Fixing “rsync: connection unexpectedly closed”

I roll this blog out with rsync. Yesterday I realized that my server is accumulating stale files, like no-longer-used stylesheets and images, so I added --delete to the list of options. Upon my next deploy, I got this error:

rsync: connection unexpectedly closed (0 bytes received so far) [sender]
rsync error: error in rsync protocol data stream (code 12) at io.c(226)
[sender=3.1.2]

Even though the Internet has a number of solutions for this, none worked for me. I ended up figuring it out myself, and since it’s not even hinted at on rsync debugging page, I decided to document it here.

Turns out1, I limited my remote shell to running just one command—the one that rsync runs when it’s syncing the files. I think I did it in order to prevent crackers from easily exploiting the shell even if they somehow guessed the key. In other words, my remote user’s ~/.ssh/authorized_keys looked like this:

command="rsync --server -vre.iLsfxC --partial . ." ssh-rsa KEY me@host

When I changed my local rsync’s arguments, its expectations about the remote’s output changed, and the transfer failed. rsync sent an updated command to the server, of course, but it was ignored because of the command entry above. (See the corresponding section in sshd(8) for details.)

The immediate fix was simple enough: run rsync with -e 'ssh -v', grep the output for “debug1: Sending command”, update authorized_keys. The long-term solution (which I haven’t deployed yet) seem to be the rrsync script, which is bundled with rsync and is created to prevent exactly the problem I ran into. Why didn’t I just use it in the first place?


  1. It’s always fun to re-discover the decisions you’ve made and completely forgot about, isn’t it?

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