I have this very simple line in a bash script which executes successfully (i.e. producing the _data.tar file), except that it doesn't exclude the sub-directories it is told exclude via the --exclude option:

/bin/tar -cf /home/_data.tar  --exclude='/data/sub1/*'  --exclude='/data/sub2/*' --exclude='/data/sub3/*'  --exclude='/data/sub4/*'  --exclude='/data/sub5/*'  /data

Instead, it produces a _data.tar file that contains everything under /data, including the files in the subdirectories I wanted to exclude.

Any idea why? and how to fix this?

Update I implemented my observations based on the link provided in the first answer below (top level dir first, no whitespace after last exclude):

/bin/tar -cf /home/_data.tar  /data  --exclude='/data/sub1/*'  --exclude='/data/sub2/*'  --exclude='/data/sub3/*'  --exclude='/data/sub4/*'  --exclude='/data/sub5/*'

But that didn't help. All "excluded" sub-directories are present in the resulting _data.tar file.

This is puzzling. Whether this is a bug in current tar (GNU tar 1.23, on a CentOS 6.2, Linux 2.6.32) or "extreme sensitivity" of tar to whitespaces and other easy-to-miss typos, I consider this a bug. For now.

This is horrible: I tried the insight suggested below (no trailing /*) and it still doesn't work in the production script:

/bin/tar -cf /home/_data.tar  /data  --exclude='/data/sub1'  --exclude='/data/sub2'  --exclude='/data/sub3'  --exclude='/data/sub4'

I can't see any difference between what I tried and what @Richard Perrin tried, except for the quotes and 2 spaces instead of 1. I am going to try this (must wait for the nightly script to run as the directory to be backed up is huge) and report back.

/bin/tar -cf /home/_data.tar  /data --exclude=/data/sub1 --exclude=/data/sub2 --exclude=/data/sub3 --exclude=/data/sub4

I am beginning to think that all these tar --exclude sensitivities aren't tar's but something in my environment, but then what could that be?

It worked! The last variation tried (no single-quotes and single-space instead of double-space between the --excludes) tested working. Weird but accepting.

Unbelievable! It turns out that an older version of tar (1.15.1) would only exclude if the top-level dir is last on the command line. This is the exact opposite of how version 1.23 requires. FYI.

  • None of these worked for me, until I realized I had to escape the [ and ] in the filename of the file I was trying to exclude. Using \[ and \], even inside of single quotes, was the only way I could get it to work. Worries me that it may exclude other important files this way. Using GNU tar 1.29
    – leetbacoon
    Nov 30 '20 at 6:58
  • Correction, in my case I needed to use --no-wildcards. That took too long to figure out.
    – leetbacoon
    Nov 30 '20 at 8:18

14 Answers 14


If you want to exclude an entire directory, your pattern should match that directory, not files within it. Use --exclude=/data/sub1 instead of --exclude='/data/sub1/*'

Be careful with quoting the patterns to protect them from shell expansion.

See this example, with trouble in the final invocation:

$ for i in 0 1 2; do mkdir -p /tmp/data/sub$i; echo foo > /tmp/data/sub$i/foo; done
$ find /tmp/data
$ tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude='/tmp/data/sub[1-2]'
tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
$ tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude=/tmp/data/sub[1-2]
tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
$ echo tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude=/tmp/data/sub[1-2]
tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude=/tmp/data/sub[1-2]
$ tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude /tmp/data/sub[1-2]
tar: Removing leading `/' from member names
tar: Removing leading `/' from hard link targets
$ echo tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude /tmp/data/sub[1-2]
tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar /tmp/data --exclude /tmp/data/sub1 /tmp/data/sub2
  • Thanks for the very focused and clear answer. Regarding your 1st point, I was trying to follow the tips in this LQ thread. I am not sure what I missed, but now that I read your 2nd point it may very well an absolute vs. relative path issue. I will try that and report back. +1 for now.
    – ateiob
    Feb 29 '12 at 14:15
  • Another thing I noticed is the --exclude b (space instead of equal sign) vs. --exclude=b. Does this make any difference? (shouldn't IMHO)
    – ateiob
    Feb 29 '12 at 14:26
  • 1
    The equal sign can be essential to avoid shell expansion of unquoted patterns. If you have a space instead, then an unquoted pattern can be expanded by the shell into a single --exclude argument, and the remaining expansions give as files to add to the tar file. Your examples above all have '=' - if the script doesn't, and is missing single quotes, then that can the source of your problem.
    – R Perrin
    Feb 29 '12 at 17:26
  • OK. I tested your example on my box and it works, even with multiple --exclude= on the same line. So the difference must be the idiotic /* that I appended to each sub-directory. I will test this tonight in the production script and report back. Another +1.
    – ateiob
    Feb 29 '12 at 21:43
  • For me, the answer from @carlo was the specific problem - stupid tar can't take --exclude as the last option on the command line - obviously causing lots of headaches. Thanks all.
    – moodboom
    Nov 29 '16 at 14:40

It may be that your version of tar requires that the --exclude options have to be placed at the beginning of the tar command.

