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Linux rsync Command, Syntax and Examples [Guide]

The rsync (remote synchronization) command is a file copy tool that can synchronize files across local storage disks as well as over a network.

It’s prevalent because it’s very good. It is commonly used for backing up files, keeping file servers up-to-date with each other, and for deploying code and assets for web apps to servers.

rsync can and will copy just about every file it can see and will synchronize based on file size and modification date to see what’s changed and what needs to be updated.

The rsync command is BIG, and we’ll get you started with some practical applications that will cover the most common usage scenarios in this guide.



Note that:

  • OPTIONS are a list of options from the below list, separated by a space
  • SOURCE is the path to the source of the file or folder to synchronize and can include the details for a remote host
  • DESTINATION is the path to the destination you wish to synchronize the file or folder to and can include the details for a remote host
  • SOURCE and DESTINATION must be in order!


Here are the commonly used options for rsync, straight from the manual:

What to copy:

-r, --recursive             Recurse into directories
-R, --relative              Use relative path names
    --exclude=PATTERN       Exclude files matching PATTERN
    --exclude-from=FILE     Read exclude patterns from FILE
-I, --ignore-times          Don't exclude files that match length and time
    --size-only             Only use file size when determining if a file should be transferred
-@  --modify-window=NUM     Timestamp window (seconds) for file match (default=0)
    --include=PATTERN       Don't exclude files matching PATTERN
    --include-from=FILE     Read include patterns from FILE

How to copy:

-n, --dry-run               Perform a trial run with no changes made
-l, --links                 Copy symlinks as symlinks
-L, --copy-links            Transform symlink into referent file/dir
    --copy-unsafe-links     Only "unsafe" symlinks are transformed
    --safe-links            Ignore links outside the destination tree
    --munge-links           Munge symlinks to make them safer
-H, --hard-links            Preserve hard links
    --devices               Preserve device files (super-user only)
    --specials              Preserve special files
-D, --devices --specials    Preserve devices (super-user only) +files
-g, --group                 Preserve group
-o, --owner                 Preserve owner (super-user only)
-p, --perms                 Preserve permissions
    --remove-source-files   Sender removes synchronized files (non-dir)
-t, --times                 Preserve times
-S, --sparse                Handle sparse files efficiently
-x, --one-file-system       Don't cross filesystem boundaries
-B, --block-size=SIZE       Force a fixed checksum block-size (default 700)
-e, --rsh=COMMAND           Specify rsh replacement
    --rsync-path=PATH       Specify path to rsync on the remote machine
    --numeric-ids           Don't map uid/gid values by user/group name
    --timeout=SECONDS       Set IO timeout in seconds
-W, --whole-file            Copy whole files, no incremental checks

Destination options:

-a, --archive               Archive mode equals -rlptgoD (no -H,-A,-X)
-b, --backup                Make backups (see --suffix & --backup-dir)
    --backup-dir=DIR        Make backups into this directory
-z, --compress              Compress file data during the transfer
-c, --checksum              Skip based on checksum, not mod-time & size
-C, --cvs-exclude           Auto ignore files in the same way CVS does
    --existing              Only update files that already exist
    --delete                Delete files that don't exist on the sending side
    --delete-excluded       Also delete excluded files on the receiving side
    --delete-after          Receiver deletes after transfer, not during
    --force                 Force deletion of directories even if not empty
    --ignore-errors         Delete even if there are IO errors
    --max-delete=NUM        Don't delete more than NUM files
    --log-file-format=FMT   Log file transfers using specified format
    --partial               Keep partially transferred files
    --progress              Show progress during transfer
-P                          Equivalent to --partial --progress
    --stats                 Give some file transfer stats
-T  --temp-dir=DIR          Create temporary files in directory DIR
    --compare-dest=DIR      Also compare destination files relative to DIR
-u, --update                Update only (don't overwrite newer files)

Misc options:

