NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: best Dropbox alternative

Choosing a Dropbox-style, self-hosted cloud storage or file syncing solution isn’t easy. Simply put, there are a lot of solutions out there, each promising scores of features, but everyone has completely different needs. But in this post, I’m going to cover only three of the self-hosted Dropbox alternatives, each of which you can install on your VPS. It’s time for the NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing battle!

One common feature among all the available file syncing solution is to access, sync, and share data across various devices. On top of it, each syncing solution provides services like Audio/Video/Text chat or calendar/contact/mail integration and much more. Let’s check out a few crucial features offered by three open source file-syncing platforms— NextCloud, Seafile, and Syncthing—to find which one among the three is best suited for your requirements.

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: the features grid

All of these file syncing solutions have features to access, sync, and share data across various devices. On top of that, each syncing solution provides services like audio/video/text chat, or calendar/contact/mail integration, and much more.

But before we dive deep into the features offered by NextCloud, Seafile, and Syncthing, it’s important to note that Syncthing is a lightweight peer-to-peer synchronization solution, which means that there’s no central third-party server holding a copy of all your data. Syncthing synchronizes files direction between all the machines which need access to those files. On the contrary, NextCloud and Seafile need a centralized server (your VPS) to sync data with all your connected machines and devices.

In a nutshell, Syncthing is a decentralized file synchronization solution, while NextCloud and Seafile are amalgamations of file synchronization with file management, calendar, contacts, and more. That alone might be enough to swing you in one direction or another, but let’s get on with the features grid!

NextCloud Seafile Syncthing
License Open source Open source/Enterprise License Open source
Large file support Yes Yes Yes
Self-hosted Yes Yes
Server OS Linux/Windows/MacOS Linux/Windows
Docker Support Yes Yes Yes
Language PHP C, Python GO
Mobile Clients iPhone/Android/Windows iPhone/Android Android
Desktop Clients Mac/Windows/Linux Mac/Windows/Linux Mac/Windows/Linux
Single Sign-On Yes No No
Sync local folder Yes Yes Yes
LAN Synchronization No Yes Yes
Multi-Tenant No Yes No
File Versioning Yes Yes Yes
Audio/Video/Text chat Yes No No
Calendar/Contact/Mail integration Yes Calendar and Contact No
Active Directory Support Yes Yes No
Online Office Yes In Seafile professional server No
File Locking Yes Yes Yes
File Access Control Yes Yes Yes
Centralized Yes Yes No

Licenses and pricing

NextCloud was originally a fork of the ownCloud project, which offers both an open source community edition and a proprietary enterprise edition. However, Nextcloud offers only an open source version under the license GNU AGPLv3.

Seafile offers two editions: a free community edition and a professional edition with additional features for enterprise environments. The developers release the community edition under the terms of the GNU Affero General Public License v3. Seafile releases its professional version under a proprietary license.

Syncthing has only one version, a free community edition released under the license GNU AGPLv3 initially, which they changed to MPL V2 (Mozilla Public License) at a later stage.

Docker-based installation

The acceptance and advantages of deploying Docker-based applications have convinced many developers to adopt Dockerfiles and Docker images as a way of helping users install their software. Using NextCloud’s pre-built Docker image, one can get up and running with a NextCloud server within minutes. Seafile and Syncthing also support a Docker-based setup, which means you can install any of these three file syncing solutions in your VPS environment quickly.

Mobile apps

A mobile sync client lets you connect and sync files and folders between your mobile device, like a smartphone, and your server so that you have the latest versions of your data wherever you are. NextCloud offers mobile clients for both Android and iOS, plus Windows Mobile (if that’s still somehow your thing). Seafile offers mobile clients for iOS and Android and, Syncthing provides a mobile client for Android only.

Desktop OS compatibility

Like mobile clients, you can sync files and folders from your desktop to the file sync server using the desktop clients offered by each of them. All of them provides desktop clients for Windows, Linux, and Mac OS. So, we don’t find any significant differences regarding OS compatibility for desktops.

