How to transfer big files across computers without using Dropbox or cloud services

TD Tips

I don’t want to overhype this, but I might be just about to change your life. Really. Have you ever wanted to transfer some big files? Either over the internet or around your local network? BitTorrent Sync might be the answer.


I recently wanted to transfer 250GB of audio files from my podcast to my back-up drive on another computer – and there was a couple of ways that I could have done this.

I could have simply transferred them over a network shared drive by dragging and dropping the files… but this was unreliable. A single blip in the network could have sent me straight back to square one, or transferred something half complete, with me not knowing where to pick up the transfer. Annoying.

The other option could have been to use something like Dropbox to manage the transfer – but that would involve the files being uploaded to the cloud. Not only would that take ages, but what if there were sensitive documents or something… and besides, a standard?

As luck would have it, the solution comes from an unlikely source: BitTorrent. Yes – that same protocol which has become notorious for pirated content can also be used for things other than watching Game of Thrones.

The way BitTorrent works is that it takes the files, cuts them into small chunks and uses a tracker to connect up the people who have different bits, so they can send each other the files. It’s super quick as everyone can send everyone else small chunks of what they need, and crucially it means that files don’t have to be all transferred in one go – it can be left working away in the background until the transfer is complete.

So with this technology, it is no surprise at the end of last year BitTorrent launched a beta of BitTorrent Sync – for private transfers. So you can use the same clever protocol, but without having to make your files public. And yes, despite BitTorrent’s sketchy reputation this is completely legal (as long as you’re not transferring anything dodgy). Brilliant.

Setting it up is a piece of cake – all you have to do is download and install the BitTorrent Sync software on both of the computers you want to transfer on, and then on one of them take the “Secret Key” from your sync folder. Send this to the other computer and add a new folder using the Key, and then the two folders are connected – and both will be kept synchronised. So for the rest of eternity if you want, the contents of both folders will be kept the same in both directions.

Better still, if you’re transferring between computers on the same local network, it will max out the speed at which transfers can happen, to make the transfer as fast possible. And don’t worry if you want to use some of that network bandwidth to watch some Netflix – the speed of the transfer will adapt based on what else is happening on the network, rather than demand certain resources.

There’s even mobile apps for both iOS and Android, so you can access your files on the move too (assuming your computer, or one of the computers with the file on, is switched on!).

So check it out – if you need to move large amounts of data around… I might have just changed your life.

James O’Malley
For latest tech stories go to