HowTo Use rsync For Transferring Files Under Linux or UNIX

Posted on in Categories Backup, CentOS, Data recovery, File system, FreeBSD, Gentoo Linux, GNU/Open source, Linux, OpenBSD, RedHat/Fedora Linux, Security, Solaris, Suse Linux, Sys admin, Tips, Ubuntu Linux, UNIX last updated December 5, 2006

How do you install and use rsync to synchronize files and directories from one location (or one server) to another location? – A common question asked by new sys admin.

rsync is a free software computer program for Unix and Linux like systems which synchronizes files and directories from one location to another while minimizing data transfer using delta encoding when appropriate. An important feature of rsync not found in most similar programs/protocols is that the mirroring takes place with only one transmission in each direction.

So what is unique about the rsync command?

It can perform differential uploads and downloads (synchronization) of files across the network, transferring only data that has changed. The rsync remote-update protocol allows rsync to transfer just the differences between two sets of files across the network connection.

How do I install rsync?

Use any one of the following commands to install rsync. If you are using Debian or Ubuntu Linux, type the following command:
# apt-get install rsync
$ sudo apt-get install rsync
If you are using Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) / CentOS 4.x or older version, type the following command:
# up2date rsync
RHEL / CentOS 5.x or newer (or Fedora Linux) user type the following command:
# yum install rsync

Always use rsync over ssh

Since rsync does not provide any security while transferring data it is recommended that you use rsync over ssh session. This allows a secure remote connection. Now let us see some examples of rsync command.

Comman rsync command options

  • --delete : delete files that don’t exist on sender (system)
  • -v : Verbose (try -vv for more detailed information)
  • -e "ssh options" : specify the ssh as remote shell
  • -a : archive mode
  • -r : recurse into directories
  • -z : compress file data

Task : Copy file from a local computer to a remote server

Copy file from /www/backup.tar.gz to a remote server called
$ rsync -v -e ssh /www/backup.tar.gz [email protected]:~

sent 19099 bytes  received 36 bytes  1093.43 bytes/sec
total size is 19014  speedup is 0.99

Please note that symbol ~ indicate the users home directory (/home/jerry).

Task : Copy file from a remote server to a local computer

Copy file /home/jerry/webroot.txt from a remote server to a local computer’s /tmp directory:
$ rsync -v -e ssh [email protected]:~/webroot.txt /tmp

Task: Synchronize a local directory with a remote directory

$ rsync -r -a -v -e "ssh -l jerry" --delete /local/webroot

Task: Synchronize a remote directory with a local directory

$ rsync -r -a -v -e "ssh -l jerry" --delete /local/webroot

Task: Synchronize a local directory with a remote rsync server or vise-versa

$ rsync -r -a -v --delete rsync:// /home/cvs
$ rsync -r -a -v --delete /home/cvs rsync://

Task: Mirror a directory between my “old” and “new” web server/ftp

You can mirror a directory between my “old” ( and “new” web server with the command (assuming that ssh keys are set for password less authentication)
$ rsync -zavrR --delete --links --rsh="ssh -l vivek" /home/lighttpd

Read related previous articles

Other options – rdiff and rdiff-backup

The rdiff command uses the rsync algorithm. A utility called rdiff-backup has been created which is capable of maintaining a backup mirror of a file or directory over the network, on another server. rdiff-backup stores incremental rdiff deltas with the backup, with which it is possible to recreate any backup point. Next time I will write about these utilities.

rsync for Windows Server/XP/7/8

Please note if you are using MS-Windows, try any one of the program:

  1. DeltaCopy
  2. NasBackup
Further readings

=> Read rsync man page
=> Official rsync documentation

62 comment

  1. I have RSYNC running to copy files from a mapped linux server (through a windows PC running cwrsync) to a remote linux server. Everything works fine, but the permissions and ownership changes. I added this line:


    and that seems to work fine in ensuring I have chmod 0755 set for my folders and files. However, it keeps reverting my users:groups from myuser:nobody to 400:401.

    What is the code that I add to rsync to have it:
    a) Retain the existing ownerships, or
    b) Force myuser:nobody for all files and folders?

  2. Oops. Second question. I’d like for all directories to retain their original ownership and permissions (rather than forcing the chmod). The reason is because I’d like for most directories to be 0755, but need 0777 on some specific ones for a templating system and tiny_mc plug-in to work. How can i retain the original ownership and permissions? rather than having to go through and modify them one-by-one after the Rsync, or giving a blanket 0777 for everything? Regardless, I don’t know how to specify folder-specific privileges in rsync and would prefer to just have them remain the same as before the rsync.

  3. <owever, it keeps reverting my users:groups from myuser:nobody to 400:401.

    You need to add myuser:nobody to your local server.

    <I don’t know how to specify folder-specific privileges in rsync and would prefer to just have them remain the same as before the rsync.

    Make sure files are transferred in “archive” mode, which ensures that symbolic links, devices, attributes, permissions, ownerships, etc. are preserved in the transfer.
    rsync -avr src/path /dest/path2

  4. HiFriends,

    Can you give a help about. I have some unix specific setup.

    We have the following directories on p1cpe, and p2cpe:

    I need them to be available, and in sync to both systems. The originals should all be one p1cpe, so if you have to copy or do anything, those should be considered the source.

    The idea is, if a developer makes changes to files on p1cpe:/opt/Apps/StaticContent, I want it also available on p2cpe, without them having to modify it twice.

    All the work should be done as the user “webdude”. You should have sudo rights to webdude on p1cpe and p2cpe.

    Couls you please help me on that.


  5. I want to rsync 800Gb data over 4Mbps link. there are many folders which more than 100Gb, so it is keep failing rsync. i am using even –bwlimit also.
    i need some script which look into folders and rsync one by one folder instead of one 100Gb folder. does it make sense?

    any kind of script shell or php?

    e.g. $cd mainfolder–


  6. hi, i hope someone could help me. I need to synchronize files between two servers like every few minues, but i need to do it automatedly using crontab. My problem is I need to use SSH with a different port, so i need to use the ssh n the rsync command line. If i put the command line into cronjob, it will prompt for password rite? then it will erroneous. Please help how to solve, as in it will rsync successfully in cronjob.

  7. Hello;

    I want to mirror our web server into a backup server. How can I use the rsync? I see –delete in the command line above and I dont know why? I am also afraid to run the rsync from the WRONG server putting useless files into our web server, so where do you run rsync from and what files do you copy to make a good mirror/backup server?
    This is for in case the web server goes down we can bring this one up(back up) and use it until the other one is fixed.
    I have setup cert on both servers so ssh-ing is no problem.

    Thank You Very Much!

  8. How to sync specific files (in this case *.dat) from multiple directories where directory name is different?
    For example, I’d like to copy/sync all server1:/dir1/1*/*.dat files to corresponding server2:/dir2/2*/*.dat files (where 1* directory names are 101,102.. 199 and 2* are corresponding 201,202 .. 299 directories).

    Something like (calling rsync from server2):
    rsync -zrv server1:/dir1/1*/*.dat /dir2/

    Any suggestions?

  9. I’m trying to set up a classroom, and on my server I have a folder with virtual machine images and config files that I need to distribute to 12 classroom computers. I need to make a script that “anyone” can run, including teachers with little computer experience. The teacher has access to the server, and the plan is that he/she only needs to run one script on the server to update all the classroom computers. Is rsync the right tool?

  10. Hi Vivek. I need to make a script to send files between local linux computers. Is the easiest way is using rsync? Or what is your recommend?


  11. Hello.

    I am having 2 Server. 1 server contains Unix OS & another Server contains Linux. I want to merge some data directories from linux PC to Unix PC.

    both servers contains same named directories & files. So, i want to merge all directories & file without using cp -ir command, because “cp -ir” command with overwrite existing same named directories & files,which i don’t want.

    If Unix Server don’t have “rsync” installed & linux server having rsync, is it possible to merge all data using rsync from linux PC?

  12. try cp -ur command
    -u, –update copy only when the SOURCE file is newer than the destination file or when the destination file is missing

    make sure backup both directories before run any commands.

    i hope, this will help you.

