File Sync Malady

Windows 2000 continually updates offline file folders by design—Group Policy plays no part.

Bill: We run Windows 2000 Professional on a 1,500-user network using roaming profiles. The Group Policy settings force a synchronization of the user's offline files at logout. We have several "shared" machines (e.g. in the receptionists' office) where up to 10 staffers log in during the course of the week.

On the "shared" PC's, when a user logs off not only are the current user's files synchronized but so are the files of everyone who has been logged onto that machine in the past (even if those user are currently logged in at another location). Can I modify any settings so that only the current users' files are synchronized?
—Name withheld by request

Offline folder synchronization can get a little complex, so let's simplify matters at the start by focusing on just one file. I'm assuming that the kiosk machine is connected to the network and the users log into a Windows 2000 domain.

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Suppose avguser logs on at the kiosk machine and goes into the folder that has offline files. Just for the sake of discussion, it's the My Documents folder that you've redirected to a central server.

Avguser creates a text file called File1.txt, adds a little content and saves the file. As soon as Avguser presses Ctrl+S to save the file, two things happen: The locally cached copy gets updated and so does the network copy on the server hosting the redirected My Documents folder. This does not wait for synchronization at the end of the logon session. The network copy stays fresh continually throughout the session as the user saves the content.

Avguser stays logged onto the kiosk machine and walks over to his own machine and logs on. He opens the My Documents folder. He sees the new file and, when he opens it, he sees the content he saved at the first machine.

He adds a few lines, saves the file, then goes back to the kiosk machine and opens the file. He should see that the contents have changed with the additions he made at the second machine. He can walk back to his own machine, close the file, then open it and see the new content.

This behavior is "by design." Changing the Group Policy properties that manage the Synchronization Manager won't change the behavior. Using an application that puts an opportunistic lock on the file (like Word) would affect this experiment only by forcing you to close the file between tests.

But your question implies that you've seen an additional phenomenon where Avguser's files would get synchronized at some later time in the day when another user at the kiosk machine logs off. I'm betting that you're seeing the updates made to the server copies of the files.

If users are seeing their files change back to a previously saved version throughout the day as users log in and out of the kiosk machine, then write me and walk me through a sample transaction.

In the meantime, hope this helps.

About the Author

Contributing Editor Bill Boswell, MCSE, is the principal of Bill Boswell Consulting, Inc. He's the author of Inside Windows Server 2003 and Learning Exchange Server 2003 both from Addison Wesley. Bill is also Redmond magazine's "Windows Insider" columnist and a speaker at MCP Magazine's TechMentor Conferences.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Mar 30, 2009 Anonymous Anonymous

Hi. After I'm dead I'd rather have people ask why I have no monument than why I have one.
I am from Uruguay and now teach English, give please true I wrote the following sentence:

Fri, Sep 10, 2004 Bill Naples, NY

I think the answer di not even come close to answering the question. I would love to see an answer that I could use. I have the exact same problem.

Sat, Nov 22, 2003 max ny

Just like somebody here mentioned already...
I was building an image of WinXP in test environment. Configured the offline files to make sure it works. Now after removing the machine from the test domain and joining the production domain the silly thing still tries to syncronize with test domain and of course fails. Even if you go to mobsync and uncheck all the boxes it still don't help. Had to go through some obscure procedure of cleaning the cache and bunch of other things.
I see MS had best intentions in mind, but poorly implemented the solution.
Well, what else is new...

Fri, Nov 21, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

I agree that the question has nothing to do with files getting updated, rather, the annoying habit of numerous folks offlines files syncronizing on logoff when user A logs off....

Fri, Nov 14, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Misses the point

Fri, Nov 14, 2003 Gern Ohio

This article does totally miss the point of the question, which is unfortunate. Offline files should be maintained on a per user basis, but obviously they are not. I believe all we can do is hope that future SPs may address this issue. It is doubtful they will in W2K.
It will be very difficult in our 3000 PC environment to apply different policies to NBs and DTs, so I have preferred to enable offline files on all. I believe, however, this is my only choice to fixing this issue.
But perhaps someone can answer another question, is there a way through a GPO to force encryption of offline files? I can't find it if there is.

