I would like to use rsync-over-ssh to pull backups from many remote traget machines to a central backup.

I could do this as the root user, but that would allow me to accidentally run a bad rsync command which wrote to, or deleted from, a machine which should be being backed-up.

Is there anyway of putting a read-only-root user on the target machines?

The rsync command needs to be able to read any files on the target machines, but must not be able to write.

  • You should also look at using rsyncd as a daemon on each remote (see man rsync), where you can configure which files can be accessed, and if for read or write. However, it does not use ssh so dont use it on a public network.
    – meuh
    Sep 5, 2019 at 12:31

2 Answers 2


Run the read side of rsync as a dedicated non-root user but with the capability CAP_DAC_READ_SEARCH. The user should have a full view of the filesystem (of course) and access to a copy of /usr/bin/rsync which has this capability. I'm not very familiar with capabilities on Linux but I think this is how to set it up:

cp /usr/bin/rsync /usr/local/sbin/rsync-for-backup
chown root.root /usr/local/sbin/rsync-for-backup
chmod 700 /usr/local/sbin/rsync-for-backup
setfacl -m user:backupuser:rx /usr/local/sbin/rsync-for-backup
setcap cap_dac_read_search+ep /usr/local/sbin/rsync-for-backup

Remember to keep the copy updated whenever rsync is updated. Pass --rsync-path=/usr/local/sbin/rsync-for-backup on the other side.

(I assume Linux. Other Unix variants would need other solutions.)

Some other potential approaches:

  • The bindfs solution from https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/91522 would let you read file contents but would mangle some metadata. I'm not sure offhand if there's a way to make this work for backups.
  • Running as root but with restrictive SELinux rules should do the trick, but don't ask me what the rules would have to be.
  • Thanks I will try this.
    – fadedbee
    Sep 6, 2019 at 8:33

You would need to run the rsync as a user on the remote system that has read-only rights. E.g. rsync -a read_only_user@target_machine:/path/to/files /backup/location

It's worth noting that rsync will only delete files when used with the --delete flag.

You might have a look at the rsync wrapper rrsync where you can specify a -ro flag.

For your use case I'd recommend to take a look at rsnapshot as well, as it is pretty convenient for a central backup while saving diskspace through utilization of hardlinks (https://rsnapshot.org).

  • The problem with running rsync as non-root is that many files have to belong to specific user/groups and have specific permissions, so I can't see a way of making files accessible to a "backup" user.
    – fadedbee
    Sep 6, 2019 at 8:31
  • Re: rsnapshot - I'm using ZFS on the backup machine, so I already have snapshots. (Daily for a month, monthly for a year, and annual.)
    – fadedbee
    Sep 6, 2019 at 8:32

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .