How to Use 'rsync' to Copy Files and Folders in Linux

Use these 'rsync' examples to learn how to copy from the command line

What to Know

  • Copy based on file type: rsync /home/jon/Desktop/data/*.jpg /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata/
  • Copy based on file size: rsync --max-size=2k /home/jon/Desktop/data/ /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata/
  • Copy entire folders: rsync --recursive /home/jon/Desktop/data /home/jon/Desktop/data2

This article explains how to use the rsync file-transfer program for Linux to copy directories and files, and even exclude files in a systematic way. As such, it backs up files intended for archiving while avoiding everything else.

Command Syntax

Using the rsync command properly requires that you follow the correct syntax:

rsync [OPTION]... [SRC]... [DEST]
rsync [OPTION]... [SRC]... [USER@]HOST:DEST
rsync [OPTION]... [SRC]... [USER@]HOST::DEST
rsync [OPTION]... [SRC]... rsync://[USER@]HOST[:PORT]/DEST
rsync [OPTION]... rsync://[USER@]HOST[:PORT]/SRC [DEST]

Some commonly used option switches include:

  • -v, --verbose: Increase verbosity (provides more details about what the command is doing).
    • --info=FLAGS: Provides detailed informational messages.
    • --debug=FLAGS: Provides detailed debug messages.
    • --msgs2stderr: Special output handling for debugging.
  • -q, --quiet: Suppresses non-error messages.
    • --no-motd: Suppresses daemon-mode message of the day.
  • -c, --checksum: Skips files based on checksum, not mod-time and size.
  •  -r, --recursive: Browse into sub-directories for additional files.
  • -b, --backup: Make backups.
    • --backup-dir=DIR: Make backups into a matching directory hierarchy.
    • --suffix=SUFFIX: Adds suffix text to the end of backed up files.
  • -d, --dirs: Transfer only directories without browsing inside of them.

Command Examples

Use rsync with some of those options to fine-tune your backup strategy.

Selective Copying Based on File Type

rsync /home/jon/Desktop/data/*.jpg /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata/

In this example, all of the JPG files from the /data/ folder copy to the /backupdata/ folder on the user Jon's Desktop folder.

Copying Files Based on Size

rsync --max-size=2k /home/jon/Desktop/data/ /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata/

This rsync example is a bit more complicated since it's set up to not copy files if they're larger than 2,048 KB. It only copies files smaller than the specified size.

Use k, m, or g to indicate kilobytes, megabytes, and gigabytes in the 1,024 multiplier, or kb, mb, or gb to use 1,000.

rsync --min-size=30mb /home/jon/Desktop/data/ /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata/

The same can be done for --min-size, too. In this example, rsync only copies files that are 30 MB or larger.

rsync --min-size=30mb --progress /home/jon/Desktop/data/ /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata/

Use the --progress option to watch the process work up to 100 percent—handy when you're copying very large files.

Copy Entire Folders

rsync --recursive /home/jon/Desktop/data /home/jon/Desktop/data2

The --recursive option provides an easy way to copy an entire folder to a different location, like to the /data2/ folder in the example above.

This command copies the entire folder and all of its contents to the new location.

Exclude Certain Files

rsync -r --exclude="*.deb" /home/jon/Desktop/data /home/jon/Desktop/backupdata​

Copy a whole folder but exclude files of a certain file extension, such as DEB files, in this example above. The whole /data/ folder is copied to /backupdata/ as in the previous example, but all DEB files are excluded from the copy.

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