Lloyd is a RHEL Engineer at Google who wants to master rsync. Please answer the following questions to improve his rsync level-of-knowledge. Lloyd prefers the term "Free Software" to "open-source".

  1. What is rsync and what is it used for?
  2. What is the history of rsync?
  3. What are the most popular Free Software implementations of rsync?
  4. What computer operating systems does rsync run on?
  5. What are the strengths and weaknesses of rsync?
  6. Please give several examples of rsync commands, and fully explain them.

Certainly! Let's dive into the details that Lloyd is interested in regarding rsync.

What is rsync and what is it used for?

rsync (which stands for "remote synchronization") is a utility for efficiently transferring and synchronizing files across computer systems, by using a delta encoding algorithm, which means it only sends the differences between the source files and the existing files in the destination. This reduces the amount of data sent over the network, making it a very efficient way to mirror, backup, or synchronize files and directories.

What is the history of rsync?

rsync was originally written by Andrew Tridgell and Paul Mackerras in 1996. It has since become one of the most widely used Free Software tools for file transfer and synchronization, thanks to its versatility and efficiency. It was a significant improvement over earlier tools like rcp and scp due to its delta transfer algorithm, which only sends the changes in the data instead of the entire file.

What are the most popular Free Software implementations of rsync?

The original implementation of rsync, often referred to simply as rsync, is the most popular and widely used. It is available under the GNU General Public License, which fits well with Lloyd's preference for Free Software. There aren't many distinct "implementations" of rsync, as the original version is highly portable and feature-rich. However, there are many front-ends and graphical user interfaces for rsync, such as Grsync for GTK+ environments, that make it more accessible for those who prefer a graphical interface.

What computer operating systems does rsync run on?

rsync is highly portable and runs on a variety of operating systems, including:

  • All major Linux distributions, including RHEL, which Lloyd works with.
  • BSD systems.
  • macOS.
  • Windows, via a compatibility layer like Cygwin or with a version of rsync ported for Windows (e.g., WSL, cwRsync).
  • Other Unix-like systems.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of rsync?


  • Efficient: Transfers only differences between files, which saves bandwidth and time.
  • Versatile: Can copy files locally, to/from a remote system over ssh, or to/from a remote rsync server.
  • Flexible: Offers a wide range of options to control its behavior, such as preserving file permissions, copying symlinks, excluding files, etc.
  • Secure: Can use secure shell (ssh) for data transfer, ensuring security in transit.
  • Supports Checkpoint/Resume: Can resume transfers after interruption.


  • Complexity: The multitude of options and flags can be overwhelming for new users.
  • Initial Whole File Copies: The first copy of a file is always the whole file, as no prior deltas exist.
  • Memory Usage: Can be memory-intensive when dealing with a large number of files due to its file-list model.
  • No Built-In Scheduler: Requires external tools (like cron) to schedule regular syncs.

Examples of rsync Commands

  1. Basic File Transfer
rsync -avz file.txt user@remote_host:/path/to/destination/
  • -a: Archive mode, which preserves permissions, symbolic links, etc.
  • -v: Verbose, provides detailed output.
  • -z: Compress file data during the transfer.
  • file.txt: The name of the file to transfer.
  • user@remote_host: Username and host to which the file will be transferred.
  • /path/to/destination/: The path on the remote host where the file will be placed.
  1. Directory Synchronization
rsync -avz --delete /path/to/source/ user@remote_host:/path/to/destination/
  • --delete: Deletes files in the destination directory that are not present in the source directory, keeping both directories in sync.
  1. Dry Run
rsync -avzn /path/to/source/ user@remote_host:/path/to/destination/
  • -n: Dry run, which doesn't make any changes, but shows what would be done if the command were run without this option.
  1. Exclude Patterns
rsync -avz --exclude 'pattern' /path/to/source/ user@remote_host:/path/to/destination/
  • --exclude: Excludes files that match the given pattern.
  1. Using a Custom SSH Port
rsync -avz -e 'ssh -p 2222' /path/to/source/ user@remote_host:/path/to/destination/
  • -e: Specifies the remote shell to use; in this case, ssh on a non-standard port (2222).
  1. Synchronization with Hard Links
rsync -avz --link-dest=/path/to/previous_backup /path/to/source/ /path/to/backup/
  • --link-dest: Links to files in the specified directory (previous backup) when files have not changed, saving space.

These commands are just a glimpse of what rsync can do. Lloyd can use the rsync --help command or refer to the man rsync manual pages for a comprehensive list of options and more complex use cases.

You should also read: