Tuesday, January 6, 2009

HOW TO: Use RSYNC for Backup

You want to be able to backup your most important data but you are too lazy to copy and paste everything all the time.


This is a tool in the command line, but don't be scared off by that, it is very simple to use, and if you don't have the patience to fully learn it then read on and I'll show you a simple yet effective method of backing up your data.

Rsync is a useful command as it only backs up the files you have changed. So, the first time you run it it will backup everything you select, and in the future it will backup only those files that have changed from within the original selection.

For the purposes of this tutorial I assume the following:

1. User name: bob (so home folder is /home/bob/)

2. External hard drive is mounted at: /media/harddrive/

First of all its always a good idea to create a folder inside of your external hard drive before backing up:

Open a terminal and enter the following:

mkdir /media/harddrive/backup

Now we are going to be making the backup bash script. I prefer making a script as the command is quite long. First we need to make a folder to store the script in (so it is easier to access).

mkdir bash

Then we must create the bash script:

cd bash

gedit backup.sh

In this text file put the following in:


sudo rsync -rltDvu --modify-window=1 --progress --delete --delete-excluded --exclude-from=/home/bob/Bash/BackupBigExclude.txt /home/bob/ /media/harddrive/backup

Explanation of commands:

rsync: this is the program used to sync the data. Rsync basically can check the destination data and see if any changes have been made in the source data so that ONLY the source data that has been changed is updated. VERY useful.

-r: copies directories recursively

-l: copies symlinks as symlinks

-t: preserves modification times

-D: preserves device and special files

-v: shows output (verbose)

-u: skips files that are newer at the destination

--modify-window=1: this is essential if you are backing up to a filesystem that is NOT ext3 or ext2, e.g. NTFS or FAT32. Basically in windows filesystem times are kept as even numbers. This command tells rsync to ignore file changes that are only 1 second in difference from the original. It is almost impossible that you will create a file, sync it, and in ONE second make a change and want to sync it again. So it is safe to use this option and it means that rsync will not back up everything every time simply because of a one second change.

--progress: simply shows the progress

--delete: this is important. Basically rsync syncs files that have been changed. But what if you delete a file from the source directory? This command deletes it from your backed up hard drive as well.

--delete-excluded: this deletes folder/files that you have specifically excluded.

--exclude-from=/home/bob/Bash/BackupExclude.txt: this is the other crucial command. This basically tells rsync to exclude the files/folders found in the list BackupExlude.txt. To create this list do the following:

gedit /home/bob/Bash/BackupExclude.txt

Now in the text editor it is entirely up to you what you want to exlcude.

This is my list:




I am not backing up my MyDownloads directory as I download a lot of files/data some of which I do not want to backup. and I am not backing up my .VirtualbBox directory as its a massive 2gb file that will update every time I log into VB, a waste of time/resources. Just list the files/folders here that are in your home directory that you do not want to backup

Here are some other hints/tips for the exclude command file:

1. To exclude hidden directories (all the directories that start with .) do: .*/

2. To exclude hidden files (all the files that start with .) do: .*

locations: the /home/bob and /media/harddrive/backup tells the script where to backup from and where to backup to.

There are numerous other settings/commands you can use, including compression, etc. My method is simply to have a place where I can access all my data with minimal hassle.

Suffice to say these commands are quite technical, but they all work for me.

Save the files.

Now open a terminal and type the following:

cd /home/bob/Bash

sh BackupBig.sh

This should run the backup, it may take a long time depending on how much data you have.

NB: Make sure you take care when changing any settings. If you are unsure please ask. In fact don't even change the location without first confirming.

For example, You want to backup /home/bob/ to backup /media/harddrive/ and you have lets say data x.txt, y.txt, z.txt on /media/harddrive/. If you do not create a separate folder all data on /media/harddrive will be erased. SO BE CAREFUL!

For more information on rsync commands see http://www.samba.org/ftp/rsync/rsync.html.


  1. This is a great post! I also like that you explained all the switches. I also thing it's great that you went through an example so that users can get a bit more familiar with rsync.

    Also, I emailed you in response to your question on my blog. Did you get it? Are you still interested? Let me know when you have a moment.

    Thanks again for a great post! :)

  2. Yes you did say you would e-mail me "after the holidays" but I never got an e-mail!

    Thanks for the comment, I always find it is much easier to do something when there is an easy example!

  3. Nothing like open source software. When it comes to backup I have a hard time trusting backup software. There have been many cases where I have backed up my data using software and then when I needed to retrieve or access the file they were no where to be found. So I stick to the drag and drop method.

