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Rsyncing to New Heights in Linux Lore

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Need to transfer large files? Open source guru John Tränkenschuh explains why rsync is the wonder tool of the Internet and why it's better than FTP.
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After working with Cygwin, you may decide to run a dedicated Linux partition. Many distributions exist out there, and it’s tough to make a decision. One very interesting distribution is called White Box Linux, available at http://www.whiteboxlinux.org. It is descended from RedHat Linux products but has some unique features, like a new installation procedure.

There is a problem, though. The website provides four CD ISO images for your download. But that is harder than you might think. You really, really want to try out a new Linux distribution, but it simply won’t download well. That happened to me. The download starts well and then gets radically slower. White Box Linux has a site as speedy as any other; no, the problem is on my end. My satellite vendor really cranks down on the bandwidth once 100MB or so is downloaded. Then it offers a small ray of hope: Use a Download Manager.

Download Manager? Oh yes, there are many, and they are free. However, the last free Download Manager I got for my Windows system set off adware and spyware alarms. Also, those tools work with FTP. Everyone seems to hit sites with FTP or browser downloads. I want an edge—a way to connect that’s unique. I want something that will quickly determine the best way to resume transferring a file. After all, I’ll be downloading nearly 3GB of data in four large files.

And that’s when it hit me like a load of bricks dropped from an overpass: Cygwin allows me to use Open Source tools. I resolved to try downloading my CD images via rsync and my Cygwin environment. I will really put my Cygwin environment to good use. So what is rsync and why is it better than FTP?

Rsync is the wonder tool of the Internet for planned file transfer. It can send only the changes made to a file, saving you the time lost retransmitting existing file content. It can replicate entire directory trees recursively. It can send files with on-demand file compression. This is excellent if you must copy large files with little bandwidth. Want security? It works well within ssh tunnels, allowing you to securely automate with digital keys versus passwords.

Because of these and other benefits to the server administrator, many Open Source repositories offer anonymous rsync reads. This is good for you. You can be one of the few rsync users among all those FTP users. That gives you a less busy connection to the server.

This article offers information on rsync when using your Cygwin system. It empowers you from restrictive file transfer managers that may come with hidden backdoors and track your moves. The article even shows off Linux and Cygwin power. To make this work, you need the ability to:

  • Use the Cygwin command line well. Specifically, you must know how to navigate file systems using relative and absolute file paths.
  • Plan where you want to place your retrieved files.
  • Type long commands and command recall reliably.
  • Know a great tool when you see one.

Let’s begin with the basics. Where do you get good information on rsync? You might point your browser to http://rsync.samba.org. While there, download a few of the documents. Specifically, you should visit http://rsync.samba.org/documentation.html and http://rsync.samba.org/examples.html.

Now that you have some background on rsync, let’s begin a transfer from White Box Linux. This article helps you accomplish the following steps:

  1. Ensure adequate storage space.
  2. Create and then navigate to the storage directory.
  3. Experiment with rsync and many of its common switches.

It is really that simple to get the goods you need—without using suspect download managers and FTP.

Got Storage?

I’ve known several people who ran into system problems as their disk free space got low. Windows ’swap’ storage space isn’t a separate partition, and when swap gets low, Windows has problems. I’ve seen print jobs with illustrations that take megabytes of temporary storage. In short, you need 3GB of storage to maintain storage capacity for swap as well. If you have only 3.5GB of free space left, maybe using your machine during the download, you may face system lockups. Ensure plenty of free space and maybe run Disk Defrag so that the new big files are stored efficiently. Maybe buy a cheap external disk drive that interfaces via something fast, like FireWire and USB 2. Once this is done, you’re ready to build your storage depot.

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