Staying in Sync with Offline Files

The offline files feature lets users of Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, or Enterprise "pin" files stored on network shares, making those files available on their own computers, whether or not the network is online When you mark a folder or file as always available offline, Windows copies that item to a cache on your own computer When you take your computer offline, you can go on working with the cached items as though you were still connected to the network. When you reconnect, Windows automatically synchronizes the cached items with their network counterparts .

The offline files feature is useful even if you never intentionally disconnect from the network. If the network goes down (or simply slows down significantly), Windows begins using cached items instead of their server-based counterparts; when the connection is restored or the logjam breaks, your files are synchronized. You can also simply opt to work with cached files instead of network-based files even when the network is online .

Synchronization of offline files normally occurs whenever you reconnect to the network— or, if you choose to work offline while you're connected to the network, whenever you return to online status. Background synchronization, by default, occurs approximately every six hours while you are connected. You can also perform ad hoc synchronization, synchronize on a schedule of your choosing, or set up an event-driven synchronization schedule—for example, stipulate that Windows should synchronize whenever you lock or unlock your Windows account. The option to synchronize on demand is particularly important; to ensure that your offline cache holds the latest versions of any files you intend to use when you go offsite, you should perform an ad hoc synchronization right before you disconnect.

Files cached for offline access are indexed by default, so you can search for them the same way you would any other indexed file.

Making Folders and Files Available Offline

To make a folder or file available offline, navigate to its network location, right-click, and choose Always Available Offline:

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As soon as you choose this command, Windows begins copying the selected item to your local cache . You will see a progress report while this is occurring. On completion, you will see a report of success or failure . In the following example, two errors have occurred:

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Two of the files on the server were in use and therefore couldn't be synchronized. In this circumstance, you could close the server copies (if you're the one using them) and perform a manual sync. Or if you don't need the offline copies right away, you could let the next scheduled background synchronization take care of the problem.

After you have made files available offline, certain changes in Windows Explorer allow you to confirm their new status (see Figure 10-4):

• Folders available offline are marked with a green icon, similar to the Sync Center icon in the notification area.

• The same green icon appears in the Windows Explorer details pane, along with the words Always Available.

• On the right-click context menu, a check mark appears beside the Always Available Offline command and a new Sync command appears below it.

• A Sync command appears on the toolbar.

Offline File Toolbar Explorer
Figure 10-4 Windows Explorer makes it easy to see which folders are available offline.

The Properties dialog box for any file or folder in the offline cache also changes, acquiring a new Offline Files tab, complete with a Sync Now button:

troubleshooting

The Always Available Offline command is not available

The offline files feature is enabled by default, but it can be disabled . If you're using the Professional or Ultimate/Enterprise edition of Windows 7 and you don't see the Always Available Offline command on the shortcut menu for a shared network item, open Control Panel on the server computer. Type offline files in the search box, and then choose Manage Offline Files . On the General tab of the Offline Files dialog box, click Enable Offline Files.

Working Offline

As mentioned, before disconnecting from the network (or clicking Work Offline on the Windows Explorer toolbar), you should always synchronize any folders or files you intend to use offline . Windows will not do this for you, and if a file is not up to date when you try to use it offline, Windows will deny you access You can perform this synchronization in a variety of ways. The simplest is to right-click any folders containing files you want to work with, choose Sync from the shortcut menu, and then choose Sync Selected Offline Files . Alternatively, you can open Sync Center in Control Panel, select View Sync Partnerships, right-click Offline Files, and then choose Sync Offline Files. (On a portable computer, you can get to Sync Center by pressing Windows logo key+X to open the Windows Mobility Center; click the green icon to open Sync Center, or click the Sync button to sync all.)

There are several ways to get to your cached files while you're working offline. If you create a shortcut to any network folders you intend to use offline, you can open the cached folder offline by clicking its shortcut. If you map the network share to a drive letter, your offline files will be accessible via that drive letter. Alternatively, you can open Sync Center, click View Sync Partnerships, click Offline Files, click the share you want to use, and then click Browse on the toolbar:

Understanding Synchronization and Resolving Sync Conflicts

When you synchronize your offline files with their server-based copies, Windows performs the following operations for each offline file:

• If you have changed the file while offline and the server-based copy has not been changed, Windows updates the server copy with your changes .

• If you have not made changes to your offline copy but the server copy has been changed, Windows updates the copy in your cache .

If either the offline copy or the server copy of a file is deleted, the file on the other computer is deleted as well, unless the file on the remote computer was changed while you were offline.

If one copy has been deleted and the other copy has been changed, Sync Center displays a dialog box that allows you to delete the versions in both locations or copy the changed version to both locations .

• If a new file has been added on the server to a folder that you have marked for offline availability, that new file is copied to your cache .

If both the server copy and your offline copy have changed, Sync Center records a sync conflict. You will have the opportunity to resolve the conflict, but typically the only way you know a conflict exists is by observing a change to the Sync Center icon in the notification area. A yellow caution marker adorns the conflicted icon:

Click this icon to open Sync Center, and then click View Sync Conflicts. Sync Center will display the names of any files that have changed in both the server and cache locations:

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Offline Files

Click the name of a file to resolve the conflict. As Figure 10-5 shows, you can keep either version or both, and the dialog box gives you some information about which file is newer and which is larger. If you know which one you want to keep, click it. If you want to inspect a version before deciding, right-click it and choose Open .

Figure 10-5 When synchronization reveals file conflicts between the server and cache, you can choose which version to keep—or save both versions and sort out the differences later.

Setting Up a Synchronization Schedule

Windows synchronizes offline files, by default, about once every six hours. To set up additional regular synchronization points, open Sync Center, click View Sync Partnerships, click Offline Files, and then click Schedule on the toolbar. You'll see a list of items that you can schedule, shown next.

Make your selections and click Next. On the following screens, you can choose to sync at a scheduled time or on particular events.

Click At A Scheduled Time to set up a recurring schedule. In the Repeat Every setting, choose minutes, hours, days, weeks, or months; for folders where frequent updates are essential, you can specify that sync operations should occur every n minutes or hours .

Click When An Event Occurs to display the options shown next, where you can strike your own personal balance between keeping files up to date and avoiding interruptions to your work:

Regardless of which scheduling route you take, the More Options button leads to the dialog box shown in Figure 10-6, which allows you to favor power management by allowing sync cycles only when you're running on external power and pausing the schedule if the PC is asleep or hibernating

Figure 10-6 The default settings for a sync schedule prevent the Offline Files service from waking up a sleeping computer to sync files.

Figure 10-6 The default settings for a sync schedule prevent the Offline Files service from waking up a sleeping computer to sync files.

Encrypting Offline Files

If the files you take offline include private information, you might want to encrypt them . The cached copies will then be hidden from all accounts but your own . To encrypt your offline files, follow these steps:

1. Open Control Panel.

2. Type offline files in Control Panel's search box.

3. Click Encrypt Your Offline Files .

4. On the Encryption tab of the Offline Files dialog box, click Encrypt.

Note that encrypting offline files affects the cached copies only, and that once you have exercised the encryption option, all subsequent additions to the cache will also be encrypted .

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