Offline Folders as before in previous steps. This time, you're prompted with a dialog box that allows you to create a new schedule, view or edit an existing schedule, or delete an existing sync schedule. Clicking the View or Edit Existing Schedule option runs you through the steps similar to the ones you used to create the original schedule. You're also able to click the Schedule button in the toolbar to bring up the scheduling functions for offline files.

You still have some additional settings to configure offline files, including disk usage and encryption settings, which are covered next.

Figure 4. Set a schedule based on time for file synchronization.

3. Settings for offline files

Beyond setting the network locations to synchronize and deciding when to synchronize the files and folders, Windows also allows you to set some additional options for offline files. To get to these settings, you'll need to use the Manage Offline Files features located in the Sync Center. Click Start and type sync. Choose Sync Center and click the Manage Offline Files link on the left side of the Sync Center window. The Offline Files dialog box, shown in Figure 7, opens with the General tab selected.

  • Disable Offline Files: This button disables all of the file synchronizations you have set up. If you currently have file synchronization disabled, the button will read Enable Offline Files. If you disable Offline Files, you'll need to restart your system for the changes to take effect.

  • Open Sync Center: This button opens Sync Center.

  • View Your Offline Files: Clicking this button brings up a window that shows all of your synchronizations. To see your offline files, open an Explorer window, click Computer, then Network, and finally click the Network Location on which the sync files are stored. An example of the path used during this writing is shown in the navigation bar in Figure 8. Network folders that have been synced include green wave circles in the bottom-left corner of the icons.

    Figure 5. Setting the options to trigger the synchronization based on an event.

It's necessary to keep track of the amount of space your offline files are using and put limits on the amount of disk space used. To do this, you'll need to click the Disk Usage tab in the Offline Files dialog box. To make adjustments to the default values, click the Change Limits button, which will bring up the dialog box shown in Figure 48-9.

Make changes to the values using the slide bars; after you've set your limits, click the OK button to continue.

It is fairly common today that you hear of some institution that has had a laptop stolen with confidential information. Knowing this, Microsoft has included an option to encrypt any data with offline files synchronized with your local computer. Microsoft has also made it very easy to set up security. By clicking the Encryption tab within the Offline File dialog box, you're able to click the Encrypt button to encrypt the data that resides on your local system. When you do encrypt the data, only the data that resides on your local system is encrypted, not the data that resides on the server with which you are synchronizing. There is also no need for you to attempt to decrypt the files before using them. The decryption takes place when you attempt to use the synchronized file.

The final tab within the Offline Files dialog box is for working with a slow network connection. Clicking the Network tab allows you to determine how your system works after it determines you have a slow network connection. If you open up the network location that is currently being synchronized with your local system and double-click a file, Windows will use a cached version if it determines the network connection is too slow. With the settings on the Network tab, you're able to determine whether you would rather wait for the real version of the file. If the On Slow Connections, Automatically Work Offline option is checked, Windows will use the local version of the file. Additionally, Windows will check to see whether you still have a slow connection every five minutes by default. You're able to change this setting by setting the Check for a Slow Connection Every option.

Figure 6. Additional options for scheduling your synchronization.

With all of the settings for Offline Folders and Sync Center, you're well on your way to using offline files. If you've set up the schedule, you'll have the latest versions of the files on your system based on your schedule. You've also determined how much disk space to dedicate to offline files and set up encryption if the data you are storing is sensitive. On occasion, you may hit a conflict in your synchronizations. This happens when the file on the remote computer changes and you also make changes to the file using your local offline version.
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