Reducing carbon footprint by NOT doing cloud backups

Jörg Petzold|

The Rationale

In my family, we used to use Google Drive to make sure that all our photos taken with our smartphones are safe even if we chose to smash our smartphones in the most inconvenient way ever. It is hassle-free and affordable. But eventually, it got me thinking: There are servers running 24/7 in the cloud just to make gigabytes of pictures available that are only there so that once a year my wife can make a photobook of the highlights. Surely that does not sound right. Especially with CO2 cloud storage footprint estimations between 200kg CO2 and 500kg CO2 per Terabyte per year. With an HDD clocking in with ~200kg CO2, even getting a new harddrive as extra storage is worth the effort.

My requirements

  • I want the solution to upload my new photos automatically from our phones to a local computer whenever I switch it on.
  • If I delete something from my phone I don’t want to have it gone from my backup computer.
  • If I delete something from the backup computer, I want it to keep it on my phone.

The last 2 points are simply safeguards against accidental deletion.

The solution

Enter Syncthing: Syncthing is a continuous file synchronization software. So it can sync folders across all kinds of devices (PC, phone) and OS (MacOS, Windows, Linux, Android,…). And it does not care whether devices are sometimes offline or switched off. And it is open source. And it is easy to use. And it just works (for everything but iPhone photos apparently). With the following guidance, the whole setup takes less than 20 minutes.

The installation process

  1. Install Syncthing on the relevant devices . You can sync different folders with different devices or multiple devices as you please.
  • On Android use the PlayStore and search for “syncthing”. Install the app.
  • On iOS there is a commercial app called “Möbius Sync” which is working with syncthing. HOWEVER, as of 2024 it is not possible to sync the photo library since it is not exposed as folder in iOS (#goldenCage).
  • For Windows and Apple computers there are Installers available in the download section
  • For Linux there are several options available (on Ubuntu, I installed via package manager and on Debian I am running it in a docker container. Both installations are very straightforward, so I am not bothering you with details here).
  1. Set up autostart:
  • Android: open the app, go to “Settings”->“Behaviour”->“Start service automatically…”
  • Other OS: Configuring autostart on each system varies so chose your poison on Syncthing autostart. On windows I found the “Run at user log on using the Startup folder” easiest and on Ubuntu the “systemd service” option.

Setting up the syncing process

  1. After the installation you can open a gui via app (on smartphones) or in the browser of the devices with the adress “”. You can make the ui available through the computers ip also, but this is switched off as default for security reasons. img not found

  2. There you can add your new devices. Usually, the devices with syncthing in the same network are suggested for connection. img not found After saving the new device, you need to confirm the device registration in the device itself. A confirmation message pops up in the device (sometimes you need to reload the web ui for the message to pop up).

  3. Once your device is connected, you can set up the syncing of folders by using the “+Add folder” button. img not found In this form, the only important field is the Folder ID. Folders on different devices are linked by a shared folder ID. This means that a folder named ./DCIM on the smartphone can by synced to a folder named ./myfotos on another device as long the Folder ID in both folders are the same.

  4. Harden against accidental deletion. In order to make sure that we only add to our backup and never delete data; on the sending device, we set the folder to only “Send Only”. img not found. On the backup server we need to set this setting to “Receive Only”. img not found Finally, in order to prevent the sending device to send deletion requests to the backup server, we need to make an “Advanced Setting” on the backup folder. img not found. There go to “Folders” an select the folder. Here, activate the “Ignore Delete” checkbox. img not found.

  5. Activation of syncing
    Finally, the syncing process can be activated for sharing in the “Sharing” Tab of the folder. img not found. After the sharing activation, as last step you need to confirm the sharing in the popup message of the respective device.

  6. Now you can see the dataflow and syncing status on either of the shared devices.

The End

Off course, data back-ups do not end here. To only backup all your data to a single computer might not be the best strategy as soon as this computer fails. In my case I have a secondary backup process in place that used to backup data from my cloud data, which is now using the local backup instead. So I really do not feel like I lost backup reliability there, while reducing my footprint.

If you like Syncthing, don’t forget to donate to them!

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