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I was wondering what is the advantage of making all the files and directories into an archive file for transfer, such as by cpio, instead of transferring them directly, such as by cp, scp?

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There are a few reasons you might want to tar up a bunch of files before transfer:

  • Compression: You will get better compression by compressing one large file rather than many small files. At least scp can compress on the fly, but is on a file by file basis.

  • Connections: At least with scp, it makes a new connection for each file it transfers. This can greatly slow down the throughput if you are transferring many small files.

  • Restart: If your transfer protocol allows restarting a transfer in the middle, it might be easier than figuring out which file was in progress when the transfer was interrupted.

  • Permissions: Most archiving programs let you retain the ownership and permissions of files, which may not be supported in your transfer program.

  • File location: If the destination location is at the end of a long path, or hasn't been decided, it might be useful to transfer an archive to the destination and decide latter where the files should go.

  • Integrity: Its easier to compute and check the checksum for a single archive file than for each file individually.

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I do this because its often easier to handle one big file, then thousands of small chunks.

I don't have to calculate checksums for every file, most of the time it is enough to just create a checksum for one archive.

Also it is easier for me to preserve file permissions.

These are just some of my reasons.

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If using rsync is possible, the advantage of archiving first is almost gone.

  • Compression: rsync has built-in compression (option -z).
  • Connection: The number of connection (generally 1) doesn't increase with the number of files transfered.
  • Restart: rsync only transmit the difference, so incremental transfer is simple. You can choose to keep partial files so it is faster to resume the transmission.
  • Integrity: Check-sum is used internally, and if you are paranoid about it, you can force the -c option, so it is checked again.
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