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Version 0.2 | Entry @ | See also: yastasoti

ellsync is an opinionated poka-yoke for rsync.

  • opinionated: it was designed for a particular use case for rsync (offline backups).
  • poka-yoke: it exposes a restricted interface to rsync, which prevents using it in dangerous ways.

Because the restricted interface that ellsync presents can be accessed by shorthand form, it also happens to provide some convenience over using rsync directly — but its real purpose is to increase safety. (I've been burned more than once when I've made a mistake using rsync.)

Quick start

Make sure you have Python (2.7 or 3.x) installed, clone this repository, and put its bin directory on your executable search path. You will then be able to run ellsync from your terminal.

Usage guide

Backup router

ellsync's operation is based on a backup router which is a JSON file that looks like this:

    "art": {
        "from": "/media/user/External1/art/",
        "to": "/home/user/art/"

In this, art is the name of a backup stream, in which files in /media/user/External1/art/ (called the canonical) are periodically synced to /home/user/art/ (called the cache).

The idea is that all changes to the contents of the canonical directory are bona fide changes, but any change to the contents of the cache can be discarded.

syncdirs command

With the above router saved as router.json we can then say

ellsync router.json syncdirs /home/user/art/ /media/user/External1/art/

and this will in effect run

rsync --archive --verbose --delete --dry-run /home/user/art/ /media/user/External1/art/

Note that by default it only runs a --dry-run. It's a good practice to do a dry run first, to see what will be changed. As a bonus, the files involved will often remain in the filesystem cache, meaning a subsequent actual run will go quite quickly. To do that actual run, use --apply:

ellsync router.json syncdirs /home/user/art/ /media/user/External1/art/ --apply

Note that if we try

ellsync router.json syncdirs /media/user/External1/art/ /home/user/art/

we will be prevented, because it is an error, because the direction of the backup stream is always from canonical to cache.

Various other configurations are prevented. You may have noticed that rsync is sensitive about whether a directory name ends in a slash or not. ellsync detects when a trailing slash is missing and adds it. Thus

ellsync router.json syncdirs /media/user/External1/art /home/user/art/

is still interpreted as

rsync --archive --verbose --delete /home/user/art/ /media/user/External1/art/

(but note that the directories in the router do need to have the trailing slashes.)

list command

Either the canonical or the cache (or both) may be offline storage (removable media), therefore neither directory is assumed to exist (it might not exist if the volume is not mounted.) If either of the directories does not exist, ellsync will refuse to use this backup stream. Based on this, there is a subcommand to list which streams are, at the moment, backupable:

ellsync router.json list

sync command

Since each stream configuration is named in the router, we don't even have to give these directory names. We can use the sync command where we give just the name of the stream, followed by a colon (more on that in a second):

ellsync router.json sync art:

Also, since the contents of the canonical and the cache normally have the same directory structure, ellsync allows specifying that only a subdirectory of a stream is to be synced:

ellsync router.json sync /home/user/art/painting/ /media/user/External1/art/painting/

This is of course allowed only as long as it is the same subdirectory. This will fail:

ellsync router.json sync /home/user/art/painting/ /media/user/External1/art/sculpture/

And this can be combined with the short, name-the-stream syntax, and explains why there is a colon in it:

ellsync router.json sync art:painting/

rename command

Sometimes you want to rename a subdirectory somewhere under the canonical of one of the streams. It's completely fine to do this, but the next time it is synced, rsync will treat it, in the cache, as the old subdirectory being deleted and a new subdirectory being created. If there are a large number of files in the subdirectory, this delete-and-create sync can take a long time. It's also not obvious from rsync's logging output that everything being deleted is also being created somewhere else.

To ease this situation, ellsync has a rename command that works like so:

ellsync router.json rename art: sclupture sculpture

This renames the /media/user/External1/art/sclupture directory to /media/user/External1/art/sculpture and also renames the /home/user/art/sclupture directory to /home/user/art/sculpture. If the contents of the source and destination directories were in sync before this rename occurred, they will continue to be in sync after the rename happens.

Hints and Tips

You might have a router you use almost always, in which case you might want to establish an alias like

alias myellsync ellsync $HOME/my-standard-router.json

(or whatever.)


If rsync encounters an error, it will abort, having only partially completed. In particular, if it encounters a directory which it cannot read, because it is for example owned by another user and not world-readable, it will abort. ellsync does not currently detect this properly (if it is detectable (I hope that it is!))



Every ellsync functionality has an explicit subcommand (list and sync to start.)

sync was split into sync (takes a stream) and syncdirs (takes to and from dirs).

Added rename command.


Initial release.