What Does Sync Mean and How to Sync Your Files?

Romj Amon
Romj Amon

Updated · Aug 10, 2022

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Sync is probably something you’ve heard of but never quite understood. If you wrap your head around this concept, it can change the way you use your electronic devices.

Keep reading to learn how it works and how it could make your life easier.

What Does Sync Mean?

Short for synchronization, sync means that data is consistent and accessible across two or more devices. This capability is made possible by cloud storage.

Sync can be one-way or two-way.

In one-way sync, you can copy files from the source location to the destination location. But you can’t do it the other way around. So when you add or update content from the source, the changes will reflect on the destination.

In two-way sync, you can copy files in both directions. You can tweak the content in either location through any device and expect the latest version to overwrite older ones.

But how does sync work when there are changes to the file in both locations?

The cloud storage service provider would typically let you decide which content version should be considered the most recent.

Thanks to sync, you can automatically back up your files. When stored on the cloud, they become conveniently retrievable. This can come in handy when you need to access or edit them on other devices or while on the go.

If your device breaks, you won’t lose your files since they don’t reside there in the first place.

Sync simplifies collaboration too. If you need to work remotely with other people, everyone involved can view and make changes to the shared files.

Since the data is on the cloud, you generally need an internet connection to access it. This doesn’t mean it’s inaccessible when you’re offline, though.

Cloud storage providers are capable of tracking changes to files and applying them once your device is online again. A good example is the Google Docs Offline browser extension.

What Does It Mean to Sync Your Phone?

Syncing your phone means storing your different data types on the cloud and making them accessible on other devices.

It’s particularly useful for retrieving your contacts, photos, videos, etc., when you switch phones. If you’ve stored your data from your previous device on the cloud, you wouldn’t have to start from scratch. You could quickly migrate it onto your new one.

Moreover, the owner of the server that contains your synced info could be your smartphone vendor or app developer. You can also specify which apps to sync, so you don’t have to back up everything.

Android

Sync on Android usually involves Google services but can apply to other apps too. 

You may not find Sync or Auto-Sync in your Android device’s settings using its search feature. Instead, look for Cloud or Accounts.

From there, you can select which apps to sync and enable or disable cloud storage as a whole.

When moving files between Android devices and desktops, you usually need a third-party file sync app. But Chrome data is an exception.

Using sync on Google, you can save and auto-update the following types of info on the cloud:

  • Addresses
  • Bookmarks
  • Passwords
  • Payment methods and offers on Google Play
  • Reading list
  • Search history
  • Settings

Here’s the setup:

1. Launch the Chrome app.

2. Go to Settings.

Turn on Sync option selected

3. Turn on Sync.

Final step before data is synced on other devices

Afterward, you’ll be able to view your synced data on other devices, provided that you’re signed into your Google account. The caveat is that you have to turn on sync on the other devices too.

To lend more security to this Android phone sync method, you can use a passphrase to encrypt your data. This additional password scrambles your synced info so nobody in Google would be able to read it.

iOS and iPadOS

By syncing your iPhone or iPad with Mac, you’ll be able to:

  • Update your iOS or iPadOS device.
  • Create and manage backups on your computer or iCloud.
  • Restore your iOS or iPadOS device’s data from a backup.

 Here’s how to pull it off:

  1. Use a USB or USB-C cable to connect your mobile device to your Mac.
  2. Select your device in the Finder sidebar when it appears.
  3. Pick a syncing option under General.
  4. Choose the items you want to sync with your Mac as displayed on the Finder window.

To sync your iPhone with your iPad (and vice versa), you need to use iCloud.

Here’s how:

  1. Go to Settings on the first device.
  2. Open the Apple ID screen by tapping your name.
  3. Choose iCloud.
  4. Toggle on the content and app categories you intend to sync between your iPhone and iPad.
  5. Repeat everything on the second device.

The settings on both devices must be identical for this syncing method to work.

What Does Sync Do On a Computer?

Syncing items that live locally in your computer’s hard drive means creating a copy of them on the cloud. Synced files automatically update in both locations and across all devices where you’re signed into your cloud storage account.

