OneDrive expanding differential sync to all file types later this year

What you need to know

  • Microsoft detailed a ton of new features coming to OneDrive at its SharePoint conference this week.
  • Among the updates is support for all file types with differential sync, expanding the feature beyond Office 2016 file types.
  • Differential sync saves bandwidth by only syncing the parts of files that have changed, rather than re-uploading the entire file.

At its SharePoint conference this week, Microsoft took the wraps off of a load of features (opens in new tab) slated to hit OneDrive for business users soon. One of the biggest new features is the expansion of differential sync to cover all file types.

Differential sync is a feature that saves time and bandwidth by only syncing parts of files that have been changed, rather than re-uploading an entire file. Currently, the feature only works with Office 2016 file types. According to Microsoft, the feature will expand to include all file types "later this year" in both OneDrive and SharePoint.

"Today, we announced differential sync will sync only the parts of files that have changed, greatly reducing sync time and bandwidth utilization," Microsoft said in a blog post announcing the feature. "Currently OneDrive supports differential sync for modern Office file formats. Later this year, differential sync will support all files stored in Microsoft 365."

Other tidbits coming to OneDrive include the ability to view recommended files on the web, the option to save files for later, and support for 360-degree image previews. OneDrive is also getting new sharing enhancements, including the ability to request files from others, file-sharing integration in Microsoft Teams chats, and improvements to share "easy-to-read" links in the Outlook Web App.

Finally, Microsoft detailed some updates coming to the Outlook mobile app. The UI for browsing and sharing files from OneDrive through Outlook mobile is getting an overhaul, along with the addition of PDFs and scans to the "recent" view. Lastly, more options are coming to the PDF annotation experience.

For the complete rundown, you can view Microsoft's full blog post (opens in new tab).

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  • This is the nerdy stuff that gets me excited. I am constantly syncing OneDrive across devices. PDFs large and small with annotation changes. Data files for Stata and the like, and lots of output files that are constantly changing. SVG's and other files (for my [also nerdy] graphic design hobby). At the same time this makes me a bit nervous. I can trust MS to figure out how to update files generated by its own products in a piecemeal way, but other file types?
  • I may be simplifying things, but is it not some kind of comparison between the original uploaded file and the current version being worked on and then only uploading the differences? Again, probably oversimplifying it and I'm in no way a programmer. But my point being would it not be the same process regardless of file type or what program it's coming from?
  • I hope so. But then why start with MS Office files?
  • It's not always that easy. Once you change some parts of a file, you'd have to do integrity checks to make sure everything is intact and nothing got corrupted along the way (much more likely in the case of delta updates).
    Each file isn't made the same and the "contents" of some are much harder to modify than those of others. Other issues include signed and encrypted files.
    Microsoft is very good at this though (they do this for Office and Windows Updates) and the fact that it works with live editing in Office shows that they can do one of the harder scenarios.
  • Unfortunately, I cannot agree that it works with live editing. I have never had that work over a sustained session without serious corruption of the document, most especially duplication of sentences and paragraphs over and over and over again in Word. Google Apps doesn't have these problems.
  • Microsoft Office works fine over sustained sessions. It defaults to Live Save, anyways... This has never been a problem with Office files - ever. It simply hasn't. The problem with using cloud storage for this kind of work was more pronounced with apps like Scrivener. This is the reason why they only support Dropbox for Synching between Desktop and Mobile. OneDrive and Google Drive can result in file corruption if you use those services - particularly if the file is access from two different sources at the same time. I'm not sure iCloud is significantly better, either. Office has never had this problem. It natively supported OneDrive since forever (Office 2013) and it has now supported Collaborative editing for years. All Live Editing does is save your progress every time you do an edit, like LIve Save in Premiere Pro or DaVinci Resolve does... or any Image/Photo Editor... or Any DAW that supports Auto-Save after recording (like Samplitude Pro X4), etc. Office has a workflow for resolving merge conflicts. If this were the case, Microsoft would have found out about it, and tackled it a long time ago, since this is a pretty elementary use case in business. It would be a complete showstopper for them.
  • Office has had it for a while, and why not? Cause they own Office and it's pretty much ground zero for enabling these types of features. Office doesn't even need the OneDrive app to Sync to the service. That's what I'd like to see in more third party apps, frankly.
  • Correct, it only uploads the bits that are different. So if you only change 1MB worth of data in a 1GB file, it will only upload ~1MB, instead of uploading the entire 1GB [changed] file. It makes synching faster, and can avoid a lot of data transfer - especially on mobile devices operating over metered connections.
  • Curiously, I noticed recently that differential sync already works with my image files such as DNGs and TIFs.