Common Software

Switches available in RSYNC

Options Summary

Here is a short summary of the options available in rsync. Please refer to the detailed options below for a complete description.

-v, –verbose increase verbosity
-q, –quiet decrease verbosity
-c, –checksum always checksum
-a, –archive archive mode
-r, –recursive recurse into directories
-R, –relative use relative path names
-b, –backup make backups (default ~ suffix)
–backup-dir=DIR put backups in the specified directory
–suffix=SUFFIX override backup suffix
-u, –update update only (don’t overwrite newer files)
-l, –links preserve soft links
-L, –copy-links treat soft links like regular files
–copy-unsafe-links copy links outside the source tree
–safe-links ignore links outside the destination tree
-H, –hard-links preserve hard links
-p, –perms preserve permissions
-o, –owner preserve owner (root only)
-g, –group preserve group
-D, –devices preserve devices (root only)
-t, –times preserve times
-S, –sparse handle sparse files efficiently
-n, –dry-run show what would have been transferred
-W, –whole-file copy whole files, no incremental checks
-x, –one-file-system don’t cross filesystem boundaries
-B, –block-size=SIZE checksum blocking size (default 700)
-e, –rsh=COMMAND specify rsh replacement
–rsync-path=PATH specify path to rsync on the remote machine
-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 delete after transferring, not before
–max-delete=NUM don’t delete more than NUM files
–partial keep partially transferred files
–force force deletion of directories even if not empty
–numeric-ids don’t map uid/gid values by user/group name
–timeout=TIME set IO timeout in seconds
-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
-T –temp-dir=DIR create temporary files in directory DIR
–compare-dest=DIR also compare destination files relative to DIR
-P equivalent to –partial –progress
-z, –compress compress file data
–exclude=PATTERN exclude files matching PATTERN
–exclude-from=FILE exclude patterns listed in FILE
–include=PATTERN don’t exclude files matching PATTERN
–include-from=FILE don’t exclude patterns listed in FILE
–version print version number
–daemon run as a rsync daemon
–address bind to the specified address
–config=FILE specify alternate rsyncd.conf file
–port=PORT specify alternate rsyncd port number
–stats give some file transfer stats
–progress show progress during transfer
–log-format=FORMAT log file transfers using specified format
–password-file=FILE get password from FILE
-h, –help show this help screen

Detailed Options

rsync uses the GNU long options package. Many of the command line options have two variants, one short and one long. These are shown below, separated by commas. Some options only have a long variant. The ‘=’ for options that take a parameter is optional; whitespace can be used instead.

-h, –help

Print a short help page describing the options available in rsync


print the rsync version number and exit

-v, –verbose

This option increases the amount of information you are given during the transfer.
By default, rsync works silently. A single -v gives information about what files are being transferred and a summary at the end.
Two -v flags will give you information on what files are being skipped and slightly more information at the end.
More than two -v flags should only be used if you are debugging rsync.

-q, –quiet

This option decreases the amount of information you are given during the transfer.
Notably, it suppresses information messages from the remote server.
This flag is useful when invoking rsync from cron.

-I, –ignore-times

Normally rsync will skip any files that are already the same length and have the same time-stamp.
This option turns off this behavior.


Normally rsync will skip any files that are already the same length and have the same time-stamp.
With the –size-only option files will be skipped if they have the same size, regardless of timestamp.
This is useful when starting to use rsync after using another mirroring system which may not preserve timestamps exactly.

-c, –checksum

This forces the sender to checksum all files using a 128-bit MD4 checksum before transfer.
The checksum is then explicitly checked on the receiver.
Any files of the same name which already exist and have the same checksum and size on the receiver are skipped.
This option can be quite slow.

-a, –archive

This is equivalent to -rlptgoD. It is a quick way of saying you want recursion and want to preserve everything.

-r, –recursive

This tells rsync to copy directories recursively. If you don’t specify this then rsync won’t copy directories at all.

-R, –relative

Use relative paths. This means that the full path names specified on the command line are sent to the server
rather than just the last parts of the filenames.
This is particularly useful when you want to send several different directories at the same time.

For example, if you used the command

rsync foo/bar/foo.c remote:/tmp/

then this would create a file called foo.c in /tmp/ on the remote machine. If instead you used

rsync -R foo/bar/foo.c remote:/tmp/

then a file called /tmp/foo/bar/foo.c would be created on the remote machine. The full path name is preserved.

-b, –backup

With this option preexisting destination files are renamed with a ~ extension as each file is transferred.
You can control the backup suffix using the –suffix option.


