I happen to know about rsyn, and I use rsync to sync between my mac and a linux server as follows.

rsync -r -t -v MAC LINUX
rsync -r -t -v LINUX MAC

I expected to run the first command to sync, but I needed the second command also when a change is made in LINUX.

Am I missing something? Does rsync have an option to sync between two directories?

6 Answers 6


You want bi-directional sync. Take a look at unison, which does this: http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison/

For example, on Debian/Ubuntu:

$ sudo apt-get install unison
$ unison MAC/ LINUX/

If you have trouble with permissions (example ext4 -> FAT):

$ unison -perms 0 vlc-2.2.0/ /media/sf_vlc/vlc
Contacting server...
Looking for changes
Reconciling changes

vlc-2.2.0      vlc                
new dir  ---->            /  [f] 

Proceed with propagating updates? [] y
Propagating updates
  • If you use rsync and the devices have the same filesystems, you can sync all permissions. unison does not support this use-case.
    – MountainX
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 23:20

It has been claimed that rsync was not recommended for two-way sync by its developers, but a source for this statement is lacking.

The already recommended unison utility will be a better solution for you.

Also keep in mind that you probably have to deal with a lot of Mac specific HFS+ stuff when using rsync. So be sure to use a properly patched rsync3 on the Mac or expect problems with modification dates (when using the Mac OS X provided rsync 2.6.9.) If you don't know how to build a properly patched rsync 3 for the Mac, get mlbackup which includes just that. (Full disclosure: I am the author of mlbackup.) Get it from github and be sure to download the full package from the downloads. (The mlbackup repo does not include rsync 3 which you want in this case.) http://github.com/MacLemon/mlbackup

  • 6
    A link to the non-recommendation by rsync developers would be nice.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 20:34
  • @Wildcard not from the developers, but this is relevant.
    – user298742
    Commented Jul 11, 2018 at 3:17
  • @Ploni that page makes very limited use of rsync's features. I would not take it as definitive in regard to bidirectional sync with rsync.
    – MountainX
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 23:15
  • @MountainX you cannot use rsync for bidirectional synchronisation if you want to be able to propagate deletions either way Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 23:51
  • @roaima Why not? I'm testing it and it seems to be working. What am I missing?
    – MountainX
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 23:55

I coded this small tool for my own needs:


It uses rsync and can handle file moves.

  • Thank you. I see you have committed a bug fix as recently as Mar 5, 2019. I will be giving your tool a try.
    – MountainX
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 23:01

You should also take a look at csync, which is open source and offers native bi-directional syncing.

FYI - as far as I know - csync is developed by people from the Samba team. And knowing that the Samba team also developed rsync, I take this as a token of quality.


Another excellent tool for bidirectional sync.....freefilesync

  • 5
    on Stack Exchange, we prefer answers that are more than just links. it would be great if you could expand a little on what this is (what makes it different from unison?)
    – strugee
    Commented Nov 15, 2013 at 21:15
  • This project is a bit pushy in trying to get the users to make donations. Also, although source code is available. upstream does not host it on GitHub, GitLab or similar.
    – MountainX
    Commented Dec 6, 2020 at 23:08

Another system that provides for synchronization of directories in both directions is SyncThing (Github) - "a continuous file synchronization program. It synchronizes files between two or more computers in real time, safely protected from prying eyes". There's also apps for mobile devices.

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