File Sync

Skaffold supports copying changed files to a deployed container so as to avoid the need to rebuild, redeploy, and restart the corresponding pod. The file copying is enabled by adding a sync section with sync rules to the artifact in the skaffold.yaml. Under the hood, Skaffold creates a tar file with changed files that match the sync rules. This tar file is sent to and extracted on the corresponding containers.

Multiple types of sync are supported by Skaffold:

  • manual: The user must specify both the files in their local workspace and the destination in the running container. This sync mode is supported by every type of artifact.

  • infer: The destinations for each changed file is inferred from the builder. The docker and kaniko builders examine instructions in a Dockerfile. This inference is also supported for custom artifacts that explicitly declare a dependency on a Dockerfile. The ko builder can sync static content using this sync mode.

  • auto: Skaffold automatically configures the sync. This mode is only supported by Jib and Buildpacks artifacts. Auto sync mode is enabled by default for Buildpacks artifacts.

Manual sync mode

A manual sync rule must specify the src and dest field. The src field is a glob pattern to match files relative to the artifact context directory, which may contain ** to match nested files. The dest field is the absolute or relative destination path in the container. If the destination is a relative path, an absolute path will be inferred by prepending the path with the container’s WORKDIR. By default, matched files are transplanted with their whole directory hierarchy below the artifact context directory onto the destination. The optional strip field can cut off some levels from the directory hierarchy. The following example showcases manual filesync:

    - image:
      context: node
          # sync a single file into the `/etc` folder
          - src: '.filebaserc'
            dest: /etc

          # sync files directly below `static-html` into `static/`
          - src: 'static-html/*.html'
            dest: static

          # sync any `png` file into the assets folder
          - src: '**/*.png'
            dest: assets

          # sync all `md` files from `content/en` into `content`
          - src: 'content/en/**/*.md'
            dest: content
            strip: 'content/en/'
  • The first rule synchronizes the file .filebaserc to the /etc folder in the container.
  • The second rule synchronizes all html files in the static-html folder into the <WORKDIR>/static folder in the container. Note that this pattern does not match files in sub-folders below static-html (e.g. static-html/a.html but not static-html/sub/a.html).
  • The third rule synchronizes all png files from any sub-folder into the assets folder on the container. For example, img.pngassets/img.png or sub/img.pngassets/sub/img.png.
  • The last rule synchronizes all md files below the content/en directory into the content folder on the container. The strip directive ensures that only the directory hierarchy below content/en is re-created at the destination. For example, content/en/index.mdcontent/ or content/en/sub/index.mdcontent/sub/

Inferred sync mode

For Docker artifacts, Skaffold knows how to infer the desired destination from the artifact’s Dockerfile by examining the ADD and COPY instructions.

For Ko artifacts, Skaffold infers the destination from the structure of your codebase.

To enable syncing, you specify which files are eligible for syncing in the sync rules. The sync rules for inferred sync mode is a list of glob patterns.

The following example showcases this filesync mode for Docker artifacts:

Given this Dockerfile:

FROM hugo

ADD .filebaserc /etc/
ADD assets assets/
COPY static-html static/
COPY content/en content/

And a skaffold.yaml with the following sync configuration:

    - image:
      context: node
        - '.filebaserc'
        - 'static-html/*.html'
        - '**/*.png'
        - 'content/en/**/*.md'
  • The first rule synchronizes the file .filebaserc to /etc/.filebaserc in the container.
  • The second rule synchronizes all html files in the static-html folder into the <WORKDIR>/static folder in the container. Note that this pattern does not match files in sub-folders below static-html (e.g. static-html/a.html but not static-html/sub/a.html).
  • The third rule synchronizes any png. For example if assest/img.pngassets/img.png or static-html/imgs/demo.pngstatic/imgs/demo.png.
  • The last rule enables synchronization for all md files below the content/en. For example, content/en/sub/index.mdcontent/sub/ but not content/en_GB/

For Docker artifacts, inferred sync mode only applies to modified and added files; file deletion will cause a complete rebuild.

For multi-stage Dockerfiles, Skaffold only examines the last stage. Use manual sync rules to sync file copies from other stages.

Ko artifacts supports syncing static content, and the sync rules apply to added, modified, and deleted files.

Auto sync mode

In auto sync mode, Skaffold automatically generates sync rules for known file types. Changes to other file types will result in a complete rebuild.


Skaffold works with Cloud Native Buildpacks builders to automatically sync and relaunch applications on changes to certain types of files. The GCP Buildpacks builder ( supports syncing the following types of source files:

  • Go: *.go
  • Java: *.java, *.kt, *.scala, *.groovy, *.clj
  • NodeJS: *.js, *.mjs, *.coffee, *.litcoffee, *.json

The GCP Buildpacks builder will detect the changed files and automatically rebuild and relaunch the application. Changes to other file types trigger an image rebuild.

Disable Auto Sync for Buildpacks

To disable auto sync, set = false:

- image: xxx
    auto: false   # disable buildpacks auto-sync
How it works

Skaffold requires special collaboration from buildpacks for the auto sync to work.

Cloud Native Buildpacks set a label on the images they create. This labels points to json description of the Bill-of-Materials, aka BOM of the build. In the BOM, under the metadata.devmode.sync key, Buildpacks that want to collaborate with Skaffold have to output the sync rules based on their exploration of the source and the build process they had to apply to it. Those sync rules will then be used by Skaffold without the user having to configure them manually.

Another thing the Buildpacks have to do is support the GOOGLE_DEVMODE environment variable. Skaffold will set it to 1 when running skaffold dev with sync configured to auto: true. The Buildpacks can then use that signal to change the way the application is built so that it reloads the changes or rebuilds the app on each change.


Jib integration with Skaffold allows for zero-config auto sync. In this mode, Jib will sync your class files, resource files, and Jib’s “extra directories” files to a remote container as changes are made. It can only be used with Jib in the default build mode (exploded) for non-WAR applications. It was primarily designed around Spring Boot Developer Tools, but can work with any embedded server that can reload/restart.

Check out the Jib Sync example for more details.


File sync has some limitations:

  • File sync can only update files that can be modified by the container’s configured User ID.
  • File sync requires the tar command to be available in the container.
  • Only local source files can be synchronized: files created by the builder will not be copied.
  • It is currently not allowed to mix manual, infer and auto sync modes. If you have a use-case for this, please let us know!
Last modified May 14, 2024: release: v2.12.0 (#9418) (f386e6c)