Skip to content

Moving data around

You will likely need to move files around the cluster, and also copy data on/off the cluster.

Moving data around the cluster


rsync is the recommended way to move your data to another location on the cluster.

The mv command is fine for moving a single file. Once you start dealing with directories, or multiple files, we recommend rsync. The primary reason for this is that sometimes a procedure to move files may fail before completion - loss of network connection, storage quota exceeded, etc. - leaving your dataset in an undesirable state where some of the files have been moved, and others are still in the original location.

The safest way to bulk move files is to copy, check, then finally delete. If the task fails, you can safely repeat the process. This can be performed efficiently using rsync.


Rsync is a fast and versatile file copying tool, with a delta-transfer algorithm, which reduces the amount of data sent over the network by sending only the differences between the source files and the existing files in the destination - it is not only useful for copying sets of files to a new location, but also comparing a source and destination fileset and only copying the updated files.

The --remove-source-files option will even delete the original files, effectively performing the same action as mv, albeit in a safer way, because it can be restarted in case of interruption.

Basic examples of moving data around the cluster

No compression is required when moving files around locally.

# Copy a directory to another location on the cluster
rsync -av /data/home/abc123/source /data/example/destination

# Move a directory, using the copy, compare and delete method
rsync -av --remove-source-files /data/home/abc123/source /data/example/destination

Copying data to/from the cluster

This can be achieved using various methods, including rsync and Globus.

Using rsync

Examples of copying data to/from the cluster with rsync

These examples employ the -z compression option, and the optional --partial option which makes resumption of interrupted transfers quicker when dealing with large files. If you are on a high bandwidth connection, you may not require compression, since the data transfer speed may be constrained by the time taken to compress the data.

The following examples assume that the username is called abc123. You will want to replace that with your own username.

These commands need to be run from the local machine, not on the cluster

# Copy a local directory called local_dir to your cluster home directory
rsync -avz --partial local_dir

# Copy the contents of a local directory to your cluster home directory
# Note that this will only copy what is inside local_dir.
rsync -avz --partial local_dir/

# Copy a local directory to a specific directory on the cluster
# If the location is not in your home directory you need to specify the whole path
rsync -avz --partial example_local_dir/

# Copy a directory from the cluster to the current working directory on your local machine.
rsync -avz --partial .

If you are not using ssh-agent, an additional option is required:

# Replace "/path/to/private_key" with the real path to your private ssh key
rsync -avz --partial \
      -e "ssh -i /path/to/private_key" \

Some rsync options include:

-a, --archive               archive mode; equals -rlptgoD (no -H,-A,-X)
    -r, --recursive             recurse into directories
    -l, --links                 copy symlinks as symlinks
    -p, --perms                 preserve permissions
    -t, --times                 preserve modification times
    -g, --group                 preserve group
    -o, --owner                 preserve owner (super-user only)
--partial                   keep partially transferred files
-v, --verbose               increase verbosity
-z, --compress              compress file data during the transfer

Note that rsync provides lots of other useful features that aren't covered here.

Dry run

Sometimes an rsync command line can get complicated, using -n or --dry-run will allow you to test what your command will attempt to do, without actually affecting any data.

Example job

Long-running transfers from Apocrita to another remote server (i.e. a Tier 2 cluster) should be run as a job e.g.

#$ -cwd
#$ -j y
#$ -pe smp 1
#$ -l h_rt=240:0:0
#$ -l h_vmem=1G

rsync -av <source> <destination>

Data transfers between a local machine and Apocrita cannot be submitted as a cluster job - please follow an alternative method published on this page.


You can also use Globus to move data onto and off the cluster. This is particularly useful when external collaborators are involved, since they will not require an Apocrita account.

Using SCP

SCP (secure copy) can be used to copy individual files over ssh, although unlike rsync, resuming of file copying is not supported. If your connection is interrupted, you will have to repeat the upload.

Change the username from abc123 to your username in these examples.

# Copy a file to your home directory on the cluster
scp example_file

# Copy a file to a specific directory on the cluster e.g. scratch
scp example_file

# Copy whole directory to the home directory on the cluster
scp -r example_directory

If you are not using ssh-agent, an additional option is required:

# Replace "/path/to/private_key" with the real path to your private ssh key
scp -i /path/to/private_key example_file

Using SFTP

SFTP (Secure File Transfer) can be used to interactively transfer files over ssh.

