Jonathan Bell

Using rsync as a Backup Method

I like rsync. It’s an amazing little Unix utility that allows the user to sync files across two drives/folder structures. I use it personally for backuping up photos and other important documents to a mounted USB drive on my personal laptop. I then (periodically) update the drive by running my rsync script.

Here is an example script. This script runs a backup on Dropbox Code, Documents, Sites and Photos directories but you of course could set the path to whatever you’d like to backup. I’m also using the //localhost/c$/Users/$(whoami) path since I am on Windows using Git Bash so you’ll probably want to change that too.


rsync \
    --size-only \
    --delete \
    --recursive \
    --delete-excluded \
    --verbose \
    --exclude node_modules \
    --exclude .dropbox \
    --exclude .meteor/local \
    //localhost/c$/Users/$(whoami)/Dropbox/Code \
    //localhost/c$/Users/$(whoami)/Dropbox/Documents \
    //localhost/c$/Users/$(whoami)/Dropbox/Sites \
    //localhost/c$/Users/$(whoami)/Dropbox/Photos \
    //localhost/s$/ \
    | tee //localhost/s$/backup.log

This script will also use tee to pipe the output to a backup.log file.

Using rsync for code deployment

We can also use rsync for code deployment. This works best with HTML/PHP style deployments where we only need to change the files on the server which have changed locally. We can setup SSH keys and configuration so that we can just call the name of the server inside our Bash script. Checkout this example rsync-local-prod.bash script which I wrote that could be used for updating a WordPress website:

rsync -rv --size-only --delete --exclude-from=.rsyncignore . servername:/home/user/public_html/

The neat thing is you can also point rsync to an excludes file (notice the --exclude-from=.rsyncignore option above).

The .rsyncignore could look something like this:

# rysnc specific ignores

# Exclude my `workfiles` directory off of the root of the tree

# Exclude common webserver files

# Exclude node_modules and .git folders anywhere in the tree

# Wordpress stuff

# Exclude WP media directory

This way you don’t have to list all those ignores inside the same script, you just add them to your .rsyncignore file. It works in the same way a .gitignore file works.

So go ahead, and give rsync a try today and break away from those FTP woes! I’m sure that you’ll love it.