In combination with the –backup option, this tells rsync to store all backups in the specified directory.
This is very useful for incremental backups.


This option allows you to override the default backup suffix used with the -b option. The default is a ~.

-u, –update

This forces rsync to skip any files for which the destination file already exists and has a date later than the source file.

-l, –links

This tells rsync to recreate symbolic links on the remote system to be the same as the local system.
Without this option, all symbolic links are skipped.

-L, –copy-links

This tells rsync to treat symbolic links just like ordinary files.


This tells rsync to treat symbolic links that point outside the source tree like ordinary files.
Absolute symlinks are also treated like ordinary files, and so are any symlinks in the source path itself when –relative is used.


This tells rsync to ignore any symbolic links which point outside the destination tree.
All absolute symlinks are also ignored. Using this option in conjunction with –relative may give unexpected results.

-H, –hard-links

This tells rsync to recreate hard links on the remote system to be the same as the local system.
Without this option hard links are treated like regular files.
Note that rsync can only detect hard links if both parts of the link are in the list of files being sent.
This option can be quite slow, so only use it if you need it.

-W, –whole-file

With this option the incremental rsync algorithm is not used and the whole file is sent as-is instead.
This may be useful when using rsync with a local machine.

-p, –perms

This option causes rsync to update the remote permissions to be the same as the local permissions.

-o, –owner

This option causes rsync to update the remote owner of the file to be the same as the local owner.
This is only available to the super-user.
Note that if the source system is a daemon using chroot, the –numeric-ids option is implied because the source system cannot get access to the usernames.

-g, –group

This option causes rsync to update the remote group of the file to be the same as the local group.
If the receving system is not running as the super-user, only groups that the receiver is a member of will be preserved
(by group name, not group id number).

-D, –devices

This option causes rsync to transfer character and block device information to the remote system to recreate these devices.
This option is only available to the super-user.

-t, –times

This tells rsync to transfer modification times along with the files and update them on the remote system.
Note that if this option is not used, the optimization that excludes files that have not been modified cannot be effective;
in other words, a missing -t or -a will cause the next transfer to behave as if it used -I,
and all files will have their checksums compared and show up in log messages even if they haven’t changed.

-n, –dry-run

This tells rsync to not do any file transfers, instead it will just report the actions it would have taken.

-S, –sparse

Try to handle sparse files efficiently so they take up less space on the destination.
NOTE: Don’t use this option when the destination is a Solaris “tmpfs” filesystem.
It doesn’t seem to handle seeks over null regions correctly and ends up corrupting the files.

-x, –one-file-system

This tells rsync not to cross filesystem boundaries when recursing.
This is useful for transferring the contents of only one filesystem.


This tells rsync not to create any new files – only update files that already exist on the destination.


This tells rsync not to delete more than NUM files or directories.
This is useful when mirroring very large trees to prevent disasters.


This tells rsync to delete any files on the receiving side that aren’t on the sending side.
Files that are excluded from transfer are excluded from being deleted unless you use –delete-excluded.
This option has no effect if directory recursion is not selected.
This option can be dangerous if used incorrectly!
It is a very good idea to run first using the dry run option (-n) to see what files would be deleted to make sure important files aren’t listed.
If the sending side detects any IO errors then the deletion of any files at the destination will be automatically disabled.
This is to prevent temporary filesystem failures (such as NFS errors) on the sending side causing a massive deletion of files on the destination.


In addition to deleting the files on the receiving side that are not on the sending side, this tells rsync to also delete any files on the receiving side that are excluded (see –exclude).


By default rsync does file deletions before transferring files to try to ensure that there is sufficient space on the receiving filesystem. If you want to delete after transferring then use the –delete-after switch.


This options tells rsync to delete directories even if they are not empty. This applies to both the –delete option and to cases where rsync tries to copy a normal file but the destination contains a directory of the same name.
Since this option was added, deletions were reordered to be done depth-first so it is hardly ever needed anymore except in very obscure cases.

-B , –block_size=BLOCKSIZE

This controls the block size used in the rsync algorithm. See the technical report for details.

-e, –rsh=COMMAND

This option allows you to choose an alternative remote shell program to use for communication between the local and remote copies of rsync. By default, rsync will use rsh, but you may like to instead use ssh because of its high security.
You can also choose the remote shell program using the RSYNC_RSH environment variable.


Use this to specify the path to the copy of rsync on the remote machine. Useful when it’s not in your path. Note that this is the full path to the binary, not just the directory that the binary is in.


