Simple read-only rsync server on Ubuntu

If you haven’t heard of it rsync is a piece of software which allows you to keep files in sync over a network, while only copying across the “changes” from one copy to the next. The advantages of this are that a lot less data needs to be transferred than would have to be done with something like FTP or SFTP. This attribute of rsync also makes it perfect for things like backups which don’t change much from one iteration to the next.

Installing rsync is as simple as:

sudo apt-get install rsync

Although, I’ve found that with the server version of Ubuntu, it’s already installed after installing the OS.

By default, the server doesn’t come configured or enabled to start at boot. In order to configure it, we will need to copy across the example rsync configuration into the /etc directory and modify the /etc/default/rsync file:

sudo cp /usr/share/doc/rsync/example/rsyncd.conf /etc/

Modify the /etc/default/rsync file to look like the following:

# defaults file for rsync daemon mode

# start rsync in daemon mode from init.d script?
#  only allowed values are “true”, “false”, and “inetd”
#  Use “inetd” if you want to start the rsyncd from inetd,
#  all this does is prevent the init.d script from printing a message
#  about not starting rsyncd (you still need to modify inetd’s config yourself).

# which file should be used as the configuration file for rsync.
# This file is used instead of the default /etc/rsyncd.conf
# Warning: This option has no effect if the daemon is accessed
#          using a remote shell. When using a different file for
#          rsync you might want to symlink /etc/rsyncd.conf to
#          that file.

# what extra options to give rsync –daemon?
#  that excludes the –daemon; that’s always done in the init.d script
#  Possibilities are:
#   –address= (bind to a specific IP address)
#   –port=8730 (bind to specified port; default 873)

# run rsyncd at a nice level?
#  the rsync daemon can impact performance due to much I/O and CPU usage,
#  so you may want to run it at a nicer priority than the default priority.
#  Allowed values are 0 – 19 inclusive; 10 is a reasonable value.

# run rsyncd with ionice?
#  “ionice” does for IO load what “nice” does for CPU load.
#  As rsync is often used for backups which aren’t all that time-critical,
#  reducing the rsync IO priority will benefit the rest of the system.
#  See the manpage for ionice for allowed options.
#  -c3 is recommended, this will run rsync IO at “idle” priority. Uncomment
#  the next line to activate this.

# Don’t forget to create an appropriate config file,
# else the daemon will not start.

The only variable that’s really changed from the default is the “RSYNC_ENABLED” which has been set to “true”.

If we have a look at the config file under /etc/rsyncd.conf, we can see that we’re allowing read-only access to the /var/www/pub directory to any user:

# sample rsyncd.conf configuration file


#motd file=/etc/motd
#log file=/var/log/rsyncd
# for pid file, do not use /var/run/ if
# you are going to run rsync out of the init.d script.
# pid file=/var/run/
#syslog facility=daemon
#socket options=



comment = public access
path = /var/www/pub
use chroot = yes
# max connections=10
lock file = /var/lock/rsyncd
# the default for read only is yes…
read only = yes
list = yes
uid = nobody
gid = nogroup
# exclude =
# exclude from =
# include =
# include from =
# auth users =
# secrets file = /etc/rsyncd.secrets
strict modes = yes
# hosts allow =
# hosts deny =
ignore errors = no
ignore nonreadable = yes
transfer logging = no
# log format = %t: host %h (%a) %o %f (%l bytes). Total %b bytes.
timeout = 600
refuse options = checksum dry-run
dont compress = *.gz *.tgz *.zip *.z *.rpm *.deb *.iso *.bz2 *.tbz

Now all we need to do is to create the folder and start up the rsync server:

sudo mkdir -p /var/www/pub
sudo service rsync start

In order to test the server, you can just drop any files into the /var/www/pub directory and then download them using:

rsync -r [hostname/IP address]::public/ .

e.g. rsync -r .

This will copy across all of the files from /var/www/public into your current directory. Note that if you leave out the dot at the end, it will merely display the list of files under /var/www/pub. Another thing to note is that by default the Rsync server uses TCP port 873 to communicate with the rsync client, so you may have to open up this port on your firewall if it is blocked.

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