EteSync isn't under active development - recommendations should be revisited

EteSync is currently the top recommendation under Digital Notebooks and the second recommendation for Calendar and Contact sync. Both of these recommendations should be either reworded (to give caveats) or removed to reflect the state of the project.

EteSync Notes has not seen an update since January 2021. A blog post was made that month about new features in the pipeline but none have been added. The GitHub issues forum has 62 open issues ranging from glitches to feature requests to full on crashes; only one issue has been marked completed in the past 18 months. In response to a topic asking if the project is dead the lead dev said he doesn’t have time to work on it and the other dev is no longer active. … so it’s abandoned.

For Contacts and Calendar sync:

  • The DAV-Bridge for desktop use is buggy and unreliable. I’m speaking both from personal experience and reflecting the 95 unresolved issues on GitHub. Its last update was 11 months ago.
  • The iOS app is very poor and has not been updated in over two years. It requires users to open the app, wait a few seconds for it to slowly load, then hit a manual sync button just to send any changes - and even those are unreliable. The lack of automatic syncing is due to iOS limitations, but basic improvements that would greatly help the syncing flow were marked as “help wanted” and have seen no active development. The iOS app is abandoned.
  • The only platform where Contacts and Calendar sync work basically as expected is on Android, where the app still sees occasional updates (most recent in September 2022).
  • Posts have started popping up asking if the project is dead, and the lead developer has said he doesn’t have time to work on it much beyond Android and the backend.

Given that:

  • EteSync is no longer under development on most platforms
  • The apps have severe usability / reliability issues on most platforms
  • The total lack of development could lead to worsening usability or security issues
  • It’s not the only or best option in either the notebook or contact/calendar sync categories

I propose that:

  • EteSync Notes should be removed as a recommendation
  • EteSync Calendar / Contacts should only be recommended for Android, with a disclaimer stating that iOS / desktop apps exist but are no longer developed and have issues.

It doesn’t make sense to recommend a (paid) option here when other, better options exist with equivalent or better functionality and privacy.

Note: I originally wrote this post with many more links to GitHub reflecting the issues I mentioned, but the forum says I can only include two links so I had to remove them.

Thank you for the detailed post. I’ve been seeing people talking about issues they’ve been having with EteSync on Matrix as well. The dev seems to be fairly unresponsive. It’s currently using SDK 29 which actually prevents it from being updated on the Play Store, although on F-Droid there is a new version. With the rest of the team’s input, I think we should move forward with removing all EteSync software from our recommendations. @dngray @Jonah @freddy @Niek-de-Wilde

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We might have to say goodbye to it for the moment, which is unfortunate.

Likely options like Proton’s and Tutanota’s offerings provide a more “complete” support anyway.

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It’s quite sad. As there is no fully e2ee contact sync left. Proton doesn’t encrypt your contacts. Also it cannot sync the contacts to your phone which runs it quite useless for most people I know. Not sure about tutanota.
Nextcloud in my experience sucks even more when it comes to syncing contacts and calendar. It’s not a great state.

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They encrypt any data about the contacts, but yes, you’re right, the contact names and email addresses are not.

Reality is any email in your mailbox regardless of whether it is an “encrypted provider” or not, will show this data in the email header anyway.

Best bet is to use a cloaking service that hides that entirely if the contact you’re communicating with is particularly sensitive.

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Well this is fully right. I have many contacts with just a phone number. There is no need for it to be none e2ee and I take issue with the data being visible to Proton. It can largely identify your social graph and perhaps sensitive contacts. This may be different in one other’ thread model.

But generally the lacking ability to view the contacts via an app on the phone makes it to be nothing usable to me.

The phone number will be encrypted.

Which can also be gathered from monitoring any email provider’s SMTP relay. I think the reason Proton doesn’t bother encrypting this is because there isn’t a lot of point, email providers must be able to determine where an email comes from, and where it should be sent to.

This does work with PM’s official app.

The phone number will be yes. But the name of these phone only contacts won’t. That for me is a huge deal.

Yes, but that would only be for the ones you email with. Also those emails one can delete to be save but the contact will remain unencrypted.

Yes, you can view contacts through the mail app. But that’s very inconvenient if you want to call someone.

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Protonmail’s app also won’t show show those in the dialer either. It’s been a requested feature to add an adapter Feature-request: Expose a contacts provider · Issue #10 · ProtonMail/proton-mail-android · GitHub for that. Maybe they could have an option to expose some contacts to the phone.

