rsync and symbolic links

  1. "Copy symlinks as symlinks" means exactly what it says: If rsync sees a symlink in the source directory, it will create an identical symlink in the destination. Nothing more.

    (A few lines down in the manual page, a different option, --copy-links, describes the opposite behavior (always copying the data) which you described as undesirable.)

    See also the section "Symbolic links":

    If --links is specified, then symlinks are recreated with the same target on the destination.

  2. It's not the behavior you want because you're misinterpreting what --links does and therefore asking for the wrong behavior (see answer #1).

  3. By default, it copies the destination exactly.

    That is, if the link pointed to an absolute path (e.g. /home/me/projects), it'll continue pointing to the same path; it won't break, it'll just continue pointing to a file in your home directory rather than the one in your backup.

    Meanwhile, if the link pointed to a relative path (e.g. ../../projects), it'll also continue pointing to the same path, but since it's relative to the symlink's location, the symlink in your backup will also be pointing to a file in your backup.

    Unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any option to translate absolute symlinks for their new base (only an option to break them entirely). To avoid problems, you should change existing symlinks to relative ones (which is a good idea generally, for links inside $HOME).

@grawity has a great answer, but here's a screenshot of some relevant info from the documentation. Here's the exact wording of the -l and -L options, for instance, which seem to be the most relevant ones in question:

enter image description here

Source:, or man rsync manual pages on Linux.

Note also that the -a (--archive) option also includes the -l option within it, which is awesome, since I really like using the -l option to preserve my symlinks from the source as symlinks on the destination. From the man pages:

-a, --archive               archive mode; equals -rlptgoD (no -H,-A,-X)

Note, for my favorite rsync commands and instructions, including copying, mirroring, showing total progress...

...doing dry runs, logging stderr and stdout to (separate) files, showing stats, using an include path file and an exclude file, etc, see my full answer here under the 2nd section, titled "2. rsync Command-line tool (Linux, Windows with Cygwin)":