    --address=ADDRESS       Bind to the specified address
    --blocking-io           Use blocking IO for the remote shell
    --bwlimit=KBPS          Limit I/O bandwidth, KBytes per second
    --config=FILE           Specify alternate rsyncd.conf file (daemon)
    --daemon                Run as a rsync daemon
    --no-detach             Do not detach from the parent (daemon)
    --password-file=FILE    Get daemon-access password from FILE
    --port=PORT             Specify alternate rsyncd port number
-f, --read-batch=FILE       Read batch file
-F, --write-batch=FILE      Write batch file
    --version               Print version number
-v, --verbose               Increase verbosity
-q, --quiet                 Decrease verbosity
-4, --ipv4                  Prefer IPv4
-6, --ipv6                  Prefer IPv6
-h, --help                  Show this help screen

For the full list of options, consult the rsync user manual by running:

man rsync


I won’t repeat what each option means below – make sure you refer back to the list above if you aren’t sure what an option means – you don’t want to run the wrong command and lose any data!

Local to Local (Single File)

Here’s how to synchronize a single file from one directory to another on the local machine using rsync:

rsync -zvh /path/to/my-file.tar /path/to/destination/

From here, all examples will focus on syncing directories, as that is the most common usage scenario for rsync

Local to Local (Directory)

Synchronize all files from one directory to another directory on the same machine:

rsync -avzh /path/to/source /path/to/destination

What’s the -avzh thing? It’s a bunch of options, merged. It’s just a quicker way of typing -a -v -z -h

Local to Remote (Directory)

Synchronize all files from a local source directory to a destination on a remote computer over a network:

rsync -avz /path/to/source/ [email protected]:/path/at/destination/

Note that:

  • username is the user on the remote system
  • /path/to/source/ is the path to the source directory on the local computer
  • is the IP address of the remote system – you can use an IP address or hostname
  • /path/at/destination/ is the path on the remote file system
  • The synchronization will occur using the rsync daemon

Local to Remote using SSH (Directory)

The -e option lets you specify the protocol used by rsync, allowing us to specify we want to transfer files using SSH securely:

rsync -avzh -e ssh /path/to/source/ [email protected]:/path/at/destination/

Remote to Local (Directory)

Synchronize all files from a source directory on a remote computer to a destination on the local computer over a network:

rsync -avzh [email protected]:/path/to/source /path/to/destination

Note that:

  • username is the user on the remote system
  • is the IP address of the remote system – you can use an IP address or hostname
  • /path/to/source is the path on the remote file system
  • /path/to/destination is the destination on the local computer
  • The synchronization will occur using the rsync daemon

Remote to Local using SSH (Directory)

rsync -avzh -e ssh [email protected]:/path/to/source /path/to/destination

You can also sync single files from local to remote, remote to local, and using SSH, just as we’ve shown with directories

Other Things to Consider When Synchronising

Consider Bandwidth

If you are synchronizing over the Internet, you may want to limit the bandwidth used so that you don’t slow down other services on your network:

rsync -avz --bwlimit 512 /path/to/source/ [email protected]:/path/at/destination/

Consider Deletions

If a file or folder has been removed at the source but exists at the destination, you may want to delete the file or folder at the destination so that it is an exact mirror of the source. Always make sure you’re certain you want things being deleted before using this option:

rsync -avz --delete /path/to/source/ [email protected]:/path/at/destination/

Including or Excluding Files

Include and exclude files by matching file patterns – if there are files you don’t want to sync, they can be left out:

rsync -avz -e ssh --exclude '*' --include 'keep*' /path/to/source/ [email protected]:/path/at/destination/

This rsync command will sync files and directories only, which starts with ‘keep-’ and exclude all other files and directories (*).

Consider a Dry Run

dry run will print out the files that will be changed, but it won’t actually do anything – no files will be synchronized or altered, so you can experiment with different options and see the effects:

rsync -avz --dry-run /path/to/source/ [email protected]:/path/at/destination/


When moving a large number of files around on your systems, make sure you check your input before hitting the enter key – you don’t want to synchronize in the wrong direction and remove important files!

Check out our other articles for Linux Shell commands!

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I'm Brad, and I'm nearing 20 years of experience with Linux. I've worked in just about every IT role there is before taking the leap into software development. Currently, I'm building desktop and web-based solutions with NodeJS and PHP hosted on Linux infrastructure. Visit my blog or find me on Twitter to see what I'm up to.

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