This option allows you to selectively exclude certain files from the list of files to be transferred. This is most useful in combination with a recursive transfer.
You may use as many –exclude options on the command line as you like to build up the list of files to exclude.
See the section on exclude patterns for information on the syntax of this option.


This option is similar to the –exclude option, but instead it adds all filenames listed in the file FILE to the exclude list. Blank lines in FILE and lines starting with ‘;’ or ‘#’ are ignored.


This option tells rsync to not exclude the specified pattern of filenames. This is useful as it allows you to build up quite complex exclude/include rules.
See the section of exclude patterns for information on the syntax of this option.


This specifies a list of include patterns from a file.

-C, –cvs-exclude

This is a useful shorthand for excluding a broad range of files that you often don’t want to transfer between systems. It uses the same algorithm that CVS uses to determine if a file should be ignored.
The exclude list is initialized to:

RCS SCCS CVS CVS.adm RCSLOG cvslog.* tags TAGS .make.state .nse_depinfo *~ #* .#* ,* *.old *.bak *.BAK *.orig *.rej .del-* *.a *.o *.obj *.so *.Z *.elc *.ln core

then files listed in a $HOME/.cvsignore are added to the list and any files listed in the CVSIGNORE environment variable (space delimited).
Finally in each directory any files listed in the .cvsignore file in that directory are added to the list.


By default the primary checksum used in rsync is a very strong 16 byte MD4 checksum. In most cases you will find that a truncated version of this checksum is quite efficient, and this will decrease the size of the checksum data sent over the link, making things faster.
You can choose the number of bytes in the truncated checksum using the –csum-length option. Any value less than or equal to 16 is valid.
Note that if you use this option then you run the risk of ending up with an incorrect target file. The risk with a value of 16 is microscopic and can be safely ignored (the universe will probably end before it fails) but with smaller values the risk is higher.
Current versions of rsync actually use an adaptive algorithm for the checksum length by default, using a 16 byte file checksum to determine if a 2nd pass is required with a longer block checksum. Only use this option if you have read the source code and know what you are doing.

-T, –temp-dir=DIR

This option instructs rsync to use DIR as a scratch directory when creating temporary copies of the files transferred on the receiving side. The default behavior is to create the temporary files in the receiving directory.


This option instructs rsync to use DIR as an additional directory to compare destination files against when doing transfers. This is useful for doing transfers to a new destination while leaving existing files intact, and then doing a flash-cutover when all files have been successfully transferred (for example by moving directories around and removing the old directory, although this requires also doing the transfer with -I to avoid skipping files that haven’t changed). This option increases the usefulness of –partial because partially transferred files will remain in the new temporary destination until they have a chance to be completed. If DIR is a relative path, it is relative to the destination directory.

-z, –compress

With this option, rsync compresses any data from the source file(s) which it sends to the destination machine. This option is useful on slow links. The compression method used is the same method that gzip uses.
Note this this option typically achieves better compression ratios that can be achieved by using a compressing remote shell, or a compressing transport, as it takes advantage of the implicit information sent for matching data blocks.


With this option rsync will transfer numeric group and user ids rather than using user and group names and mapping them at both ends.
By default rsync will use the user name and group name to determine what ownership to give files. The special uid 0 and the special group 0 are never mapped via user/group names even if the –numeric-ids option is not specified.
If the source system is a daemon using chroot, or if a user or group name does not exist on the destination system, then the numeric id from the source system is used instead.


This option allows you to set a maximum IO timeout in seconds. If no data is transferred for the specified time then rsync will exit. The default is 0, which means no timeout.


This tells rsync that it is to run as a rsync daemon. If standard input is a socket then rsync will assume that it is being run via inetd, otherwise it will detach from the current terminal and become a background daemon. The daemon will read the config file (/etc/rsyncd.conf) on each connect made by a client and respond to requests accordingly. See the rsyncd.conf(5) man page for more details.


By default rsync will bind to the wildcard address when run as a daemon with the –daemon option or when connecting to a rsync server. The –address option allows you to specify a specific IP address (or hostname) to bind to. This makes virtual hosting possible in conjunction with the –config option.


This specifies an alternate config file than the default /etc/rsyncd.conf. This is only relevant when –daemon is specified.


This specifies an alternate TCP port number to use rather than the default port 873.


This allows you to specify exactly what the rsync client logs to stdout on a per-file basis. The log format is specified using the same format conventions as the log format option in rsyncd.conf.


This tells rsync to print a verbose set of statistics on the file transfer, allowing you to tell how effective the rsync algorithm is for your data.