See: https://stackoverflow.com/q/984204

tar --exclude='./folder' --exclude='./upload/folder2' \
    -zcvf /backup/filename.tgz .

See: http://mandrivausers.org/index.php?/topic/8585-multiple-exclude-in-tar/

tar --exclude=<first> --exclude=<second> -cjf backupfile.bz2 /home/*


EXCLD='first second third'
tar -X <(for i in ${EXCLD}; do echo $i; done) -cjf backupfile.bz2 /home/*

Yet another tar command tip is from here:

tar cvfz myproject.tgz --exclude='path/dir_to_exclude1' \
                       --exclude='path/dir_to_exclude2' myproject
  • See my update above. The last variation tried (no quotes, single space) works. I have no idea why. +1 for the well thought answer + links.
    – ateiob
    Mar 4 '12 at 3:51
  • FYI, under debian, If I dont precise the filter, like --exclude=mydir/* then it doesnt work (using tar --exclude=maindir/mydir/* -cjf archive.tar2.bz2 maindir/*). Feb 6 '18 at 10:31
  • 1
    @OlivierPons rather than "under debian", or perhaps with it, put the version of tar (tar --version); debian will presumably ship with many different versions of tar through the years.
    – msouth
    Feb 9 '18 at 4:43
  • 3
    My version (1.29) only works with --exclude before -czf. Feb 25 '19 at 6:24
  • This was the correct solution for me using zsh, thank you. Dec 26 '19 at 17:02

For excluding multiple files, try


This will save some code and headache. This is a global solution, for all kind of programs / options. If you also want to include the parent directory in your selection (in this case data), you have to include a trailing comma. E.g.:

umount /data/{sub1,sub2,}
  • 4
    I love curlies. I find that a lot of people don't know about them, even with years of unix experience. mv /very/very/very/very/long/path/to/a/file{,.bak}
    – msouth
    Feb 9 '18 at 4:45
  • Note that by not using single quotes around the pattern this method takes advantage of shell pattern expansion, creating multiple positional arguments after the --exclude flag, instead of passing a glob(3) pattern that tar expands. See: gnu.org/software/tar/manual/html_node/…
    – thom_nic
    Jun 3 '20 at 19:16
  • Careful, the braces can break bash functions ... unexpected "{"
    – PJ Brunet
    Nov 29 '20 at 4:08

This link might be helpful. http://answers.google.com/answers/threadview/id/739467.html

Two immediate differences between the non-working line and some tips in the link:

  1. All excludes come after the top-level directory.
  2. Cannot have ANY spaces after the last --exclude.
  • Thanks. The answer by -MAK caught my attention and so far I have been able to spot the following differences between my non-working line and the following: 1. All excludes come after the top-level directory. 2. Cannot have ANY spaces after the last --exclude. I will test these insights and report back. +1 for now.
    – ateiob
    Feb 27 '12 at 16:20
  • @ateiob If you figure it out, can you post an answer here or edit this one? We generally prefer not having answers that are just links elsewhere Feb 27 '12 at 16:22
  • @Michael Mrozek Absolutely. This is exactly what I wrote in my comment. :)
    – ateiob
    Feb 27 '12 at 16:24

I am using a mac, and found that excludes weren't working unless the top level folder is the last argument

example of working command:

tar czvf tar.tgz --exclude='Music' dir


$: tar --version
bsdtar 2.8.3 - libarchive 2.8.3
  • Same goes with tar 1.27.1 via Ubuntu 14.04.
    – Greg Bell
    Oct 28 '15 at 23:56

In my case, it didn't exclude for a different reason.

The full path vs relative path.

Both the exclude and the directory must use the same path format (i.e both full path or both relative paths)


tar -cvf ctms-db-sync.tar --exclude='/home/mine/tmp/ctms-db-sync/sql' ctms-db-sync

This will not work because exclude uses full path where as the target uses a relative path

tar -cvf ctms-db-sync.tar --exclude='/home/mine/tmp/ctms-db-sync/sql' /home/mine/tmp/ctms-db-sync

This works because both use the full path

tar -cvf ctms-db-sync.tar --exclude='ctms-db-sync/sql' ctms-db-sync

This works because both use the relative path


A workaround may be to use a combination of find ... -prune and tar to exclude the specified directories.

On Mac OS X the --exclude option of GNU tar seems to work as it should though.

In the following test case the directories /private/var/log/asl and /private/var/log/DiagnosticMessages are to be excluded from a compressed archive of the /private/var/log directory.

