I have been testing rsync and found a weird bug when copying files and folders from a partition to another:

If I do this:

rsync -avE --delete '/Volumes/disk1/origin/' '/Volumes/disk2/destination/'

It copies/syncronizes correctly.

The next time I use rsync for the same syncronization, some modification dates in files (not folders!) become incorrect (are changed to the current date and time), even though I have used the -a in the rsync command which should preserve it.

The most weird thing is that if I redo it, the dates that were wrong are correct now, which means rsync is changing the modification dates every second time it is run, and when it changes the dates, it is always to the same files, I don't see a pattern other than just affecting files and the same files.

What am I doing wrong and can this be fixed?

This is with OS X 10.9.5, using the terminal, rsync 2.6.9

  • 1
    What are the filesystems on these two volumes? FAT has a notorious design issue where modification times can only be represented at a 2-second resolution. rsync doesn't always handle this well. Jun 16, 2015 at 15:39
  • @ChrisHarrington both are with Mac OS Extended (Journaled), and with a standard GUID Partition Table.
    – jackJoe
    Jun 16, 2015 at 16:12
  • 3
    See comments here rsync 2.6.9 has a known bug on modification times - get a newer version
    – mmmmmm
    Jun 16, 2015 at 16:58
  • @Mark I suspected that rsync might have to be updated, wich I have done for a test (updated to version 3.1.0) but the creation date (in the case of this new version) is not retained... So part of the problem is solved, now I have a new one. Maybe I need to use different options and not just the -avE?
    – jackJoe
    Jun 16, 2015 at 17:42
  • @jackJoe creation date always changes when a file gets a new inode ( well, a Catalog node ID in hfs). I'm assuming that you are running a 64bit kernel in which case birthtime should be preserved. Did you compile rsync yourself ?
    – fd0
    Jun 17, 2015 at 17:13

1 Answer 1


Let me correct my comment: A 64bit timestamp consist of access-modification-change-birthtime.

From man 2 stat the following system calls change the respective times.

The time-related fields of struct stat are as follows:

 st_atime         Time when file data last accessed.  Changed by the mknod(2), utimes(2) and read(2) system calls.

 st_mtime         Time when file data last modified.  Changed by the mknod(2), utimes(2) and write(2) system calls.

 st_ctime         Time when file status was last changed (inode data modification).  Changed by the chmod(2), chown(2), link(2), mknod(2), rename(2),
                  unlink(2), utimes(2) and write(2) system calls.

 st_birthtime     Time of file creation. Only set once when the file is created. This field is only available in the 64 bit inode variants. On filesys-
                  tems where birthtime is not available, this field holds the ctime instead.

Tools such as cp,ditto, and pax can preserve OS X metadata when they are called to copy files. These tools will not preserve birthtime if the modification time is newer than the original file's birthtime. Birthtime of the new file is set to the modification time of the original file.

If you compile rsync with the patches fileflags, crtimes, hfs-compression then rsync can handle OS X metadata and preserve the original file's birthtime on the new file.

So, you would call rsync like this.

rsync -avXN --delete SOURCE DESTINATION

I suggest that you have a long read of the rsync manual and understand the options that I have suggested before you attempt to apply them.

  • Following your suggestion and this tutorial to upgrade rsync selfsuperinit.com/2014/01/04/… I used the rsync -avXN --delete SOURCE DESTINATION and it works great, all the modification dates, creation dates, etc, are retained, so problem solved, thanks!
    – jackJoe
    Jun 22, 2015 at 15:49
  • -N is not an option. Did you mean -n for dry run? However, this still does not work for me. macOS Sierra 10.12 with rsync 3.1.2 (manually updated). Creation date on the destination is copying the modification date on the source. Oct 30, 2016 at 11:07
  • @lukejanicke- Did you apply the patches that I mentioned? If you did then the -N option should be available. From rsync -h:-N, --crtimes preserve create times (newness).
    – fd0
    Oct 30, 2016 at 11:26
  • @jackJoe The link you shared is broken. I assumed it was just a tutorial to upgrade. I manually upgraded to rsync 3.1.2 and there is still no -N in the options. Did that tutorial contain anything more than upgrade instructions? Oct 30, 2016 at 12:39
  • I found this romej.com/2016/04/rsync-backups-on-os-x which explains how to include the patches, which I didn’t realise were seperate. Oct 30, 2016 at 13:51

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