Command line

$ sftp
sftp> ls
example_remote_file1  example_remote_file_2
sftp> lls
example_local_file1  example_local_file_2
sftp> get example_remote_file1
Fetching /data/home/abc123/example_remote_file1 to example_remote_file1
sftp> put example_local_file1
Uploading example_local_file1 to /data/home/abc123/example_local_file1

Further commands are available via the help command or the man pages.

GUI - FileZilla

For a GUI on Windows, Mac OS or Linux we suggest FileZilla.

Adding a site connection

To connect to the cluster:

  • From the File menu open the Site Manager.
  • Click the New Site button and name the connection Apocrita.
  • In the Host box enter
  • Set the Protocol to SFTP.
  • Set the Logon Type to Normal
  • Enter your Apocrita username in the User field e.g. abc123.
  • Enter your Apocrita login password in the Password field.


Importing a private key into FileZilla

Your private key can be presented via the SSH agent, or you can import the key into FileZilla:

  • Click Edit, then Settings.
  • In the Connection section, click SFTP.
  • Click Add key file... to import an existing private key into FileZilla.
  • Browse to the relevant OpenSSH private key.
  • Select Yes when asked if you would like to convert it into a supported format.
  • Provide a filename for the converted key file e.g. filezilla-apocrita-key.ppk, then click Save to import it.


Finally, you can return to the Site Manager and click Connect on the Apocrita site you created.

FileZilla security

If you ask FileZilla to save passwords for you, it is recommended that you protect passwords with a master password. This can be found under Edit-> Settings -> Interface.

Adding bookmarks to commonly used folders

You can optionally set up bookmarks under the Apocrita site, to jump to specific folders, such as scratch, or shared storage:

  • From the File menu open the Site Manager.
  • Select the Apocrita site.
  • Press the New Bookmark button.
  • Give the bookmark an appropriate name (e.g. YOURSHARE-NAME).
  • Enter the path to the desired folder in the Remote Directory box e.g. /data/YOURSHARE-NAME.

Selecting the bookmark and clicking Connect will open the folder.

Using Mobaxterm on Windows

Mobaxterm can use rsync or the gui to download/upload files.

Mobaxterm - RSYNC

Mobaxterm is bundled with a command-line rsync tool that functions identically to the one described above. Be sure to use full paths as you may experience issues with mobaxterm incorrectly interpreting shortcuts.

# On QMUL-managed computers /drives/g should point to your Windows home folder.
rsync -avz /drives/g

Mobaxterm - GUI

Login to Apocrita as per Logging in. The left sidebar should then display a list of files on the remote server.
Files can be downloaded by right clicking and selecting 'Download'.


Files can be uploaded by clicking the upload button mobaup_screen at the top of the sidebar.

Alternatively files can be drag-and-dropped from file explorer.


Using WinSCP on Windows

Adding a site connection to WinSCP

After launching WinSCP, the connection manager window will appear. Enter the following details to connect to Apocrita:

  • Set the File protocol to SFTP.
  • In the Host name box enter
  • Enter your Apocrita username in the User name field e.g. abc123.
  • Enter your Apocrita login password in the Password field.
  • Click on the Advanced... button, then Authentication under the SSH branch in the left navigation tree.
  • Click the ... button in the Private key file field and choose your private SSH key.
  • Click on the OK button, followed by the Save button to save your session.



Saving settings in a non-standard directory

On QMUL managed computers, you may face a permissions issue when saving your settings, if the WinSCP installation directory is not writable by non-administrator accounts. To save your settings in a non-standard directory, change the path to the INI file, following the below instructions:

  • From the main WinSCP window, click on Options in the menu bar and choose Preferences.
  • In the left navigation tree, choose Storage.
  • In Configuration storage, select the Custom INI file option and enter a path that is writable for your user account (alternatively select a location using the ... browser).


Aspera - ASCP

Aspera's ascp is a high-speed file transfer application, commonly used for the download of genome data and other large datasets.

To load the ascp binary into your PATH, run command: module load aspera.

Usage: ascp [OPTION] SRC... DEST
          SRC to DEST, or multiple SRC to DEST dir
          SRC, DEST format: [[user@]host:]PATH

Transfer rate limit

By default, ascp will utilise all available bandwidth, and impact other cluster users. To avoid this, please set the max transfer rate to 300Mbit/s by passing the -l 300M switch.