Tested – Free cloud storage software Pydio

Pydio Clients

You need a client that synchronizes the selected directories in the background to achieve a level of convenience with Pydio similar to what you would expect from Dropbox or Google Drive. Proprietary cloud storage services typically offer matching programs – but not for Linux in the case of Google. Pydio provides PydioSync [6] to fit this bill.

For Windows and Mac OS X, the tool is available as an MSI or DMG package; although the Linux variant of the program is available as a binary, you will look in vain for DEB or RPM packages for your package manager. The GitHub page of the Pydio project [7] describes PydioSync as "pre-alpha"; in this case, the developers are not understating the facts.

The client comprises a background service (agent) and a separate interface (pydio-ui); see the "Headless" box for more information. To install the client, download and unpack the archive PydioSync-Linux-<Version>.tar.gz in a new directory and make the Pydio agent executable (Listing 7).

Listing 7

Make Agent Executable

 

Headless

You do not have to use the PydioSync graphical user interface. Thanks to a web front end, the agent can do without it. You can launch the background with an arbitrary combination of username and password:

$ pydio-agent --api_user=<user> --api_password=<password>

Then, open the URL http://localhost:5556 in a browser and set up the workspace to be synchronized as in the Pydio UI.

Then, briefly launch the interface and quit it immediately by pressing Ctrl+C in a terminal window or by typing Quit in the context menu of the application's status icon. This action generates the ~/.local/share/Pydio/ports_config configuration file in your user account's home directory; the file contains the randomly generated access credentials (Listing 8).

Listing 8

Credentials

 

Using these credentials, you can now call the agent along with the Pydio interface (Listing 9). If the application icon turns orange, the agent and the interface can communicate, and you can select the menu entries Open local folder, Open remote, and Settings. To start the data sync, enter the access credentials of your Pydio installation in Settings below Create a new sync. At the same time, add the target folder on the system's hard disk. As you may be familiar with from proprietary competitors, Pydio now syncs the data between the server and connected devices (Figure 7).

Listing 9

Call the Agent

 

Figure 7: On Linux, you can only install the client for automatic synchronization of the data by working around a number of obstacles.

In addition to the PC clients, Pydio also offers apps for mobile devices that use Android [8] and iOS [9]. The applications are already available from the matching app stores. In a direct comparison between the Android version (Figure 8) and the Dropbox app, Pydio for Android lacks practical functions such as automated transfer of photos grabbed with your cellphone to cloud storage. Additionally, the development of the Android app in particular seems to be stalling. The last update dates back to December 2014. The iOS app was last updated in March 2015 and generally creates a better impression.

Figure 8: In addition to clients for Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows, Pydio also offers apps for iOS and – shown here – Android.

In our lab, the Android app showed evidence of some very nasty bugs: For example, Pydio for Android can open text files in the integrated editor; however, the file content is missing. All you see is an empty editor window. If you now make the mistake of entering some text and then saving it, you will completely lose the original text. The developers definitely need to take action and publish an update to the app as quickly as possible.

Version Management

The well-known cloud storage solutions not only help you with collaborative work and synchronizing files across multiple computers, but they also often handle the task of integrating backups at the same time. These services typically use version management to create a backup whenever a change occurs, and you can restore with just a couple of clicks. As a user, this means that you don't need to worry about loss of data or undesirable changes to shared data. Pydio handles this task [10] with some help from the open source Git [11] version management tool. However, this feature only works with workspaces that store their data locally (fs driver in the configuration).

On the test server with Ubuntu 14.04 installed for this article, I needed to install Git along with the PHP extension VersionControl_Git [12] for this purpose (see the "PHP Extensions Bug" box for more). This extension has been alpha since it was last released early in 2011. To install, you will first need to modify the Pear configuration (Listing 10). Then, in the Pydio Settings below Workspace, choose the workspace to be backed up by the version management tool and enable the Git Repository by clicking on Add source below Extensions | Add extension to this workspace [13].

Listing 10

Modify Pear

 

PHP Extensions Bug

On servers updated from Ubuntu 12.04 to 14.04, the installation of any PHP extensions will fail, and you will see a message such as – could not extract the package.xml file from /build/buildd/php5-5.5.9+dfsg/pear-build-download/packagename.tgz. This bug was reported on Launchpad [15] about a year ago, but there is still no official solution. Instead, you need to install a workaround [16] yourself.

When you then right-click a file in the selected workspace, you will see a Versions entry in the context menu that outputs the last changes as an overview – without resorting to even more tricks, Pydio simply reports git - fatal: bad default revision 'HEAD' at this point. You can disable this error message by setting up a Git user along with an initial commit (Listing 11). In our lab, version management still refused to work properly after this hack: Although Pydio showed the version created by the commit (Figure 9), the software did not commit any retroactive changes to Git. Following the how-to found on the Pydio forum related to changing the file and folder permissions did not improve the situation [14].

Listing 11

Setting Up Git

 

Figure 9: You can theoretically use version management to restore modified files. But, in practical terms, it turns out to be very difficult to implement this function.

Criticism

The Pydio approach sounds good and looks promising, but – as in so many cases – the devil is in the details. The documentation for the software turns out to be totally inadequate and gappy, so users must comb through the website and forum for useful tips. In many places, the guides urgently need an update – this applies in particular to the installation instructions for the PydioSync client on Linux. All told, Pydio is promising but no more; to be fit for production use, the application urgently needs a thorough overhaul.

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