Once again it’s looking like hosting your own small Radicale service and using DAVx⁵ to connect to it is probably the least painful experience. Maybe we could even do a little blog tutorial on that. Radicale is super easy to set up, because essentially it’s a single python script with minimal dependencies.

You could probably do this on your home LAN/PC if you don’t want to pay for hosting. Of course it would only be synchronized when connected to your server.

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Will definitely look into that! If you know how to a blog post would surely be appreciated, although I probably can figure it out.

That would be fantastic. I haven’t self-hosted anything before so a step-by-step guide for non-programmers would be appreciated. If my calendar and contacts were hosted on my own hardware then I wouldn’t be as concerned with them being E2EE.

I don’t think that would be a good idea. If you don’t know how it works you won’t be able to secure it well (sorry).

Arent they currently focusing on their Etebase backend?

I used to subscribe to them but then the recession hit and cost cutting came and had to let them go.

The project seems to offer a simple and basic functionality. Does anyone else think they are approaching a feature complete state and that they are focusing on other things (like the aforementioned EteBase)?

I don’t think that would be a good idea. If you don’t know how it works you won’t be able to secure it well (sorry).

Damn, you’re right. In that case I’ll either have to wait for Proton Calendar to mature a bit or make peace with a CalDAV provider that is privacy-respecting but not E2EE (Mailbox.org?). As much as I want me calendar data locked away, it doesn’t do me much good if it doesn’t work.

The project seems to offer a simple and basic functionality. Does anyone else think they are approaching a feature complete state and that they are focusing on other things (like the aforementioned EteBase)?

I wouldn’t consider it feature complete when improvements promised years ago haven’t been implemented (Notes) and the dev is saying he doesn’t have time to fix major bugs and usability issues.

“Feature complete,” to me, implies that bug fixes and reliability improvements are still happening, just no big new features (like FairEmail). EteSync only works as advertised and expected on Android, while every other platform has serious issues and no development.

Just before I wrote this post I had the desktop bridge eat another one of my events. Issues like this are happening all the time, and there is generally no dev response and no updates.

It’s just not fully functional, unfortunately. I really really really really really want EteSync (or something like EteSync) to succeed, but PrivacyGuides probably shouldn’t recommend tools / services that aren’t reliable. Hence my suggestion for only recommending on Android or adding a disclaimer.

Fortunately it’s not a particularly complicated setup.

What we could look at doing is adding to a guide, the ability to start the service on boot, and a systemd unit which starts Radicale on boot (if you’re on Linux). Instructions for automatically starting on a Mac would be rather trivial too.

Once set up users would just need to “have their PC on” and connect to the same LAN to “synchronize”, obviously if you want it available everywhere, you’d need a server or something connectable from the Internet.

I dunno about you guys, but i rarely add new contacts to my phone, and if i do I’m happy for them to be synchronized next time i sit down at my computer. It’s not like adding those things without access to Radicale will mean that they aren’t added, just simply that your other devices won’t see the new contacts, calendar items until they are connected.

I don’t think the project is as “dead” as some here might be making out.
future of etesync · Issue #148 · etesync/server · GitHub and they do have some plans for the future Guest Post: Improving EteSync Notes

Etesync could do with more contributors though.Radicale while not having E2EE is vastly simpler in it’s implementation, so it works rock-solid.

I don’t think the project is as “dead” as some here might be making out.
future of etesync · Issue #148 · etesync/server · GitHub and they do have some plans for the future Guest Post: Improving EteSync Notes

That post on Improving EteSync Notes was made nearly two years ago. There have been no updates since then and the dev who made that post is no longer active.

I don’t think it’s dead-dead, judging by the dev occasionally popping in and the one recent Android update. But on non-Android platforms it’s at the very least inactive - it doesn’t work reliably and there is no development happening.

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I guess I have a slightly different need.

Although it may be simple, I wouldn’t want to advice people to manage their own opsec if they are inexperienced. Depends on the value of the data. In my case I have sensitive data on contacts which would be very problematic if exposed. It may be different for someone else.
If you like to learn to do some Unix get a raspberry pi and play with it to get yourself comfortable. I could recommend the videos of Network Chuck and David Bombal if you want to learn some awesome stuff @mika

Firefox Sync is planning to include contacts and calendars. It will sync to Thunderbird and K-9. I assume K-9 will be contacts only, as much as I’m hoping for Android calendar sync.

DecSync with Syncthing and radicale is way too buggy.

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Oh really? Do you have a link for that?