To set this up, you may need to download the desktop app of your chosen cloud storage service.

Fortunately, many of these solutions are platform-agnostic. So, they’re interoperable enough to work with various operating systems.

For instance, the Google Drive desktop app is compatible with both Windows and macOS.

Windows

So, what does it mean to sync on Windows?

Let’s go over the setup procedure of its native file syncing solution: Microsoft OneDrive.

  1. Download the OneDrive sync app if you don’t have Windows 10 or Office 2016; otherwise, you’d already have it installed.
  2. Run the installer once the download completes.
  3. Launch the app after installation.
  4. Create a OneDrive account; skip this step if you already have one.
  5. Sign in with the email address you used to set up your OneDrive account.
  6. Follow the on-screen instructions.

If you follow the process correctly, you should be able to see your OneDrive folder in File Explorer.

OneDrive folder access

To sync individual files or folders, you just have to drag-and-drop or copy-paste them into your OneDrive folder. You should be able to see the same contents when you open your account using the browser-based OneDrive app.

To know when and which of your files are available, pay attention to these status icons:

OneDrive status icons

When syncing is pending, you should see this icon instead:

Pending syncing icon

To manage your synced files, right-click the cloud icon in the taskbar notification area to view the settings.

macOS

What does sync mean on Macs?

It means transferring files between computers via iCloud.

Here’s how to configure everything:

  1. Go to the Apple menu.
  2. Choose System Preferences.
  3. Hit Apple ID if it’s visible, or sign in first with your Apple ID and password.
  4. Click iCloud.
  5. Select or deselect apps and/or files you want to store on the cloud.

If you decide not to use iCloud, you’ll need a third-party app to keep your Macs synchronized.

How Does Sync Work for Contacts, Calendar, and Email?

Syncing also lets you consolidate your contacts, calendars, and emails, eliminating redundant programs that hog your device’s storage space.

Since everything is in one place, you can conveniently access and view your synced data and boost your productivity.

The setup’s complexity depends on the pair of apps or combination of app and platform, ranging from easy to difficult. However, you can accomplish almost every syncing option, especially Android phone sync, as a casual user.

As long as you know your credentials, you can finish the whole process in less than a minute.

A good case in point is syncing your Outlook emails with Gmail and vice versa.

Syncing Outlook emails with Gmail

Just add your Outlook account to your Gmail app by signing in, then grant all the necessary permissions.

Granting all necessary permissions window

Then, you should be able to unify or switch your inboxes in a few taps.

Gmail All Inboxes option selected

If you can’t sync data between apps due to technical restrictions or limitations, using a third-party program may provide a workaround.

Wrap Up

Sync may be optional, but its usefulness is priceless. It can be tricky at first, but no syncing method is super complicated to learn.

However, sync your files with caution. Some cloud storage service providers have a spotty reputation. So, be extra careful when choosing a platform to back up your data.

FAQ.


What is sync?

Short for synchronization, sync is when the same data becomes available in two locations.

Usually, the first location is the hardware (desktops, laptops, or mobile devices), and the second is the cloud.

Sync lets you view, edit, and manage your data on any device anytime. Since you can share files with other people, it’s perfect for collaboration.

In case your device fails, you can immediately restore your data by signing into your cloud storage service account.

What is sync on my phone?

Syncing your phone means creating a copy of its contents like contacts, photos, and videos on the cloud.

You don’t have to do this, but it helps prevent data loss in case your current device breaks. When you buy a replacement, you can easily restore your synced files.

What does syncing mean on Android?

Generally, it means keeping your Android device and Google account in harmony. But it can apply to non-Google apps as well.

This begs the question: what does sync mean on other platforms like MacOS or Windows?

Feel free to read our full guide on the topic to find the answer.

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Romj Amon

Romj Amon

Romj is a veteran copywriter who used to be a Jack of all trades. Now, he's trying to be a master of one: technology. He jumps down the rabbit hole to size the latest innovations up. As a content contributor for TechJury, he hopes to help you keep up in our fast-paced world with his discoveries.

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