Mon, Oct 13, 2003 NetAdmin Michigan

I agree with the point being lost..however I also agree with the point questioning off-line file sync with PCs. This feature is to be used with one user on a mobile computing unit not a Desktop unit. Furthermore the reason it is syncing all profiles is because of your GPO setting. Sounds to me like you've configured off-line file sync in the computer portion of the GPO not the USER? Let me know..

Sat, Oct 4, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

I wonder if the column is still rated over 3 stars with my 1 star rating ;-)

Thu, Aug 21, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

I work in a large organisation and there is no way you can point to a machine and say only this user will ever log into that machine. The behavior of maintaining one cache for synced files on a machine needs to be changed to a cache for each user by microsoft which would solve the issue of syncing the entire cache when a user llgos off.

Also we need an ability to stop caching unc mapping by default as admins typically connect to many machines and its a terrible idea to do this by default.

Incidentally you can reset the cached files by ctrl shift clicking the delete files button in offline folders.

Thu, Aug 21, 2003 Dave Portland

This does not seem to be the right answer. File Syncronization Occurs when the user has decided to sync a redirected folder to their hard drive for offline use. I have noticed this as well the sync happens at log-off for all users you are given the option to stop. You can change the syncronization settings by right clicking on a syncronized folder and select syncronize, once the syncronization process starts click stop from there the results tab appears reselect the progress tab then press the setup button. Inside the setup dialog you can make any change to the local users syncronize settings.

Tue, Aug 19, 2003 ian Anonymous

Oops. Replace mode should read merge mode above for the loopback policy settings above.

Tue, Aug 19, 2003 Tramp OverTheRainbow

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Pronunciation: 'ma-l&-dE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -dies
Etymology: Middle English maladie, from Old French, from malade sick, from Latin male habitus in bad condition
Date: 13th century
1 : a disease or disorder of the animal body
2 : an unwholesome or disordered condition

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Ian Anonymous

Hmmm. I didn't think my plan was convoluted. I thought it was the best way to solve the problem and maintain all other company policies. I guess I just can't figure out why he is syncing offline files at all on the shared machines which will always be online when accessed. I don't agree that offline files are meant to be a back-up solution, required for roaming profiles, or meant to be used at online workstations. Opinions vary.

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Rafa PR

Many of us probably think both Ian and Mr. Boswell are wrong. Ian offers an interesting but overly convoluted plan to disable offline files, which ARE a requirement at the shared (not kiosks; Mr. Boswell) computers.

1- I'd like to help Mr [Name Withheld] the only way I can; offering moral support. I've experienced the "problem" in question too. In my opinion, Microsoft is still a long way from perfecting the Offline Files feature. Have yet to see a patch or program that adds more control.

I usually don't give a xxx... Admitedly, it is a nuisance if it takes 5 minutes to sync somebody else's offline mp3 folder and you have to manually switch off the machine because it's not really ACPI compliant...

This synchronization behavior is by design, however erroneous or bugged it ends up being... 2- Even though folder redirection is configured at User Level GPO's; Offline Files can be configured locally at each machine. 3- Both WinXP and 2K will take the list of users owning local profiles and files on each client, and sync them with the source servers. 4- Up to the latest service packs, none of the client MS OSses offer a way to control who's files are or not synchronized. 5- You can just control which server can be synchronized against, which files will be available offline, or whether offline files are turned on or off.

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Ian Anonymous

The shared computers should be under separate group policy that does not enable offline folders. The users are only there on a temp basis, and that is not what offline files was designed for anyway. Here is what comes to mind first: You'd want to set the shared computers in a separate child OU. Then create a new GPO for that OU. In the loopback policy setting for the computer section on the GPO, set it to replace. In the user section of the new GPO, disable the offline files. That should keep those shared computers from allowing the offline files policy to work on the shared computers, while still allowing it to work everywhere else, and preserving all other company policies on the shared computers. Hope that helped, and that I didn't misunderstand your requirements.

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Michael Kilmer South Dakota

I don't think that Mr. Boswell understood the question at all. We have seen this as well using folder redirection. If multiple users use the same machine, when one user logs off, it tries to syncronize all of the users data for all users on the machine. If you go into the settings as you are logging off, you can de-select the users other than the one logging off. The problem is that you have to do this for every user, and if somebody new starts using the machine, the whole process starts again. What annoys me is that the sync process usually fails because nobody else has the proper permissions to write data to other user's folders, so you have to respond to the errors at the end of the process.

