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How to Use rsync Command in Linux

With the help of the rsync command in Linux, you can efficiently copy and sync files from a local system to a remote server and vice versa. From links to groups, devices, and permissions, the command can help copy everything.

The remote sync, popularly known as the rsync command, is a utility that helps in copying and synchronizing files or directories within a local machine or even between remote servers. Consuming comparatively less bandwidth, rsync offers the fastest transfer rate.

Although there are other methods like scp (Secure Copy) for dealing with similar purposes, rsync comes out as a more efficient solution, all thanks to its nature of using a remote update protocol. Moreover, it allows users to employ SSH protocol and keep the data safe during the transfer.

In this article, we’ll look at the basic and advanced uses of rsync command, but before that, let’s understand the Syntax of the rsync command and learn how to get the package installed.

rsync Command in Linux: Syntax

The basic structure of the rsync command in Linux looks something like this:



$ rsync [OPTION]... SRC [SRC]... DEST
using rsync command in linux

Installing rsync Command 

Getting the rsync package installed is a pretty straightforward task. All you need to do is launch the Terminal by using the Ctrl+Alt+T key combination and then run the command according to the system you’re using.

On Arch Linux

$ pacman -S rsync

On openSUSE

$ sudo zypper install rsync

On Debian/Ubuntu & Mint

$ sudo apt-get install rsync

On Gentoo

$ emerge sys-apps/rsync

On Fedora/CentOS

$ sudo dnf install rsync

Using the rsync Command in Linux

Now that you know how to install the rsync package in UNIX systems, it’s time we walk through the uses of this command-line utility in detail.

Syncing or Copying a File/Directory on a Local Computer Using rsync Command in Linux

To copy/sync a single file on a local machine, pass the -zvh flag alongside the rsync command. At the same time, if you wish to copy/sync multiple files, use the -avzh flag followed by the desired directory.

For instance, if you’ve got a single file named newfile.tar that needs to get copied or synced to /tmp/newbackups, run the following command:

$ rsync -zvh newfile.tar.gz /tmp/newbackups/
sync data from a file

On the other hand, if there are multiple files located in any directory, say /root/newpkgs, and you want all the files to get synced to /tmp/newbackups, run the following command:

$ rsync -avzh /root/newpkgs /tmp/newbackups
rsync command

If the destination provided doesn’t exist, the rsync command in Linux will automatically create one for completing the process.

Syncing or Copying a File/Directory from a Local Computer to a Remote Server 

Suppose you want to sync a directory named localbackupsmain containing localbackups to a remote server having IP address, launch the Terminal, and run the following command:

$ rsync -avzh /root/localbackupsmain root @ :/root
transferring data from a remote server

Now, if there is a directory /root/localbackupsmain on a remote server, and you want to transfer those files to the /tmp/newfiles directory on your local computer, run the following command:

$ rsync -avzh [email protected] :/root/localbackupsmain /tmp/newfiles
copy/sync data to a remote server

Using SSH with rsync Command

You can use the SSH (secure shell) protocol alongside the rsync command to secure the data transfer. The SSH protocol encrypts the entire data-syncing process so that no one can read it over the wire.

Specifying a protocol with the rsync command is simple. Just use the -e flag and the name of the desired protocol. Let’s understand it better with an example.

Running the following code will copy a file from a local server and sync the same to a remote server with SSH

$ rsync -avzhe ssh newfile.tar.gz [email protected] :/newbackups/
ssh in rsync command

To copy/sync a file from a remote server to the local machine with SSH protocol, use the code in the following format:

$ rsync -avzhe ssh [email protected] :/root/python-ks.cfg /tmp
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Selecting the Desired Files to Include or Exclude

The rsync command in Linux is very dynamic. It allows users to pass the -include/exclude flag and specify the files they want to be transferred. 

Suppose you want to include all the files in the directory /root/newbackups that starts with A and exclude the rest, run the following command:

$ rsync -avze ssh -include 'A*' --exclude '*' [email protected] :root/newbackups
include exclude files during data transfer

Displaying Data Transfer Progress

Do you want your system to display the data transfer progress from one system to another? In that case, you’ll have to supply the -progress option

$ rsync -avzhe ssh --progress /root/newpkgs [email protected] :root/newpkgs
data transfer progress

Deleting an Existing File

If you want to delete an existing file or directory before initiating the sync process, use the -delete option.

Setting the Maximum Size of File that you Want to Transfer with rsync Command in Linux

Specifying the maximum size of the file before initiating a transfer is simple. It only takes the usage of -max-size option followed by the desired number. The rsync command will then permit file transfer up to the provided limit.

$ rsync -avzhe ssh -max-size='150k' [Source Destination]
setting maximum size during data transfer

Running the command mentioned above will ensure that the files equal or smaller to 150k get transferred.

Deleting Source Files After Transfer

Once you’ve transferred file(s) from one server to the other, you might wish to have the ones on the source deleted. Luckily, you can use the rsync command to do that automatically. Simply pass the -remove-source-files options, and you’re good to go.

For Example:

$ rsync -remove-source-files -zvh ssh newfile.tar.gz [email protected] :/newbackups/
delete source files

Setting the Bandwidth Limit while Using rsync Command in Linux

Similar to how you can use the -max-size option to limit the maximum file size, employing the -bwlimit flag will restrict the I/O bandwidth.

Run the code in the following format:

$ rsync --bwlimit=100 -avzhe ssh [Source Destination]

Common Options that are Used with rsync Command in Linux

-v: Using this option will print the verbose

-a: The -a flag signifies archive mode. It allows the system to copy files recursively while preserving symbolic links, file permissions, user groups, and timestamps.

-z: It helps in compressing the file data.

-r: Passing the -r option will copy the data recursively but without preserving symbolic links, file permissions, user groups, and timestamps.

-h: It prints digits in a human-readable format.

Do you want to access the entire list? Well then, use the --help flag


$ rsync --help


rsync command help

And this is how you use the rsync command in Linux. In this article, we’ve decoded the rsync command in every possible manner. From installing in the package to using it for syncing data in various scenarios, you’ll get to learn everything about this command line in detail.

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