By default, rsync will delete any partially transferred file if the transfer is interrupted. In some circumstances it is more desirable to keep partially transferred files. Using the –partial option tells rsync to keep the partial file which should make a subsequent transfer of the rest of the file much faster.


This option tells rsync to print information showing the progress of the transfer. This gives a bored user something to watch.
This option is normally combined with -v. Using this option without the -v option will produce weird results on your display.


The -P option is equivalent to –partial –progress. I found myself typing that combination quite often so I created an option to make it easier.


This option allows you to provide a password in a file for accessing a remote rsync server. Note that this option is only useful when accessing a rsync server using the built in transport, not when using a remote shell as the transport. The file must not be world readable. It should contain just the password as a single line.

Exclude Patterns

The exclude and include patterns specified to rsync allow for flexible selection of which files to transfer and which files to skip.

rsync builds a ordered list of include/exclude options as specified on the command line. When a filename is encountered, rsync checks the name against each exclude/include pattern in turn. The first matching pattern is acted on. If it is an exclude pattern than that file is skipped. If it is an include pattern then that filename is not skipped. If no matching include/exclude pattern is found then the filename is not skipped.

Note that the –include and –exclude options take one pattern each. To add multiple patterns use the –include-from and –exclude-from options or multiple –include and –exclude options.

The patterns can take several forms. The rules are:

* if the pattern starts with a / then it is matched against the start of the filename, otherwise it is matched against the end of the filename. Thus /foo would match a file called foo at the base of the tree whereas foo would match any file called foo anywhere in the tree.
* if the pattern ends with a / then it will only match a directory, not a file, link or device.
* if the pattern contains a wildcard character from the set *?[ then expression matching is applied using the shell filename matching rules. Otherwise a simple string match is used.
* if the pattern contains a / (not counting a trailing /) then it is matched against the full filename, including any leading directory. If the pattern doesn’t contain a / then it is matched only against the final component of the filename. Furthermore, if the pattern includes a double asterisk “**” then all wildcards in the pattern will match slashes, otherwise they will stop at slashes.
* if the pattern starts with “+ ” (a plus followed by a space) then it is always considered an include pattern, even if specified as part of an exclude option. The “+ ” part is discarded before matching.
* if the pattern starts with “- ” (a minus followed by a space) then it is always considered an exclude pattern, even if specified as part of an include option. The “- ” part is discarded before matching.
* if the pattern is a single exclamation mark ! then the current exclude list is reset, removing all previous exclude patterns.

The +/- rules are most useful in exclude lists, allowing you to have a single exclude list that contains both include and exclude options.

Here are some examples:

* –exclude “*.o” would exclude all filenames matching *.o
* –exclude “/foo” would exclude a file in the base directory called foo
* –exclude “foo/” would exclude any directory called foo
* –exclude “/foo/*/bar” would exclude any file called bar two levels below a base directory called foo
* –exclude “/foo/**/bar” would exclude any file called bar two or more levels below a base directory called foo
* –include “*/” –include “*.c” –exclude “*” would include all directories and C source files
* –include “foo/” –include “foo/bar.c” –exclude “*” would include only foo/bar.c (the foo/ directory must be explicitly included or it would be excluded by the “*”)


rsync occasionally produces error messages that may seem a little cryptic. The one that seems to cause the most confusion is “protocol version mismatch – is your shell clean?”.

This message is usually caused by your startup scripts or remote shell facility producing unwanted garbage on the stream that rsync is using for its transport. The way to diagnose this problem is to run your remote shell like this:

rsh remotehost /bin/true > out.dat

then look at out.dat. If everything is working correctly then out.dat should be a zero length file. If you are getting the above error from rsync then you will probably find that out.dat contains some text or data. Look at the contents and try to work out what is producing it. The most common cause is incorrectly configured shell startup scripts (such as .cshrc or .profile) that contain output statements for non-interactive logins.

Environmental Variables


The CVSIGNORE environment variable supplements any ignore patterns in .cvsignore files. See the –cvs-exclude option for more details.


The RSYNC_RSH environment variable allows you to override the default shell used as the transport for rsync. This can be used instead of the -e option.


The RSYNC_PROXY environment variable allows you to redirect your rsync client to use a web proxy when connecting to a rsync daemon. You should set RSYNC_PROXY to a hostname:port pair.


Setting RSYNC_PASSWORD to the required password allows you to run authenticated rsync connections to a rsync daemon without user intervention. Note that this does not supply a password to a shell transport such as ssh.


The USER or LOGNAME environment variables are used to determine the default username sent to a rsync server.


The HOME environment variable is used to find the user’s default .cvsignore file.

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