  13. Yes I want to become a download mirror for several large companies who require me to use rsync all I need to do is copy files from their server to a directory in mine I need some help here please

  14. i am using suse linux server and windows xp as client.I am having a network connection here.I need to transfer the database back file from the linux server to my windows xp client.please give some steps/command line arguments to transfer this.

  15. We staringrting to switch from solaris to RedHat. I created RedHat intel machine for webserver. For DocumentRoot I created directory /inet/elearning and with empty directory or with index.html (wich I transfer from sparc machine apache started and working but when I rsync all content from sparc I’m getting syntax error at start saying ‘DocumentRoot must be directory’. I see problem with directory format between solaris and redhat. I use rsync syntax:
    /usr/bin/rsync -avzp –delete -e /usr/bin/ssh [email protected]:inet/elearning /inet
    Is any chance do reformat directory during transfer them or after? On solaris creation block is 512, on redhat probably 4096
    Any clue help may help
    Thank you

  16. I have some folder in the source machine in the format m_d_Y, now from the remote machine i need to pull only last 30 days folders using rsync. Both the source and destination are linux boxes. Any help is appreciated

  17. Hello,

    Is there an option to synchronize/backup/copy files from one server to another every day at a certain time? Or better yet, does rsync provide on the fly replication, meaning as sson as something changes on one server, the changes are replicated to a second server?

    Thank you,

    1. No rsync is not real time server file system mirroring tool. It is perfect for making backup and other purposes. You’ve two options here for failback mirroring use DRBD (distributed storage system for the Linux which is like RAID 1, except that it runs over a network between two servers) or use nfs / gfs2 / ofs2 with centralized storage for cluster.


  18. This was fantastic! I have a couple of questions:

    1.) Can it show the percentage completed for each file on-screen?
    2.) Is there a way to dump the results into a text file instead of on-screen?
    3.) What happens if your SSH connection is accidentally terminated in mid-process? Does the process continue without you?


  19. @Tone

    1) use -v attribute along with rsync command.
    rsync -varpgo /usr/local/nagios/contacts.cfg [email protected]:~

    2) We can redirect the output to another file adding this at the end of any command
    > file.txt
    >> file1.txt
    EG: date > file.txt

  20. @akpk and vivek
    Thank you very much! This post along with your response on how to store results to a text file has been most useful!

  21. Hello,

    I am using rsync under ubuntu on my netbook to duplicate the contents of my /home to an SD-Card, by

    rsync -av –delete /home/x/ /media/SD-Card/home.x.backup

    Running this command, the program seems to do what it should. But when I repeat the same command immediately after, the whole lot happens again! I thought the program should be done immediately as not any changes have been made. What is wrong?

    (I don’t know if it plays a role how the hard disks are formatted. The source is ext4 while the SD-Card is FAT32 (or VFAT). Could it be an explanation that FAT can’t save the information on ownership (rights) so that on starting rsync a second time the program views all files as different and does the same job as before again?)

  22. Lets say we wanted to copy all of the files under our local directory, “/usbdisk/” and place a copy on the machine “somemachine” under the remote directory “/backups/”. The name of the user on the remote machine is “dinesh”. Notice we added the “-z” argument so all data will be compressed over the network. We could use the following line:

    rsync -avz /usbdisk/ [email protected]:/backups/

  23. I found this article very useful especially for beginners. I will try to contribute as more as possible, so it would be helpful for others…

  24. Very Nice Article…

    Can You please give more details about –delete option ?
    When Shall I use this option ?

  25. This is exactly what I am after. Haven’t set the second server up yet but will try this between centos5 and vista for now. I hope this is gonna be good enough to get rid of the useless Plesk backup tool. Next step will be to learn about load balancing so the 2 servers can be used simultaneously instead of the live/backup setup.

  26. This is a fantastic explanation of rSync and all it’s idiosyncrasies.

    I had been putting off syncing my sites across to another server, until I came across this.

    Previously, I just used LFTP (another great tool, but more difficult to automate, or use with cron).

    Thanks a bunch!

