SyncToy – Free Backup Utility (Windows)

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SyncToy is a free utility from Microsoft that runs on Windows XP and Windows Vista. The latest version is version 1.4 which was released in October 2006. At it’s basic level SyncToy allows the synchronization of two directories. In this article I’ll show how I’ve used it to schedule backups to an external drive. The specifics can be changed to meet your specific needs. I started looking into alternative backup solutions when the windows software that came with the Maxtor external drive proved buggy.


My requirements are simple:

  1. Must be able to schedule backups.
  2. Must be able to trigger a backup manually.
  3. Must be easy enough for a non-technical person to understand and use. Ease of use for changing any backup scripts or scheduled backups I create is not a requirement.
  4. Data files only. No registry keys.

Software Installation

Microsoft .Net v2.0 is required for SyncToy and will be installed during the setup if it’s needed. If it is installed during the SyncToy install you should run Windows Update to be sure there aren’t any security updates for .NET.

Download the setup.msi file from Microsoft and run it. The setup wizard is self-explanatory, just asking you to accept the license and installation location.

Backup Setup

I’ve decided to schedule daily backups of the entire “Documents and Settings” folder for my user ID. In other words, my entire profile. This will allow me to backup everything I want with one command line. I will result in some errors since a few files may be open but this won’t affect the files I want. This will catch any new program settings installed to my profile.

I create a directory called “Backup” on my external Maxtor drive. When I run SyncToy I will tell it to create a subdirectory under Backup for each day of the week under it. The first time SyncToy is run the welcome screen is displayed. (click the thumbnail to the left, and future thumbnails, to see it full size). SyncToy does everything off this screen.

I’m going to be setting up seven backup tasks, one for each day of the week. This will provide some historical backups in case a file gets deleted by accident and goes unnoticed while providing daily backups. While this uses considerable disk space it’s not a problem for me.

Clicking the “Create a New Folder Pair” link or button starts a four screen wizard. The first screen asks for the “left folder” which is the source folder. I browse to the root of my profile and select it.


The next screen asks for the “right folder” and I type in E:BackupMonday since the directory doesn’t exist.


Then I’m asked what I want to do. I pick Echo.

Echo will take all the changes on the left and make them on the right. This includes adds, deletes, updates, and renames. I chose this over synchronize because a sync will also bring any changes made to the right (destination) back to the left and I don’t want that. The other options are variations on the theme.

The last screen asks for the name of the folder pair. I call this one “Monday Backup”. I repeat the steps to create folder pairs for Tuesday through Sunday. I also create additional folder pairs called “Monthly Backup” and “Adhoc Backup”. The Monthly backup will be used to create a monthly backup like it says while Adhoc backup can be used for manual backups. Before an software install or upgrade for example.

After all the folder pairs are set up I select “All Folder Pairs” and then click the “Run All” button. This will take some time as it runs the backup but in ensures everything is set up properly and seed the destination directories. You can skip this step to save time, just be sure to check each backup the first time it runs.


When the sync is running it will display the status screen shown to the right. The current file and an estimated completion percentage will also be shown at the bottom of the screen.

After the backups run I return to the All Folder Pairs screen and uncheck each one. This will prevent them from being run should I user “Run All” in the future.

Scheduling Backups

The backups can be scheduled using Windows Scheduler. The screens will vary by Windows version but the command lines to schedule are:

<path>Synctoy.exe -R”Sunday Backup” will run the folder pair called “Sunday Backup”. Change the name when scheduling the other pairs.

<path>Synctoy.exe -R will run all folder pairs.

On Windows Vista the Synctoy executable is in C:Users<name>AppDataLocalSyncToy by default.

On Windows XP the Synctoy executable is in c:documents and settings<profilename>local settingsapplication datasynctoy by default.

This makes for a simple low-cost backup solution.

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