Advanced Sync and Auto-Merge (iOS)

With the release of Strongbox 1.51.0 comes (finally) the much requested “Advanced Sync” feature. We wrote about this a little in our previous update about Compare & Merge. It is the “Merge” part of this feature where the real magic happens. This is core component that Advanced Sync relies on to perform smart updates so that you don’t lose or overwrite your important data.

Advanced Sync occurs in two directions. When you tap (or pull down) on your database, you “read” the latest version of your database from say Dropbox or your SFTP server for example. It also occurs when you add items or edit your database on your iOS device and push changes (or “write”) to the same remote storage provider.

Advanced Sync checks to see if the remote (e.g. Dropbox) database has been modified or changed from the copy you have “locally” on your device. It’s quite possible if you’ve got a family member or colleague working on the same database, or if you’re working across multiple devices swiftly. This leads to the dreaded “Sync Conflict” scenario. There are two conflicting versions of your database.

Previously you would have no choice but to choose between versions (local or remote) and allow an overwrite to happen. Less than ideal. Worse still, this may just have happened silently and you didn’t even get the option to choose which version to keep.

Sync Conflict Scenario – Now with option to Auto-Merge

With Advanced Sync, not only do you get informed that there are differences between your local copy and the remote, but you can view them (this is a Pro feature) and then choose to “Auto-Merge” them (available to all users Free and Pro) so that you keep both sets of changes. The Merge algorithm (described in more detail here) picks the latest changes, archives the older changes in your history and basically just does the right thing, getting out of your way. It won’t force you to pick a version in a confusing fashion either! It really is the best of all possible worlds as an old philosopher once said.

This has been a long requested feature and we believe this kind of functionality is a blessing in a password manager based on flat files and not on a centralised server where someone else owns your data. We hope you’ll agree this is really useful and important.

That’s it from us, it’s been a busy period of development (apologies for the flurry of updates recently!) and getting these changes out the door is not as smooth a process as we always hope. Thanks for putting up with these changes and please feel free to share this article if you think it will be of interest to anyone.

Coming Soon: We’ll talk a little about Offline Editing, our latest and (possibly) greatest feature!

Strongbox Newsletter #1

This is issue number 1 of our newsletter (Jan 26th 2021) sent out to our subscribers by mail every now and then. Interested to hear news and updates about Strongbox, KeePass, Password Management and the wider InfoSec world

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Hallo Nederland! – Strongbox now available in Dutch

Strongbox (1.52.0) has just been localized into Dutch with the help of a wonderfully dedicated volunteer (Thank you!)

We hope this makes things a lot more comfortable and apologies for the delay in getting this out the door!

Compare & Merge (iOS)

Preview in new tab

A key component required for developing the Advanced Sync feature (coming soon) is the ability to compare databases and then to merge them. It’s quite a big feature and the development work is quite large. Since Advanced Sync is our number one development priority we’ve been deep in the code caves working on it for quite a while. Apologies if it looks like we’ve been slacking off!

With the release of version 1.50.13 on iOS we decided to not only add this functionality but also to make it available in a friendly UI. So no more flying blind when you’ve got 2 slightly out of sync copies of your databases. Just fire up Strongbox, select Compare & Merge from the context menu and let it do the hard work of comparing all entries. Optionally then you can choose to merge the databases so that you have the latest entries, edits and moves from both.

NB: The Compare feature is a Pro feature only. Advanced Sync (see below) will be available for free as we believe it’s just bad news for everyone in the password management world if we have out of sync databases promulgating.

Scenario – Mary & Joe and their shared database

Let’s take a look at this new feature briefly. One of the most common ways you can get out of sync versions is when you have multiple “editors”. Perhaps you are sharing your database with your partner Mary. Let’s say Mary goes off on a nice hike and (for some reason) decides to cleanup or re-organise your shared database. Meanwhile around the same time, you are at home and you just found a cool new bookshop which you signed up to immediately. Of course you diligently entered your login details into your Strongbox database. Well now we have arrived at that dreaded out of sync situation… What do these two databases look like? Let’s see an illustrative example.

Joe found a new bookshop…
Mary’s been busy organising!

Ruh roh… This is less than ideal. Joe has added his new favourite bookshop, Waterstones, to the database. Meanwhile Mary has been tidying up the database, moving entries around and creating a nice group structure. Ideally we really don’t want to lose any of these changes!

Well that’s where the new Compare & Merge feature comes in super handy! Let’s say Mary gets back and now you both realise your databases are out of sync. No problem! Let’s get Mary’s copy on to our devices and get the process started.

We tap and hold our database and select ‘Compare & Merge’ then follow the instructions on screen.

Get started by tapping Compare & Merge
Comparison

Finally we get to the comparison screen. As you can see Strongbox has figured out what changes were made by Mary and the changes necessary to bring your database up to speed with all of her changes. You can see she has moved a number of items around (you can even drill down and find out to where) and created a number of groups.

If you’re happy with all these changes you can go ahead and tap Merge to have Strongbox perform these moves, additions and edits. So that’s it! Here’s what that looks like after the Merge.

After Merge

That’s all there is to it really. There is a ton of complexity hidden behind this pretty UI but we hope that’s what you’ve come to expect of Strongbox. Now a short word on our next major feature, Advanced Sync, which automates this process, and which we promise is coming really soon!

Advanced Sync – Coming Soon

As you have probably guessed the same algorithm that is used for comparing and merging your databases intelligently can be used and automated when Strongbox detects your local and remote databases have gotten out of sync. Advanced Sync depends on this smart/intelligent algorithm and so that’s why this latest feature ‘Compare & Merge’ has come first. It’s a little more awkward to setup a merge because you need to add the other version of the database. We feel it was worth making this it’s own feature though. You never know when you’ll need to compare databases! Advanced Sync will seamlessly integrate this feature into the already extensive Sync architecture of Strongbox. Fingers crossed you’ll never see another out of date version of your database again.

Conclusion

Compare & Merge is a super handy tool for your databases. It should give you the confidence you need to perform merges and perhaps even figure out how you ended up in the non synchronised state in the first place. The process will be more automated as part of your regular Strongbox sync in the coming weeks so you might come across this and appreciate it completely serendipitously… We hope you’ll like it! 🙂

Lastly if you liked this article or you think this is a cool feature, please feel free to share it on social media or with your friends and family.