Syncing work Mac with home computer

Good morning. Not sure if this is a software or workflow challenge; probably both!

I am struggling trying to use files across two computers for my two different occupations.

I use a MacBook Pro at work with no access to any cloud services due to security restrictions. Outside of my day job, I am a university professor in a domain area similar to my job activities. Files generated in both activities overlap and need to be accessible from my work machine and my separate academic machine. I also use Dropbox outside of work so I can access files from my iPad and iPhone. How do I sync these folders?

The only thing I have thought of is to sync folders
to an external hard drive to manually transfer and sync file folders and changes between the two computers. Am I missing something? What software is good for this type of syncing?

Manually doing this is fraught with potential error. In the past I misread on screen and synced the wrong direction resulting in lost files. Are there any tips or tricks to make this process bullet proof?


Re syncing software, I know SyncMate is/was highly regarded. I dabbled with it for the shortest time, but it was overkill for what I needed, to haven’t used it in years.

If you use something like DevonThink it can sync on a daily basis though given your not allowed cloud services maybe this isn’t possible.

I’ve done exactly this for many years with chronosync.

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Manually syncing is easy and macOS can do it out of the box (rsync).

But there’s one potential trap (“bullet”):
Work on A->Sync->Work on B->Sync->Work on A: no problem

Work on A->Sync->Work on B->Work on A->Sync: Problem!

A simple synchronization software will overwrite changes. In the example above, you changed the file independently on A and B between syncs. So, a sync software will overwrite changes with the NEWER file. With text files, there are workarounds to merge changes in both files (git), but it may become a hassle…

That said: nothing easier that hooking up a HD and sync two folders. There’s a ton of software out there (Carbon Copy Cloner) and macOS can do it with a simple terminal command (rsync).

Honestly, it sounds like you really should think about why it is that your work computer limits cloud sync, because it sounds a lot like you’re trying to do exactly what they don’t want you to do - put work product on a computer they don’t have control over. And that might not only get you fired, but in trouble with the law as well.

Good point. In my case it is not all materials, just a sub set which are mostly reference materials (mostly journal articles, etc.). Definitely not sensitive work product. I actually had to go through special program to be approved to evaluate materials for open release. But your comment is an important point.

To follow up, Chronosync is great at catching and making it easy to resolve conflicts and much easier than learning rsync - I fiddled with rsync on the command line for a while before buying Chronosync - that was in 2005 & CS has never charged for an update.

I used it with 3 macs and one external HD, syncing several times a week for a decade, with no significant problems, and still use this system for non-current files (active projects have moved into cloud storage).

Ehhhh there is a reason why this work computer is Air Gapped :face_with_raised_eyebrow:
I don’t think your admin will approve you syncing computers like this…

Given your description, would some sort of one-way syncing solution work for you. In other words, if you were able to add material on your home computer and have it show up on your work machine but couldn’t add material on the work machine and have it show up on the home computer, would that do what you need? That would avoid the potential issue that @Lars is talking about.

One other note re:Chronosync & an external drive - I used Disk Utility to create encrypted disk images to minimise risks from losing the external shuttle drive at some points.

You could use the laptop as an external drive for your home machine by using Target Disk Mode. I’ve never used it, but I’m sure the googles would turn up a lot of info.

Just synced for the first time in a while and I remembered another cool trick – I have Chronosync set to run a shell script after it syncs successfully, which records the last machine and date / time of sync to a file on Dropbox . I call Chronosync using an Alfred script filter which reads the status file and indicates where / when I last ran the sync.

Does this show up as a notification, email, or something else?

As the subtitle in Alfred: