I will be backing up a large (750GB) disk to an external USB disk using dd.
Should I be using redirection or piping? Which is more efficient? Or is there a difference?

Also, what is the best block size? USB is likely to be the bottleneck here.

dd if=/dev/sda bs=1M | gzip -c > /mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz

gzip -dc /mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz | dd of=/dev/sda bs=1M


dd if=/dev/sda bs=1M | gzip -c | dd of=/mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz

dd if=/mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz | gzip -dc | dd of=/dev/sda bs=1M


  • 2
    I would try to backup file systems, not raw disk images. And to tune the parameters, you'll have to benchmark. – Basile Starynkevitch Mar 12 '12 at 6:20
  • dd is archaic (any other tool thankfully does away with bs= and count=, like ddrescue), and in your case also pretty much pointless. Just pipe it into gzip -c </dev/sda >disk.img.gz & gzip -cd disk.img.gz >/dev/sda. – jørgensen Mar 12 '12 at 11:12
  • Or do it with rsync. Just construct the command with the parameters, and it will do you everything in the most efficient way it thinks. – vakufo Mar 12 '12 at 11:53
  • In the second command of the second listing, what is the dd if=.../disk.img.gz | part supposed to do? As far as I understand, gzip -dc (=zcat) doesn't care for its stdin when there's a file argument. – sr_ Mar 12 '12 at 13:57
  • I don't think Linux can reliably reproduce Windows installations by simply copying the file structure. Hence, the need for bit-wise copying like dd. ddrescue looks more robust then plain dd. Would you use GNU ddrescue or dd_rescue? What is a good Live CD to download? – mcu Mar 12 '12 at 20:45

Piping involves one more process and one more user-land copy, so it should be more efficient to use redirection.

But I guess that on nowadays hardware & software caching system, it should not make any real difference. Maybe you can have better results using bs=4k or bs=64k, since it's the pipe's limit under linux. See this question for more detail about different bs parameters.

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You don't need to use dd or piping at all.

</dev/sda gzip >/mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz
</mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz gunzip >/dev/sda

I once made a benchmark and found using dd slower than cat for a straight copy between different disks. I would expect the pipe to make any solution involving dd even slower in this case.

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  • That is an example of using redirection. – psusi Mar 13 '12 at 17:42
  • @psusi Gah! I meant to write “dd or piping”. Thanks. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Mar 13 '12 at 17:47
  • Is there a way to combine pv in these commands? – Yaron Feb 19 '18 at 21:24
  • 2
    @Yaron Sure: replace gzip by pv | gzip and gzip -d by gzip -d | gv – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Feb 19 '18 at 21:58


gzip -c /dev/sda > disk.img.gz
gzip -dc /mnt/sdb1/backups/disk.img.gz > /dev/sda 
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