  4. I've lost a lot of files trusting drag and drop methods as well. You're still running commands when you drag and drop, and what's worse if something goes wrong, the OS you are using might not tell you or give you inadequate information. verbos (-v) switch you can see exactly what's happening, and if it fails, exactly where it failed, and what's more you can see what's been copied already. Rather than blindly trust anything, you should always test the integrity of the backup by opening folders and backed up files on your backup media. this is the only way to ensure nothing went wrong. After all, even if the transfer did complete, media can still fail after the fact, making multiple backups across several media the safest. Redundency is your friend. Rsync can help you mannage an otherwise messy process.

  5. Thanks for your explanation and script for rsync.
    Using UNR 9.04 I wanted to do a straight backup of my home directory to my external drive and did not require the exclusions.
    here is my ~/bash/backup.sh
    sudo rsync -rltDvu --modify-window=1 --progress --delete /home/walter/ /media/"FreeAgent Drive"/Backup/Netbook

    Although the backup worked I got errors that not all files were backed up (but did not say which) and a problem with permissions. Could you help?

    The use of capitals in some of your commands? (ie Bash)

    The meaning or ~!/bin/bash, all my work was in /~
    I used the command in ~/bash sh backup.sh
    Where can I view my terminal log and the error log?
    Can you suggest the error of my effort!

    reported ;-
    sent 1158966793 bytes received 104246 bytes 3560894.13 bytes/sec
    total size is 1158460928 speedup is 1.00
    rsync error: some files/attrs were not transferred (see previous errors) (code 23) at main.c(1058) [sender=3.0.5]

  6. Walter:

    Firstly, ignore the capitals. I just use them for some folders/files.



    is the start of any bash script. (I'm not completely sure about this) It tells the script where the programme bash is located. It has nothing to do with where you're script is actually located. You need to put in this string at the start of all bash scripts (e.g. this one!).

    Thirdly, to generate a log file add the following into the rsync command:


    Finally, there is a way to check which files are not syncing. This error occurs mainly where there is a file and for some reason that particular file has a problem with syncing. For me it has been "locked" files (e.g. files currently in use), badly named files, etc. To test which files are giving the errors run the rsync script and AS SOON AS IT FINISHES run the script again. Because, rsync only sync files that have been changed, if you run the script in succession there won't be anything to update the second time round (assuming you don't change anything while rsync runs). So, the second time round you should see a list (in the terminal) of files that failed to sync. The error may look something like this:

    rsync: mkstemp "/media/H300/music/The Mothers of Invention/We're Only in It for the Money/.8 - What's the Ugliest Part of Your Body?.ogg.dbf1Zg" failed: Invalid argument (22)
    rsync error: some files/attrs were not transferred (see previous errors) (code 23) at main.c(105 [sender=3.0.5]

    Hope this helps!

  7. Finally found a useful guide to get to know rsync. Everything else starts at the deep end with SSH and the likes. This is what I wanted! Thank you.

  8. Thank you it's really greate post i will read again .

  9. hey i need help i have a windows shared folder, i want to do some backups i have this:
    // /srv/RespaldoLinux cifs guest,user,rw 0 0

    // on /srv/RespaldoLinux type cifs (rw,mand,noexec,nosuid,nodev)

    ##whe i want to do the back up
    #rsync -rltDvu --modify-window=1 --progress --delete --delete-excluded /etc/ /srv/RespaldoLinux
    ##i get this
    #rsync: rename "/srv/RespaldoLinux/usb_modeswitch.d/.0421:060c.YvxpUm" -> "usb_modeswitch.d/0421:060c": Invalid argument (22)
    rsync: mkstemp "/srv/RespaldoLinux/usb_modeswitch.d/.05c6:1000:sVe=Option.mPLtMw" failed: Invalid argument (22)
    rsync: symlink "/srv/RespaldoLinux/modprobe.d/linux-sound-base_noOSS.conf" -> "/lib/linux-sound-base/noOSS.modprobe.conf" failed: Operation not supported (95)
    rsync: symlink "/srv/RespaldoLinux/network/run" -> "/dev/shm/network" failed: Operation not supported (95)
    rsync: symlink "/srv/RespaldoLinux/network/if-post-down.d/avahi-daemon" -> "../if-up.d/avahi-daemon" failed: Operation not supported (95)
    sent 115244874 bytes received 4116 bytes 7948206.21 bytes/sec
    total size is 120355276 speedup is 1.04
    rsync error: some files/attrs were not transferred (see previous errors) (code 23) at main.c(1060) [sender=3.0.7]
    ## some files are ok but i recived that error im getting crazy i need help please

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