I am trying to backup my home directory using rsync, and I want to exclude some of the directories that contain junk. I want to specifically exclude /home/ben/.ccache and /home/ben/build. Unfortunately the documentation for rsync was information overload and didn't answer my question. This is what I tried:

rsync -arv --exclude "/home/ben/.ccache:/home/ben/build" /home/ben /media/ben/thumbdrive/

What is the right way to do this?

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    Just wanted to say that the flag a implies r already :) -a, --archive archive mode; equals -rlptgoD (no -H,-A,-X) – Populus Apr 17 '15 at 13:32

OK I feel really dumb. Before I even posted this question my friend showed me how to do it and it is really simple. To exclude multiple directories you just use multiple --exclude=path switches. So my command above properly written is as follows:

rsync -arv --exclude=.ccache --exclude=build /home/ben /media/ben/thumbdrive/
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    An absolute path did not work for me (the directory specified was silently not excluded), whereas a path relative to the source directory worked correctly. Maybe I'm missing something, but I would be cautious about @FreeSoftwareServers' assertion that absolute paths always work. – Soren Bjornstad Aug 20 '16 at 19:43
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    FYI: The option -a includes -r so -ar is redundant. – David Aug 8 '17 at 14:01
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    Contrary to what FreeSoftwareServers believes, the exclude path is relative to the source path, NOT /. So that comment is categorically false and will lead to failures if you follow it. The best strategy is to leave off the leading / in your excludes to avoid this type of mental error. If source is say, /home/me and if you exclude='/mydir/' this excludes the directory mydir in /home/me, that is, it excludes /home/me/mydir NOT /mydir/ at /. It's unfortunate I can't either downvote or edit that comment since it's technically wrong and will mislead. – Lizardx Sep 6 '17 at 0:09
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    FYI for later travellers, it looks like the comment in question by @FreeSoftwareServer has been removed. tl;dr: use relative paths – Freedom_Ben Sep 6 '17 at 16:25
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    If you're dumb then so am I and 179 other upvoters! – Sridhar Sarnobat Sep 22 '18 at 4:48

When having multiple directories and/or files to exclude, make a text file and use the --exclude-from switch. Make a file called exclude_me.txt and in it list your exclusions. Example (/home/ben/exclude_me.txt):


Then your rsync would look something like this:

rsync -arv --exclude-from='/home/ben/exclude_me.txt' /home/ben /media/ben/thumbdrive/

This is some information on filter rules that may help:

  • /dir/ means exclude the root folder /dir
  • /dir/* means get the root folder /dir but not the contents
  • dir/ means exclude any folder anywhere where the name contains dir/

  • Examples excluded: /dir/, /usr/share/directory/, /var/spool/dir/ /var/spool/lpd/cf means skip files that start with cf within any folder within /var/spool/lpd

Also see the filter rules section on the man page.

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    It's important to note that root folder means the root of the transfer not the root directory. – jamesdlin Sep 10 '18 at 20:12
  • This is a brilliant answer! – Alexander Zhukov Aug 29 at 9:04

You can also exclude multiple paths within curly braces:

rsync -arv --exclude={.ccache,build} /home/ben /media/ben/thumbdrive/
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    this works nicely, just not under sh, only under bash, I found out "the hard way" – xor Oct 1 '15 at 9:56
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    No space after the comma. Learnt that the hard way too 😭 – styl3r May 25 '18 at 5:21
  • And don't use '' like --exclude='.gvfs' – Martin T. Nov 21 '18 at 9:03
  • FWIW, I think curly braces work with ksh. For other shells, you could probably use something like: IFS=$'\n'; rsync -arv $(printf '.ccache\nbuild\n' | sed 's/^/--exclude=/g') /home/ben /media/ben/thumbdrive/. Or, you could just use multiple --exclude arguments, which you'd have to type manually. – TSJNachos117 Jan 24 at 0:27
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    The reason this works is because of "Brace Expansion", in case anyone wanted to look at the details. – shredalert Jun 5 at 12:50

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