Rsync: Upload and Sync Files and Websites

rsync is a simple way to copy files and folders between your local computer and server. While you can install Nextcloud is a more normie-friendly Dropbox/Google Drive-like way to share files, people familiar with the command-line will find all they need in the simple rsync command.

It not only makes file-transfer easy, but it allows you to build and maintain your website offline, then easily upload it to the proper directory on your server so you don't need to constantly be logged into your server to modify your site.

Installing rsync

Run the following on your server and on your local machine.

apt install rsync

Uploading files with rsync

From your local machine you can upload files to your server like this:

rsync -rtvzP /path/to/file

You will be prompted for the root password and then uploading will commence.

If you omit root@, rsync will not attempt to log in as root, but whatever your local username is.

Options to rsync

In this command, we give several options to rsync. You can remove some of these or add to them based on your needs:

Avoid using the commonly used -a option when uploading to a server. It can transfer your local machine's user and group permissions to your server, which might cause breakage.

But -a is useful for making back-ups of important directories. It’s an alias for many options at once (-rlptgoD)—read man rsync for the details.


It's a good idea to build your website offline, then make an rsync script or bash alias like the one above to upload the edited files when you have made updates.

Password-less authentication

To avoid having to manually input your password each upload, you can set up SSH keys to securely idenitify yourself and computer as a trusted.

Picky trailing slashes

rsync is very particular about trailing slashes. This is useful, but can be confusing to some new users. Suppose we run the following wanting to mirror our offline copy of our website in the directory we use on our server (/var/www/websitefiles/):

❌ rsync -rtvzP ~/websitefiles/

This will not actually do quite what we want. It will take our local websitefiles directory and put it inside websitefiles on the remote machine, ending up with /var/www/websitefiles/websitefiles.

Instead, remove the trailing slash from the remote server location:

✅ rsync -rtvzP ~/websitefiles/

websitefiles/ has been replaced with websitefiles, and this will do what we want.

Downloading files with rsync

You may just as easily download files and directories from your server with rsync:

rsync -rtvzP /path/to/file

If you don’t keep a local copy of your website or other things saved on a server🔒, it might be a good idea to set up a cronjob or just a normal script on your local computer that takes back-ups of your website in case of server failure!