Linux / UNIX: scp / rsync File Name With a Colon (:) In It

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How do I copy a file with a colon punctuation (:) name in it. When I type the following command to copy “file:name.txt” to a remote host called server1:


scp file:name.txt user@server1:/path

I get the following error:

ssh: Could not resolve hostname s: Name or service not known

How do I copy file with scp or rsync with a colon in it?

[donotprint][/donotprint]Local file names can be made explicit using absolute or relative pathnames to avoid scp treating file names containing : as host specifiers. In other words use the following syntax:
scp ./file:name.txt user@server1:/path/to/dest


scp /path/to/src/file:name.txt user@server1:/path/to/dest


rsync /path/to/src/file:name.txt user@server1:/path/to/dest

In this example, I am coping a file called mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11:10:06.gz to a server called backup-test-server13

rsync 'mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11:10:06.gz' vivek@backu-test-server13:~

Sample error/outputs:

The source and destination cannot both be remote.
rsync error: syntax or usage error (code 1) at /SourceCache/rsync/rsync-42/rsync/main.c(1083) [receiver=2.6.9]

You will get same result with scp command

scp 'mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11:10:06.gz' vivek@backu-test-server13:~

Sample error/outputs:

ssh: Could not resolve hostname mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11:10:06.gz: nodename nor servname provided, or not known

How do I scp/rsync a file name with a colon?

In this example, I am coping a file called mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11:10:06.gz to a server called backup-test-server13 using scp command:

scp ./mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11\:10\:06.gz vivek@backu-test-server13:~


scp /tmp/mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11\:10\:06.gz vivek@backu-test-server13:~

OR pass some additional options:

scp -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null -o CheckHostIP=no -o StrictHostKeyChecking=no -i /Users/vivek/.ssh/my-keys -P 22 ./mysql-blog-db.23-02-2014-11\:10\:06.gz vivek@backu-test-server13:~

Sample outputs:

Warning: Permanently added '173.xx.yy.zz' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.

Here is syntax for rsync command:

rsync -av ./foo:bar:file.txt
rsync -av $HOME/data/foo:bar:file.txt


Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin, DevOps engineer, and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. Get the latest tutorials on SysAdmin, Linux/Unix and open source topics via RSS/XML feed or weekly email newsletter.

13 comment

  1. Two other methods that have worked well for me in the past regarding this issue...
    1) "Escape" the special character(s) using your shell's preferred escape character.  As far as I know, most shells accept a backslash as an escape character.
    scp file\:name.txt user@server1:/path
    2) Enclose the "offending" path in double quotes.  This is especially useful for filenames which contain many spaces and other special characters.
    scp "file:name.txt" user@server1:/path
    1. scp / rsync command will not work with ‘Escape’ and “double quote” syntax as as those command treat : as host specifiers. As soon as scp see : it assumes a network based host.

      1. Scp and rsync do work with ‘Escape’ and “double quote” syntax. I tested on Fedora 14.

        1. Dear guru, please provide us your command line for escaping : in a filename then.

          Yes, scp “file” host:/path works fine. scp file:withcolon host:/path however does not and neither does file\:withcolor host:/path. So whilst the command can *use* escaping/quoting it doesn’t change the handling of the colon. Perhaps if you escaped it with a ton of blackslashes it will – but seriously – who wants to do that?

  2. Careful if using double quotes, as certain special characters inside the quoted text will still be interpreted by the shell, like ‘$’ and ‘!’ among others. If using quotes, single quotes is better unless you already have single quotes in the text to quote.

    If you’re using bash or csh or any other recent shell that has filename auto-completion, you can probably press TAB key (or maybe ESC, but in ubuntu and most others recently they use bash which defaults to TAB key). This will complete the filename for you (or as much as it can if there are multiple similar filenames in the same directory) and use quotes or slashes to escape the characters as necessary.

  3. As long as you have the : on the local system you can either use backslash to quote it or single quotes.
    Where I havn’t found a solution yet, is when the remote target path (not filename) contains a colon.

    rsync /path/file.txt user@host:/remotes/x:y/file.txt
  4. Hi

    My problem is that I recursively backup a directory structure (iPhoto library) from macos to Linux. During the processing it encounters subfolders with colons on the remote host and fails. Is there any way around this?

  5. quoting or escaping the colon won’t work because the shell still passes a plain colon to scp. something like this does work:
    scp ./as:df localhost:qw:er
    that copies a file called ‘as:df’ in your current directory to a file called ‘qw:er’ in your home directory. of course, you can use any host name.

  6. I’m also trying to rsync recursively an entire linux home directory to a backup drive connected to my router. The backup drive is mounted using mount.cifs, and is an NTFS filesystem. The errors I get are of the form

    rsync: mkstemp “/media/backup/E6520_Backup/simon/localsvnLogs/.Log_Fri_Dec_21_19:30:59_CST_2012.W95vF6” failed: Not a directory (20)

    Since I regularly identify files by date, thousands of them have colons in them.

    Is there any way around this, eg.., maybe by formating the backup drive with a different filesystem?

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