  27. Hello,

    How to use rsync with a username and password that is supplied by the remote server ?

    I have a tar file which I need to upload to a remote server. The remote server has provided me with IP address, a username and a password. How do I use rsync with the username and password to upload the file on remote server ??


  28. Hi,
    I am doing a rsync between two servers. I have put the script in crontab file so that it runs automatically everyday at night. But the problem is that rsync stops once it encounters a large file. But, surprisingly, If I execute the same script from the CLI, it works perfectly right. Only, when it happens in the background via rsync, it gets stuck. Please advise what could be the issue. Do settings need to be changed somewhere.

    Thanks in advance.

  29. hi
    i have downloaded a file in one account and want to copy the file to the other account in the same machine,i have tried to copy using scp and cp command but without success,it keeps prompting for password.please help

  30. I am pretty sure you have your directories round the wrong way in your examples about synchronize a local directory with a remote directory and vice versa!

  31. Hi Vivek,

    I am totally fresher in Unix, and I want to cut the log files from server1 and paste them to server2. I am very much confused on the command part.

    Below are my understanding , Please suggest.
    1.) Create public key through ” ssh-keygen -t rsa”
    2.) Copy the public key to Server2 –> If yes, then where exactly I have to copy the key?
    3.) write command in Server1 “scp -C $file Path$ [email protected]:/path$
    –> I want to cut the file from server1, what is the exact command for that?
    –> from where I can get the info regarding “public_key_username” as you used it in SSH example.
    4.) You must have SSH running on Server2 to make this work.
    5.) write cron job to make it automatic.

    Require guidance on same.
    Thanks in advance.

    Sapna Joshi

  32. Hi,
    Can anyone assure me that the rsync –delete & –delete-after parameter deletes files
    only on the DESTINATION (target) & that NO file deletion occurs on the SOURCE?


  33. I am copying a 2gb single file over 2MB link,
    If copy is fail and I want to start the copy again from where it left then what is the option I need.

  34. Hi Vivek, Friends,

    Is there any way to exclude any directory from sync at either end ?
    How it is better than unison ?

    Rahul Janghel.

  35. I am trying to use r sync to sync up files between 4 servers . The issue is all the servers would be master servers and files can come on any of the server at anytime . Can i use rsync in this case ? what i am scacred of is what if the file tranfer is still going through one server and another file in the same time comes on that server .

  36. i have rsync errror in my downloading system.the network ip address is to be changed.
    so how to configure new static ip address in rsync

  37. I’m not sure if I’m simply misreading the “Task” titles, but it seems you’ve got the “Synchronize a local directory with a remote directory” and “Synchronize a remote directory with a local directory” mixed up.

    To say “Synchronize X with Y” implies X is the destination and Y is the source; X is the thing being acted upon, Y is what is being used to act. However, this is definitely NOT what is shown in the example command. Rsync’s first directory argument is the source, the second argument is the destination.

  38. Dear Everyone,

    I need help.

    I would like to do a schedule backup using cron job in Ubuntu.

    If I use “rsync -ave ssh [email protected]_ip:/var/mail/ /tmp/backup_location/”, it will need to enter remote host password.

    So how can I use above command accompanied by remote host password.

    Thank you for your help.

  39. Hi,

    I think you must change these with each other:

    Task: Synchronize a local directory with a remote directory

    $ rsync -r -a -v -e “ssh -l jerry” –delete /local/webroot

    Task: Synchronize a remote directory with a local directory

    $ rsync -r -a -v -e “ssh -l jerry” –delete /local/webroot

    the format is rsync source dest.

  40. You can remove spaces, replace spaces with underscore, Uppercase/lowercase filename, add a prefix/suffix, remove/replace strings and also catalog files by adding an incremental number to the file name.

  41. Hi,
    In my scenario i want to take back up through rsync only changed files in remote system.
    lets say in my 1st system my folder is pasha and in my 2nd system folder is kalyan , when i synchronise both the folders i get complete backup ,

    Then i added some files in pasha and again synchronise with the remote system kalyan.

    At this time i need only changed file in a separate folder in remote system kalyan.

    i mean day wise incremental backup.

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