Rsync is a fast and extraordinarily versatile file copying tool. It can copy locally, to/from another host over any remote shell, or to/from a remote rsync daemon. It offers a large number of options that control every aspect of its behavior and permit very flexible specification of the set of files to be copied. It is famous for its delta-transfer algorithm, which reduces the amount of data sent over the network by sending only the differences between the source files and the existing files in the destination. Rsync is widely used for backups and mirroring and as an improved copy command for everyday use.
Rsync finds files that need to be transferred using a lqquick checkrq algorithm (by default) that looks for files that have changed in size or in last-modified time. Any changes in the other preserved attributes (as requested by options) are made on the destination file directly when the quick check indicates that the file’s data does not need to be updated.
While tar over ssh is ideal for making remote copies of parts of a filesystem, rsync is even better suited for keeping the filesystem in sync between two machines. Typically, tar is used for the initial copy, and rsync is used to pick up whatever has changed since the last copy. This is because tar tends to be faster than rsync when none of the destination files exist, but rsync is much faster than tar when there are only a few differences between the two filesystems.
To run an rsync over ssh, pass it the -e switch, like this:
Notice the trailing / on the file spec from the source side On the source specification, a trailing / tells rsync to copy the contents of the directory, but not the directory itself. To include the directory as the top level of whatever is being copied, leave off the /:
If you run a command like this in cron, leave off the v switch. This will keep the output quiet (unless rsync has a problem running, in which case you’ll receive an email with the error output).
Using ssh as your transport for rsync traffic has the advantage of encrypting the data over the network and also takes advantage of any trust relationships you already have established using ssh client keys. For keeping large, complex directory structures in sync between two machines (especially when there are only a few differences between them), rsync is a very handy (and fast) tool to have at your disposal.