I'm trying to use rsync to copy a set of files from one system to another. I'm running the command as a normal user (not root). On the remote system, the files are owned by apache and when copied they are obviously owned by the local account (fred).

My problem is that every time I run the rsync command, all files are re-synched even though they haven't changed. I think the issue is that rsync sees the file owners are different and my local user doesn't have the ability to change ownership to apache, but I'm not including the -a or -o options so I thought this would not be checked. If I run the command as root, the files come over owned by apache and do not come a second time if I run the command again. However I can't run this as root for other reasons. Here is the command:

/usr/bin/rsync --recursive --rsh=/usr/bin/ssh --rsync-path=/usr/bin/rsync --verbose root@server.example.com:/src/dir/ /local/dir
  • Why can't you run rsync as root? On the remote system, does fred have read access to the apache-owned files? May 3, 2011 at 0:32
  • Ah, I left out the fact that there are ssh keys set up so that local fred can become remote root, so yes fred/root can read them. I know this is a bit convoluted but its real. May 3, 2011 at 14:50
  • Always be careful when root can ssh into the machine. But if you have password and challenge response authentication disabled it's not as bad. May 3, 2011 at 17:32

1 Answer 1


Here's the answer to your problem:

-c, --checksum
      This changes the way rsync checks if the files have been changed and are in need of a  transfer.   Without  this  option,
      rsync  uses  a "quick check" that (by default) checks if each file's size and time of last modification match between the
      sender and receiver.  This option changes this to compare a 128-bit checksum for each file  that  has  a  matching  size.
      Generating  the  checksums  means  that both sides will expend a lot of disk I/O reading all the data in the files in the
      transfer (and this is prior to any reading that will be done to transfer changed files), so this  can  slow  things  down

      The  sending  side  generates  its checksums while it is doing the file-system scan that builds the list of the available
      files.  The receiver generates its checksums when it is scanning for changed files, and will checksum any file  that  has
      the  same  size  as the corresponding sender's file:  files with either a changed size or a changed checksum are selected
      for transfer.

      Note that rsync always verifies that each transferred file was correctly reconstructed on the receiving side by  checking
      a  whole-file  checksum  that is generated as the file is transferred, but that automatic after-the-transfer verification
      has nothing to do with this option's before-the-transfer "Does this file need to be updated?" check.

      For protocol 30 and beyond (first supported in 3.0.0), the checksum used is MD5.  For older protocols, the checksum  used
      is MD4.

So run:

/usr/bin/rsync -c --recursive --rsh=/usr/bin/ssh --rsync-path=/usr/bin/rsync --verbose root@server.example.com:/src/dir/ /local/dir

Note there may be a time+disk churn tradeoff by using this option. Personally, I'd probably just sync the file's mtimes too:

/usr/bin/rsync -t --recursive --rsh=/usr/bin/ssh --rsync-path=/usr/bin/rsync --verbose root@server.example.com:/src/dir/ /local/dir
  • Awesome. Thank you. Looks like the second option is going to work for me and I found the first very interesting. May 3, 2011 at 18:40

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