But, Seafile has the edge over other two since it offers drive and sync clients separately for desktop platforms. Apart from desktop clients, Seafile also provides a terminal client on various Linux distributions to sync files and folders using a terminal.

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: The NextCloud web interface

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: The NextCloud web interface

Security and performance

NextCloud offers robust security measures, including server-side storage encryption, client-side end-to-end encryption, and encrypted data transfer. NextCloud’s authentication scheme includes LDAP, SAML, Active Directory, Kerberos, and it all works out of the box.

Seafile also offers the same level of encryptions as found in NextCloud, but it does not deliver on features like LDAP and Active Directory.

Syncthing does not employ a traditional authentication mechanism through usernames and passwords, but instead uses a certificate-based authentication scheme to determine its Device ID. Syncthing then shares this ID with all the other devices that you want to connect. Beyond that, TLS security/encryption encrypts all device-to-device communication. I’d argue that not needing a centralized server is a security benefit as well, since there’s no centralized location to be attacked.

Syncthing is written in Go language, which I think gives it a performance edge over NextCloud and Seafile. The web interface of NextCloud can be a bit slow on some systems, especially on ARM boxes or less-powerful machines. I haven’t benchmarked the three solutions, but my experience is that Seafile handles transfers with the best speed and reliability, especially if you’re moving large amounts of data. With NextCloud, I had the occasional failed file transfer.

Based on my experience, I’d say Syncthing has the edge over Nextcloud and Seafile from performance and security point of view.

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: The Seafile web interface

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: The Seafile web interface

Multi-tenancy

The multi-tenancy feature of any cloud storage/file syncing solution is designed to help you host multiple, completely segregated customers from a single instance. One can create multiple organizations that are separated from each other, and, of course, users between the organizations can’t share files and folders.

Right now, only Seafile offers multi-tenancy, so if you’re planning to host multiple organizations on your self-hosted file syncing instance, then Seafile is your only choice

It’s important to note that NextCloud can host multiple users on a single instance, which still works if you’d like to invite friends or family to use your self-hosted syncing solution. In this case, these users all share the same database, which doesn’t offer nearly the security and segregation of true multi-tenancy.

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: The Syncthing web interface

NextCloud vs. Seafile vs. Syncthing: The Syncthing web interface

Which installs the easiest?

Let’s check the difficulty level installing each of these solutions on your VPS.

NextCloud: The prerequisites for installing Nextcloud is a LAMP or LEMP stack. If you have already configured a LAMP/LEMP stack, then you only need to create a database and tweak few settings in PHP and Apache/Nginx to complete the NextCloud installation with ease.

Seafile: Seafile is written using python, so you need both the Python libraries, along with a MySQL/MariaDB database, as prerequisites to install. Luckily, none of that is very complicated.

One advantage of Seafile is that the upgrade process is very smooth and easy. You can usually upgrade NextCloud via the built-in upgrader or the command line, but I’ve found that NextCloud is more likely to break if I have lots of apps enabled. I’ve had to fiddle around with the database, folder permissions, or web server settings on a few occasions.

Syncthing: The Syncthing installation, outline in its documentation, is a bit different than the other two. Syncthing uses a single binary which you download and run from the command line on your VPS. That binary boots up Syncthing and a web server for you to access and configure which folders you want to share, and with which other machines.

Which have I chosen, and why?

There are a lot of things I like about Syncthing, and I think you should also give it a try.

First of all, it’s open source, cross-platform, and the interface is also straightforward to use. There is a slightly sharper learning curve at the beginning due to the unique installation procedure, but I think investing some time on this great tool will get you syncing files and folders in your network very quickly and without too much infrastructure to manage.

I personally really like Syncthing doesn’t require a centralized server for storing and syncing data. You can still use your VPS as one of many destinations for your files, but you’re not forced to route all traffic through it and use it as the only source of “truth” about your data. To me, that makes it more secure and minimizes privacy risks.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with Syncthing and am excited to see how its developers will make it more feature-rich in the future.

NextCloud: https://nextcloud.com/
Seafile: https://www.seafile.com/en/home/
Syncthing: https://syncthing.net/

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