Simple, cross-platform, continuous, bidirectional file synchronization for remote development
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README.md

Mutagen

Mutagen is a fast, continuous, bidirectional file synchronization tool. It can safely, scalably, and efficiently synchronize filesystem contents between arbitrary pairs of locations in near real-time. Support is currently implemented for locations on local filesystems, SSH-accessible filesystems, and Docker container filesystems.

Mutagen excels at supporting remote development scenarios, with options specifically designed to help developers edit code locally while building, running, or packaging it in a remote environment.

For a basic summary and quick usage information, please check out the documentation site.

Detailed information about Mutagen's unique features and advanced usage can be found below.

Status

Mutagen is a very powerful tool that is still in early beta. It will almost certainly have unknown issues. It should not be used on production or mission-critical systems. Use on any system is at your own risk (please see the license).

That being said, Mutagen is a very useful tool and I use it daily for work on remote systems. The more people who use it and report issues, the better it will get!

Windows macOS/Linux Code coverage Report card
Windows macOS/Linux Code coverage Report card

Usage

For a quick summary and usage guide that will cover most of your needs, please see the documentation site.

For information about Mutagen's SSH support, please see the SSH documentation.

For information about Mutagen's Docker support, please see the Docker documentation.

For information about Mutagen's configuration system, please see the configuration documentation.

For information about using Mutagen with version control systems, please see the VCS documentation.

For information about symlink support, please see the symlink documentation.

For information about ignoring files, please see the ignore documentation.

For information about filesystem watching, please see the watching documentation.

For information about Mutagen's safety mechanisms, please see the safety documentation.

For platform-specific instructions and known issues, please see the platform guide.

Unique features

Instead of providing a heavily biased feature comparison table, I'll just point out what I consider to be the unique and compelling features of Mutagen. Astute readers with knowledge of the file synchronization landscape can draw their own conclusions. I'd recommend that users read this list so they know what they're getting.

  • Mutagen is truly cross-platform, treating Linux, macOS, Windows, and other operating systems as first class citizens. Differences in OS and filesystem behavior are addressed head-on, not ignored until an edge case causes breakage. Mutagen attempts to handle quirks by default, e.g. dealing with case-(in)sensitivity, HFS's pseudo-NFD Unicode normalization, filesystems that don't support POSIX executability bits, or file names that might create NTFS alternate data streams.
  • Mutagen is a user-space utility, not requiring any kernel extensions or administrative permissions to use.
  • Mutagen only needs to be installed on the computer where you want to control synchronization. Mutagen comes with a broad range of small, cross-compiled "agent" binaries that it automatically copies to remote endpoints as necessary. Most major platforms and architectures are supported.
  • Mutagen is designed to handle very large directory hierarchies efficiently. It maintains a filesystem cache to allow quick re-scans and uses the rsync algorithm to transfer filesystem scans and files themselves. File transfers are also pipelined to mitigate the effects of latency. Mutagen won't break a sweat on a GB-sized directory hierarchy containing 100,000 files.
  • Mutagen propagates changes bidirectionally. Any conflicts that arise will be flagged for resolution. Automatic conflict resolution is performed if doing so does not result in the destruction of unsynchronized data. Manual conflict resolution is performed by manually deleting the undesired side of the conflict. Conflicts won't stop non-conflicting changes from propagating.
  • Mutagen is robust to connection drop-outs. It will attempt to reconnect automatically to endpoints and will resume synchronization safely. In the mean time, your local copy of a synchronization root continues to exist on the filesystem for you to access and edit like any other files. Once synchronization resumes, Mutagen will continue right where it left off, even resuming partially completed file staging.
  • Mutagen identifies changes to file contents rather than just modification times.
  • On systems that support recursive filesystem watching (macOS and Windows), Mutagen effeciently watches synchronization roots for changes. Other systems currently use regular and efficient polling out of a desire to support very large directory hierarchies that might exhaust watch and file descriptors. On Linux, Mutagen couples this polling with a restricted set of native watches on the most recently updated contents in order to maintain low-latency change notifications.
  • Mutagen is agnostic of the transport to endpoints - all it requires is a byte stream to each endpoint. Support is currently implemented for synchronization with local, SSH, and Docker endpoints, but support for other remote types can easily be added. As a corollary, Mutagen can even synchronize between two remote endpoints without ever needing a local copy of the files.
  • Mutagen can display dynamic synchronization status in the terminal.
  • Mutagen does not propagate (most) permissions, but it does preserve1 permissions when updating files. The only permission propagated by Mutagen is executability or lack thereof. Any other permissions are left untouched for existing files and set to user-only access for newly created files. This is by design, since Mutagen's main purpose is remote development. Nothing in the current design precludes adding more extensive permission propagation in the future.
  • Mutagen has (best-effort) safety mechanisms to avoid accidental data loss.

1 This preservation behavior is currently limited to POSIX systems, but should be coming to Windows systems soon.

You might have guessed that Mutagen's closest cousin is the Unison file synchronization tool. This tool has existed for ages, and while it is very good at what it does, it didn't quite fit my needs. In particular, it has a lot of knobs to turn, puts a lot of focus on transferring permissions (which can cause even more headaches), and requires installation on both ends of the connection. I wanted something simpler, a bit more performant, and just a bit more modern (the fact that Unison is written in rather terse OCaml also makes it a bit difficult to extend or support on more obscure platforms and architectures).

Building

Please see the build instructions.