# all successfully tested in Bash shell on Mac OS X (using gnutar and gfind)

# sudo port install findutils  # for gfind from MacPorts

sudo gnutar -czf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz /private/var/log --exclude "/private/var/log/asl" --exclude "/private/var/log/DiagnosticMessages"

sudo gnutar -czf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz  --exclude "/private/var/log/asl" --exclude "/private/var/log/DiagnosticMessages" /private/var/log

set -f # disable file name globbing
sudo gnutar -czf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz  --exclude "/private/var/log/asl" --exclude "/private/var/log/Diagnostic*" /private/var/log

# combining GNU find and tar (on Mac OS X)

sudo gfind /private/var/log -xdev -type d \( -name "asl" -o -name "DiagnosticMessages" \) -prune -o -print0 | 
   sudo gnutar --null --no-recursion -czf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz --files-from -

# exclude even more dirs
sudo gfind /private/var/log -xdev -type d \( -name "asl" -o -name "[Dacfks]*" \) -prune -o -print0 | 
    sudo gnutar --null --no-recursion -czf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz --files-from -

# testing the compressed archive

gnutar -C ~/Desktop -xzf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz

sudo gfind /private/var/log ~/Desktop/private \( -iname DiagnosticMessages -or -iname asl \)

sudo rm -rf ~/Desktop/varlog.tar.gz ~/Desktop/private
  • Thanks +1 for the suggestion. At this point I am still trying to understand why a well documented (and mature) feature isn't working in my script, nightly run by cron.
    – ateiob
    Mar 2 '12 at 14:52

Perhaps you can try the command with another option:


And check if it's running as intended.

  • See my update above. The last variation tried (no quotes, single space) works. I have no idea why. +1 for the idea.
    – ateiob
    Mar 4 '12 at 3:53

Just now detected on tar (GNU tar) 1.29

THis call does not exclude from archive files specified with --exclude-from:

/bin/tar --files-from ${datafile} --exclude-from ${excludefile} -jcf ${backupfile}

This call works coorectly:

/bin/tar --exclude-from ${excludefile} --files-from ${datafile} -jcf ${backupfile}

Order of parameters is important!


Instead of --exclude= use -X with a text file:



Additional notes to R Perrin's excellent answer:

Suppose you do not want to archive absolute but relative paths, e.g. 'data' instead of '/tmp/data'. To exclude absolute paths your tar arguments will differ based on the tar implementation (gnu tar vs. bsd tar) you use:

$ for i in 0 1 2; do
    for j in 0 1 2; do 
      mkdir -p /tmp/data/sub$i/sub$j
      echo foo > /tmp/data/sub$i/sub$j/foo

$ find /tmp/data/

$ cd /tmp/data; tar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar --exclude './sub[1-2]'

# ATTENTION: bsdtar's behaviour differs from traditional tar (without a leading '^')!
$ cd /tmp/data; bsdtar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar --exclude './sub[1-2]' .
a .
a ./sub0
a ./sub0/sub0
a ./sub0/sub0/foo

# FIX: Use a regex by adding a leading '^' will cause bsdtar to match only parent files and folders.
$ cd /tmp/data; bsdtar -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar --exclude '^./sub[1-2]' .
# ALTERNATIVE: bsdtar -C /tmp/data -zvcf /tmp/_data.tar --exclude '^./sub[1-2]' .
a .
a ./sub0
a ./sub0/sub2
a ./sub0/sub1
a ./sub0/sub0
a ./sub0/sub0/foo
a ./sub0/sub1/foo
a ./sub0/sub2/foo

I tried all sorts of combinations including a few of the answers listed and just couldn't get it to exclude the listed files.

So being fed up of chasing the answer to what was meant to be a five minute job I did the opposite: created an archive of the folders I wanted to include.

I did this by creating an archive then adding to it:

tar -cvpf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./bin
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./boot
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./etc
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./home
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./lib
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./sbin
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./usr
tar rvf /path/to/mybackup.tar ./var

A few notes:

  • I used the relative instead of absolute paths (which were also giving trouble) by running from the root of the filesystem.
  • You must create a plain tar (and not zipped tar .tgz / .tar.gz) archive - you can zip it later using gzip mybackup.tar
  • Make sure you don't put the archive in any folder you are including or you'll get some recursion (a partial backup also included in the backup itself).
  • Note the difference in the first command (create) from the others (add).
  • You can check that files are being added rather than the backup overwritten (e.g. after the second command) if you are paranoid by using tar tvf mybackup.tar.

The exclude family of parameters apply to the internal relative names of the files in the tarball. The absolute path you specify will never exist within the tarball since it only has relative paths from the provided root.

  • Welcome to the site, and thank you for your contribution. Perhaps you could add a quote from the tar documentation to back up this statement as the other answers seem to contradict. Alternatively, you may want to edit the answer to ensure it is not misunderstood.
    – AdminBee
    Jun 10 at 12:54

Success Case:

1) if giving full path to take backup, in exclude also should be used full path.

tar -zcvf /opt/ABC/BKP_27032020/backup_27032020.tar.gz \
    --exclude='/opt/ABC/csv/*' --exclude='/opt/ABC/log/*' /opt/ABC

2) if giving current path to take backup, in exclude also should be used current path only.

tar -zcvf backup_27032020.tar.gz \
    --exclude='ABC/csv/*' --exclude='ABC/log/*' ABC

Failure Case:

1) if giving currentpath directory to take backup and full path to ignore,then wont work

tar -zcvf /opt/ABC/BKP_27032020/backup_27032020.tar.gz \
    --exclude='/opt/ABC/csv/*' --exclude='/opt/ABC/log/*' ABC

Note: mentioning exclude before/after backup directory is fine.

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