When you first launch OmniFocus you’ll be asked to set up Sync. Syncing is important as an additional layer of backup storage for your data, and enables several of the advanced features of the app such as email capture. If you have OmniFocus for iOS, syncing connects you to the latest changes made on any of your devices.
If you’re planning to sync, it’s recommended to do so as part of the app setup process to ensure as smooth a transition as possible between versions, and to provide that added layer of backup right away. If you choose to set up sync later, the same preferences you saw at first launch are available in OmniFocus Synchronization preferences.
This appendix provides additional information about the sync setup process, and describes some of the underlying technology that helps keep your data safe and secure.
Omni Sync Server
When you go to set up sync, the most straightforward option available is our very own Omni Sync Server. It’s free, reliable, and supported by Omni’s ace support team; we take care of managing the servers so your data is always available when you need it most.
Get started by creating a new Omni Sync account here.
Other WebDAV Options
Omni Sync Server is a great solution for most OmniFocus users. If your sync needs require that your data be kept completely within a system you control, you can configure a private WebDAV server to sync your OmniFocus data. This can be a third party server (there are many fine providers out there) or one that lives on your own Mac.
Note that if data privacy is your primary concern when syncing, you may wish to disable the Push feature in OmniFocus preferences (found in the Push tab of Show Sync Details in Synchronization preferences). Push registrations contain nothing specific to your database, but do represent information exchanged outside your server.
See this support article to help determine whether push sync is right for your needs.
While we’re not able to provide comprehensive support for third party servers, we’re glad to help you get started with some pointers.
See this support article for a tutorial on setting up your own OmniFocus sync server using Server.app (included with macOS Server).
Another option for self-hosting is WebDAVNav Server, a free server application (see the corresponding support article). Please recall that we can’t provide troubleshooting assistance for third party apps or services, so once again we recommend Omni Sync Server unless you’re running OmniFocus in extraordinary circumstances.
When you expose files and folders on your computer to the internet (even with password protection), you assume some risk. Make sure you understand this risk before setting up a server, and be sure to keep your Mac up to date with the latest security patches. If you’d prefer not to host your own server, you can sign up for an Omni Sync Server account or use another standards-compliant WebDAV host to sync OmniFocus.
Also note that while services such as Dropbox are great for file sharing, they can’t handle OmniFocus data properly for syncing purposes. Using Dropbox as a place to store your OmniFocus data can corrupt it. Do not use Dropbox as a means of synchronizing your OmniFocus data.
How Synchronization Works
With sync turned on in OmniFocus, a server you designate keeps a copy of your database so that it’s always available wherever you are. With each subsequent sync, OmniFocus compares your local database with what’s on the server and applies any differences to the database on the server (or vice versa, bringing the latest changes from the server to your device).
OmniFocus is set up to sync automatically whenever it’s connected to the internet. With sync turned on, OmniFocus sends new changes to the sync server after one minute, or when opening or closing the app. At a bare minimum, OmniFocus checks in with the server every hour if nothing has changed on the device. This helps ensure that your data from OmniFocus is always safe, secure, and most importantly—up to date.
If you’ve made changes you want to view immediately on another device, you can perform a manual sync (choose File > Synchronize with Server (Commmand-S) or click the Sync button in the toolbar) before switching devices. This pushes your latest changes up to the sync server, so that when you launch OmniFocus on the other system, all you have to do is click or tap Sync to ensure that all of your changes are there.
OmniFocus uses push notification-activated sync for even more robust synchronization support. This feature notifies your other devices with OmniFocus to update whenever you make a change, so manual syncing should rarely — if ever — be required. See this support article for more information on how it works.
For options related to push sync, choose Show Sync Details... in the Synchronization tab of OmniFocus preferences.
OmniFocus uses HTTPS to encrypt your data while in transfer to sync servers that support it (including Omni Sync Server). Additionally, all current OmniFocus databases set up to sync with remote servers are also automatically encrypted prior to transit, and live encrypted on the server.
Versions of OmniFocus with the database encryption feature also include an updated database format that may require migration from previous versions for compatibility between all your devices with OmniFocus.
After updating one device to a version that supports encryption, you’ll see guidance on which other devices must be updated before the migration can take place.
Encryption is done by OmniFocus on your Mac or iOS device at the time the data is transmitted to the sync server. This means that regardless of the sync destination (Omni Sync Server or another WebDAV server), encryption-based security is preserved. OmniFocus doesn’t actively encrypt data while in storage on your local device, instead deferring to any system-level encryption you have in place.
Technical details of the encryption scheme for OmniFocus can be found in this forum post.
Setting a Separate Database Passphrase
By default, OmniFocus uses the password you chose when setting up your sync account to encrypt your database on the server. For an extra layer of security, you can use a distinct encryption passphrase by choosing Change Passphrase from the Encryption tab of Show Sync Details in Synchronization preferences.
This section of Sync Details indicates whether your database is encrypted with your sync password, or a separate one. When you click Change Passphrase, you are prompted to enter your current passphrase (this is the same as your sync password). You can then set and confirm a new passphrase used to encrypt your database on the server.
After setting a new encryption passphrase the Encryption settings indicate that your sync and encryption passwords are distinct. You can unify them again by clicking Link Passwords, or change the encryption passphrase to something new with Change Passphrase.
If you’re syncing with OmniFocus on other Macs or iOS devices, after changing your encryption passphrase you will be prompted to enter the new passphrase on each of those devices before you can receive updates from the server.
Migrating your Database
If you are updating from an earlier version of OmniFocus, you may be prompted to migrate your database to a format capable of supporting the features of the latest version of the app.
When you first launch a version of OmniFocus that’s compatible with the new database format, or choose Migrate Database... from the File menu, you’ll see the Migration window that lists any clients that still need to be updated to the latest version to allow for the database migration to work.
If you’re running a very old version of OmniFocus on a device that syncs with your current database, it may not be eligible for migration to the new database format. If this is the case, it will be indicated in a separate section of the Migration window. You’ll be asked to disconnect any ineligible clients (choose Show Devices and Unregister those that aren’t eligible) before proceeding with the upgrade.
If you prefer to maintain sync compatibility with a very old version of OmniFocus, you can choose not to update to the new database format. However, newer features of OmniFocus that require the updated format will not be available on any devices that sync with that database.
When all of your Macs and iOS devices with OmniFocus are at versions that support the latest database format, the Migration window gives the green light to make the transition to the new, improved format. Choose Migrate Database, and voila! OmniFocus syncs your database in the new format to all of your devices. If you choose Later, you’ll be prompted to migrate again in one day (and you can always use the Migrate Database... menu item to migrate sooner).
On the small chance that something goes missing during the migration process, before changing formats OmniFocus automatically makes a backup of your database that you can revert to if needed. We’ve prepared support articles with more detail on the migration and backup restoration process, and you can always contact us with any additional questions.