Thursday, October 29, 2015

File sharing for the all-MacBook home

Lifehacker’s guide to home file sharing was written in 2010 for Windows users. Excluding a traditional server/file share the options back then were Dropbox, a NAS, and, peer-to-peer sync solutions. Things haven’t changed much since then.

Now that I’ve retired our iMac and gone all-MacBook, I need one of those solutions for a small number of files (MBs, not even 1 GB). Our home’s options are Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, a Synology NAS with or without Synology Cloud Station, Mac LAN based sync solutions (ex: ChronoSync, note MSFT bundles this with Windows), and an Airport Extreme external flash drive.

There are lots of options, but nothing is quite perfect. Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive all move our family data into the Cloud — and I’d like to not worry about that. Sync solutions mean new software, but perhaps only on one machine.

I’m going to stick our unused $20 SanDisk Ultra Fit 64GB flash drive in back of the Airport Extreme. I already use Carbon Copy Cloner as part of our nightly backup, I’ll just back the AE Flash Drive up to disk image on one of the my OWC Thunderbolt 2 dock drives. They in turn are backed up by both CCC (to removable drives) and Time Machine (to the Synology NAS).

That should be good enough. Keep it as simple as possible…

Update: oops. "When you use Airport Utility to change AirPort Extreme Shared Disk(s) security it *seems* to wipe out everything on the disk. Except free space shows data is still there.”  The AE has an operating system with some kind of file system support and access controls, but we have very limited access to it.

This Apple article partly explains what is supposed to happen. From Airport Utility we can create username/password “accounts”. Say “Parent” and “Kids”. When a client connects you are asked username/password, that gives access to the Folder of the same name as well as a “Shared” folder. So Emily and I connect as “Parents” and see the “Parents”  and “Shared” folder, but we don’t see a “Kids” folder unless we connect with that username password.

There’s no way for me to connect with to the AE shared disk (partitions?) and see everything.

When I insert the flash drive into my MacBook I can see how it’s organized, including the folders that were on the flash drive when it was “password” access rather than “account” access.

Screen Shot 2015 10 29 at 1 16 43 PM

When I switched “Secure Shared Disks” from “With a disk password” to “With accounts” it didn’t wipe my data, it created a Users folder containing the “Parents” folder and hid the existing folders. I thought I also created a Kids user, but I don’t see that Folder. Bug?

Hmm. This is a bit weird. I could experiment with partitioning the thumb drive on my Mac, but I think I need to look more at the Synology.  The AE’s file sharing security model seems to make backup impossible.

Update 2: I’ll rewrite this when I finalize things, but it looks like the Synology NAS gives me the permission controls I need. I’ll put the shared files there, then use CCC to put them back on an image on my laptop. That image will in turn go back to the Synology NAS Time Machine backup as well as to my local CCC backups.

Update 11/21/2015: I ended up enabling Synology Cloud Station, including installing the Mac client for both Emily and I. So our relatively small (1.5GB) of shared data exists on the Synology NAS (not baked up) and on both of our machines (so multiple backups). It is a strange outcome for the old file sharing/NFS/WebDav model and it doesn’t seem the most elegant solution, but sync seems to be the current technology direction. (Dropbox would be simpler, but we wanted to keep the data local and, of course, Dropbox costs money. The Synology NAS also supports a BitTorrent sync package but the Cloud Station seemed to have more users.

Configuration was a bit odd — you do need to read the documentation. The default setup is within one’s “Homes” folder, so if you want to share with two users (workgroup) you need to create a folder outside that NAS hierarchy and choose to that for sync.

Update 8/23/2016: Synology Cloud Station / Cloud Drive (it has many names) has stopped working reliably with El Capitan. I’ve given up on it. Emily’s MacBook is largely home so I’m moving these files to her machine and making them a file share. Sometimes I won’t have access, but I’ll move some things to a Google Drive we share.

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