As for another user's comment about off-line files only being for laptops, he's mistaken. Offline files can be a life saver in the event that a server goes down unexpectedly. While this doesn't happen every day, it's a little added assurance and makes life less stressfull when it does happen.

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Ross Presser Bridgeport NJ

Furthermore, how is it that every comment I see here is three stars or less, yet the column rating is over three stars??

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Ross Presser Bridgeport NJ

Just chiming in with everyone else - Mr. Boswell, you completely missed the point of the question. What is annoying the user is not that information is being lost because of unwanted synchronization, but that time is being lost. If Avguser modifies a file on workstation X while ZZZuser is logged in to workstation Y, then why on earth should workstation Y sync that file when ZZZuser logs off? The desired behavior is that when ZZZuser logs on or off, only the files ZZZuser has access to should be synced. The fact that AVGuser might log in ten days from now and possibly want his file is no reason to sync the whole damn machine every time someone logs on or off.

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Ken Kansas City

The article describes network file updating and suggests that "by design" this last minute logout sync does not happen, then almost as an aside, says maybe it does, and if so, call me. Did I miss something here?

Wed, Aug 13, 2003 Anonymous Anonymous

Agreed. The response misses the point. We have had a similar problem and it looks very messy. Users start wondering whether there files are indeed secure.
I think this problem deserves some more of Bill's time.

Tue, Aug 12, 2003 KILO TX

It appears that you have totally misunderstood the question. I have not seen a question from the text that even required the information in the last two paragraphs. The case below seem to outline what the user is asking:

User 1, User 2, User 3, User 4, etc logs on to Computer A. Now User 1, 2 & 3 have logged on to Computer B and C respectively. When User 4 logs out of Computer A, the Synchronization synchronizes the folders for User 1,2,3,and 4. He wants it to only synchronize User 4's folder. In other words just synchronize the folders of the user who is currently logged on.

I look forward to your response.

Tue, Aug 12, 2003 Ken Australia

The reply misses the point totally. We have the same thing. In my case the issue is that offline files exist for all previously logged on Users due to auto cache of redirected My Docs. At log off it attempts to check for all User profiles - but doesn't have rights for their folders and sprays errors.... if you are connected as an admin it does sync.... and you have that secondary issue of potentially sync back of files long since deleted from old profiles that had been inactive for some time. We have started using the ResKit "DelProf" to clean up Old profiles... but this is fairly crude way of doing it.

Tue, Aug 12, 2003 AAAAAAHHHH Anonymous

This is a comment on the question not the answers
I don't understand why you would be using offline folders on desktop in the first place. Offline folders are designed so you can work on files stored on a network drive on your laptop while it is not connected to the network. You don't usually pick up a workstation and take it home with you.
If you just used a redirected folder, as Bill described, anything that was save to the redirected folder would automatically be saved on the network.

Tue, Aug 12, 2003 Charlie Boston

I have been annoyed by this myself. Even worse is when the machine is not able to connect to the file server. You log on and even if your account is not using Offline Files, you have to wait while the machine tries to find the server. This would be expected and acceptible if it wasn't someone else's files. Two other points - 1. I have removed a machine from a domain and STILL had the machine try to sync with a server from the old domain. 2. I have tried unchecking the folder in the Offline File properties (logged on as Domain Administrator) only to find later that it would still be checked off.
Offline Files is a very valuable feature but as Bill says, it can get a little complex - both for the users and support personnel.

Tue, Aug 12, 2003 David Anonymous

I've seen the same thing he is describing here ... 8 people share a computer, every time a user logs off, you have to wait & watch while the dialog box synchronizes (or at least says it is) all 8 people's folders ... not just the one user that just logged off... of course the more people that use the computer and the more stuff they have stored the longer this takes... something's just not right here!

Tue, Aug 12, 2003 David Anonymous

I've seen the same thing he is describing here ... 8 people share a computer, every time a user logs off, you have to wait & watch while the dialog box synchronizes (or at least says it is) all 8 people's folders ... not just the one user that just logged off... of course the more people that use the computer and the more stuff they have stored the longer this takes... something's just not right here!

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