Install and Use Rsync on Ubuntu

Rsync Syntax and Ubuntu Logo on Purple Gradient Background

The rsync command is an open source utility that provides fast and versatile file transfer and synchronization.

It is widely used as part of backup systems, for mirroring, as well as for file synchronization across different systems. Rsync uses a delta-transfer algorithm to minimize network traffic, making it very efficient over slow links.

This tutorial teaches you how to install and use the rsync command to sync files locally or remotely. Let’s start by installing and uninstalling the tool.

Install Rsync on Ubuntu

The first step toward using the rsync tool is to check whether it exists on your system.

sudo rsync --version

Otherwise, install the tool using apt, apt-get, or aptitude.

First we’ll have to update our package index:

sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

Next we’ll install rsync using the APT package manager.

sudo apt install rsync

Notes/Articles/Install and use Rsync on Ubuntu/install rsync.png

Use Rsync on Ubuntu

You can backup files across local directories or between a directory on a local machine and another on a remote machine.

Local to Local
rsync [source directory]/* [destination directory]
rsync [option] [source directory] [destination directory]
Local to Remote
rsync [option] [source directory] [remote user]@[remote IP address or hostname]:[destination directory]
Remote to Local
rsync [option] [remote user]@[remote IP address or hostname]:[source directory]:[destination directory]

rsync options control the depth of resource transfer. For example,

  • -n or --dry-run: run the rsync command without making changes,
  • -r: transfer subdirectories and files recursively.
  • -a: transfer subdirectories and files with configurations.
  • -z: compress massive data during transfer and decompress it on reaching the destination directory.
  • -P: show the progress of the sync process.
  • --delete: remove data from the destination directory before syncing the source and destination directories.

Sync Files Only: No option

First, create a directory with two files and a subdirectory with a file.

mkdir sourceDirectory
cd sourceDirectory
touch file1 file2
mkdir subDirectory && cd subDirectory
touch file3

Next, create the destination directory: a sibling to the source directory.

mkdir destinationDirectory

Now sync the sourceDirectory and destinationDirectory directories. Before that it, would be best to dry-run the process to confirm the resources we are about to sync.

rsync --dry-run sourceDirectory/* destinationDirectory
rsync sourceDirectory/* destinationDirectory
ls destinationDirectory

On running the rsync command with the --dry-run option, the system reports it is about to sync files between the two directories but skip the subDir subdirectory. It transfers the files, excluding the subdirectory and its contents on running the rsync command without the --dry-run option.

The asterisk * tells the system to sync the file inside the source directory.

rsync --dry-run sourceDirectory/* destinationDirectory
skipping directory subDirectory
rsync sourceDirectory/* destinationDirectory
skipping directory subDirectory
ls destinationDirectory
file1 file2

Notes/Articles/Install and use Rsync on Ubuntu/sync files only.png

Here is how you can sync all files and subdirectories recursively.

Sync Files and Directories Recursively: -r Option

Let’s delete and recreate the destination directory before recursively copying all source directory’s content into it. Before that, we can verify the resources we are about to sync.

rsync -r --dry-run [source directory] [destination directory]

We can also introduce the verbose -v option to echo the resources we are about to back up or just backed up.

rsync -rv --dry-run [source directory] [destination directory]

This time around, even the subdirectory was transferred.

rm -rf destinationDirectory
mkdir destinationDirectory
ls destinationDirectory
ls sourceDirectory
file1 file2 subDirectory
rsync -r --dry-run sourceDirectory/ destinationDirectory
rsync -rv --dry-run sourceDirectory/ destinationDirectory
sending incremental file list

sent 155 bytes  received 29 bytes  368.00 bytes/sec
total size is 0  speedup is 0.00 (DRY RUN)
rsync -r sourceDirectory/ destinationDirectory/
ls destinationDirectory/
file1 file2 subDirectory

Notes/Articles/Install and use Rsync on Ubuntu/recursive sync.png

Note: Ignoring the slash / after the source sourceDirectory directory syncs even the source directory.

Sync Everything: -a Option

The most familiar way to use rsync on Ubuntu is copying files and directories into another location using the -a (archive) option.

The -a option preserves the resource configurations like modifications, groups, owners, and timestamps when syncing files and directories between directories.

Let’s create a directory with two text files, then copy the first file into a temporary location.

mkdir dir && cd dir
touch first.txt second.txt
cd ..
rsync -av dir/first.txt /tmp/
sending incremental file list

sent 102 bytes  received 35 bytes  274.00 bytes/sec
total size is 0  speedup is 0.00

We can then verify the effect of the copy action using ls and the grep commands.

ls /tmp/ | grep first

Likewise, we can copy an entire directory with files into another directory.

rsync -av dir /tmp/
sending incremental file list

sent 192 bytes received 58 bytes 500.00 bytes/sec
total size is 0 speedup is 0.00

Sync Data Remotely

You can also use the rsync tool to sync files between your machine and a remote machine running the Ubuntu server. For example, I have configured a second Ubuntu machine called username2 with IP address Here is how to copy the sourceDirectory‘s content into a new directory on the remote machine.

Step 1: Verify the reachability of the remote machine

First, verify the reachability of the remote machine.

ping [hostname or ip address]
ping [email protected]

The next step is to transfer the source directory into a folder in the remote machine.

Step 2: Sync the Directories

Transfer the source directory into a remote machine’s directory.

rsync -av sourceDirectory [email protected]:remoteDirectory

I am transferring the directory we created in example 1 above into a new remote directory called remoteDirectory.

The local machine checks whether the remote machine is reachable via SSH. It then prompts to create an SSH connection between the two machines before echoing the transferred resources.

Notes/Articles/Install and use Rsync on Ubuntu/use rsync remotely.png

Step 3: Verify the Successful Process

Lastly, let’s confirm the successful transfer. SSH into the remote machine and inspect if you created a directory remoteDirectory with some content.

ssh [email protected]
ls remoteDirectory
ls remoteDirectory/sourceDirectory

And voila, the entire source directory was transferred with its contents!

Notes/Articles/Install and use Rsync on Ubuntu/directory synced.png

Uninstall Rsync on Ubuntu

We can easily uninstall rsync using a few methods:

Without Dependencies
sudo apt remove rsync
With Dependencies
sudo apt -y autoremove rsync
With Configurations and Related Data
sudo apt -y autoremove --purge rsync

Now that you know to get or remove the rsync tool, let’s dive into using it.


You can backup files locally or remotely on Ubuntu using the rsync command with options like -a and -r. Before that, you should install the tool, as shown in this tutorial.

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William B Peckham
William B Peckham
1 year ago

rsync is NOT a backup tool, it is a file and folder syncronization tool that can be used as one part of a procedure to do backups. Thre is a difference. Backula, BURP, and ADSL BACKUP AND RECOVERY are backup tools. Backup tools allow for scheduled generational backups and point-in-time recovery.

William B Peckham
William B Peckham
1 year ago

PS. I approve of rsync, and use it often, just not for backups. There are better tools for backups.

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