Sync Hacks: A Complete Guide to Creating Your Own Private “Dropbox”

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Sync Hacks is a column dedicated to exploring new applications for Sync, as built by users like you. BitTorrent Sync is a free, unlimited, secure file-syncing app. (And now, it’s 2X faster.) If you’ve got an epic Sync idea, use-case or how-to, shoot us an email at sync[at]bittorrent.com.

In this week’s Sync Hacks, Garet McKinley’s (@iGARET) complete guide to creating your own private “Dropbox” using BitTorrent Sync. Garet wanted to keep his data safe from prying eyes while still being able to access his files from anywhere. Read on for Garet’s how-to, adapted from his blog.

The problem: Your data isn’t safe in the cloud

On a daily basis, many people are constantly backing up files on their personal Dropbox drive. While there’s really nothing wrong with this, what would happen if Dropbox were to get hacked? I’m sure nobody saw it coming when PlayStation Network got hacked, yet, around 77 million people had their personal information stolen. What would happen if that same thing happened to Dropbox, where millions of people store sensitive data?

Sure this is probably an extreme case, but one that hits closer to home would be the recent unveiling of project PRISM. Do you really want the National Security Agency (NSA) to have access to your data? Of course there’s still risk of your own personal servers getting hacked or monitored by the NSA, but a data archiving company such as Dropbox would be a higher target than John Smith’s personal file server.

The solution: BitTorrent Sync on your own server

Recently, the folks at BitTorrent created BitTorrent Sync. This service lives on all your machines and can keep whatever folders you select in sync. Even more amazingly, you can have a folder shared on as many (or few) devices as you want! Being a Peer-To-Peer protocol, there’s no need for a remote server. So, it can live in your local area network and never reach out to external servers!

There is however one drawback to this method of file syncing. If your home computers (which are running BitTorrent Sync) are turned off, you won’t be able to download your files on the go using your iPhone or Android device. You’ll have similar results if you’re on the go and your home network just happens to go down.

The solution to this problem is to create a remote “Dropbox” like service, housed on your own server! Unfortunately, this method will not be free, but it’s still cheaper than paying a cloud service. Plus it’ll be much more reliable for keeping your devices always in sync. To start off, you need to buy a server to host your files on (if you don’t own one already). This guide will be for Linux based servers (I’m using Ubuntu). I highly recommend DigitalOcean as a host. They use SSD and are extremely reasonably priced. Did I mention they’re blazing fast too? Okay, enough of the sales pitch.

Once you have your server ready to go, I recommend taking a few moments to configure your server’s security. There’s a quick and painless guide on securing a Ubuntu server here.

Once your server is secured, install BitTorrent Sync!

Get BitTorrent Sync.

We’ll need to know whether our system is 32 or 64 bit. If you’re not sure which to install, SSH into your server and run file /sbin/init.

If the output contains 32-bit

Then SSH into your server and run: curl -L http://download-lb.utorrent.com/endpoint/btsync/os/linux-i386/track/stable > btsync.tar

If the output contains 64-bit

Then SSH into your server and run: curl -L http://download-lb.utorrent.com/endpoint/btsync/os/linux-x64/track/stable > btsync.tar

Now let’s go ahead and extract the files from the tar by running tar -xvf btsync.tar. This should leave you with two files: btsync and LICENSE.TXT. You can go ahead and remove the license file if you’d like (sudo rm LICENSE.TXT). To keep things clean, I’m going to place the btsync executable in /BTSync/ and put the folders I want to sync inside /BTSync/folders/.

To create this file structure, just run sudo mkdir -p /BTSync/folders/, which will create both directories. Then we can move the btsync executable to the folder by running sudo mv btsync /BTSync/.

Next, we’re going to make the btsync process auto-start when our server boots. So run sudo nano /etc/rc.local and add in /BTSync/btsync on any line before exit 0.

At this point we’re almost done! You can startup BTSync by running sudo /BTSync/btsync. Once it starts running, navigate to http://yourserver:8888. After creating your username and password, you can begin adding your BitTorrent Sync folders!

A BitTorrent Sync guide for newcomers

If I left you a little confused after the last section, no worries! I’m here to hold your hand and guide you through the wonderful world of BitTorrent Sync! If you haven’t already, download and install BitTorrent Sync on your local computer. Once you launch the program, you’ll see a window where you can add in folders to sync. It will look like this, only blank

btsync-folderwindow

Click the + button in the bottom left to add a new folder to sync.

btsync-add-folder

You’re going to want to generate a new shared secret and then choose the folder you want to sync to your server. In this example, I’m going to sync a folder for a project I’m working on.

btsync-add-folder-8bit

Once the folder is added, it’ll show up inside your folder list.

btsync-folder-list-new

Now right-click on the folder from this list and choose “Copy Secret”. Before we can add this to our server, we need to create the folder it’ll sync to! So SSH into your server and run sudo mkdir /BTSync/folders/my-folder-name/. At this point we’re going to navigate back to our server’s BTSync interface, which is located at http://yourserver:8888 and click the “Add Folder” button. Paste in the secret you copied and select the folder you just created.

btsync-add-remote-folder

It’ll immediately add the folder and start syncing with your computer. Congratulations, you’ve now created a remote cloud that syncs with your home computer! You can now add this folder on any computer or mobile phone by downloading the app and using the secret key!

Set up a public folder

People love that you can just drag and drop a file into your Dropbox’s public folder to quickly share files with friends, family, or colleagues. Before continuing, I recommend setting up a public domain that you can access the server from. There’s a good guide for setting that up here.

Once you have that setup, we’re going to add a folder just like before! Only now, from the BitTorrent Sync web interface, you’re going to select a directory that’s located inside your public_html folder! Now when you add files into your local directory, your friends can download them by going to http://yourdomain.com/public_sync_folder/file.zip

Closing thoughts

So now I’m at the boring end segment of my guide. I hope you guys learned something from this guide, and I hope that you enjoy your brand new private Dropbox service! If you need more help setting it up or you ran into a problem/error, just leave a comment below and I’ll help you as soon as possible!

Thanks for reading.

Garet McKinley (@iGARET) is an avid developer, designer, and blogger. He’s also the founder of Project 239, Inc.

Lou
Written by: Lou

Lou is a product marketing manager at BitTorrent, Inc., where he works on BitTorrent Sync, a free app that allows you to sync and share large files with anybody via secure, distributed technology.

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  • mike

    hey there.

    i am trying to setup BTsync on a Raspberry Pi (raspbian). I’ve done so easily on my windows PC, and a QNAP NAS.

    i can install BTsync, and configure it. everything seems fine… but i cannot access the web interface… it will not accept the username / password ive setup. ive repeated the process from scratch / tried many variations / double checked everything! i can never login to the web interface.

  • http://jeanguyprost.com Jean-Guy

    This is so cool ! Bye-bye Dropbox for my round the world trip.

  • ip2k

    This is cool, but it still relies on BitTorrent’s tracker and relay servers. IMO, these should be open-source and the client should be able to connect to either the “easy-mode” BitTorrent-provided tracker and relay server, or arbitrary ones that you could run yourself :)