How to Copy Files and Directories in Linux
4 min read
Copying files and directories is one of the most common tasks you’ll perform when working on the command line. In Linux, there are several commands for copying files with
rsync being the most widely used tools.
It is a common practice to use the
cp command when copying files and
rsync command when copying directories.
To be able to copy files and directories, you must have at least read permissions on the source file and write permission on the destination directory.
Copying Files with the
On Linux and Unix operating systems, the
cp command is used for copying files and directories.
The most simple use case is to copy a file in the current working directory. For example, to copy a file named
file.txt to file named
file_backup.txt in the current directory, you would run the following command:
cp file.txt file_backup.txt
If the destination file exists, it will be overwritten. To get a confirmation prompt before overwriting the files, use the
cp -i file.txt file_backup.txt
cp -p file.txt file_backup.txt
Another option that can be useful is
-v. When using this option, the command prints what is being done:
cp -v file.txt file_backup.txt
'file.txt' -> 'file_backup.txt'
Copy a file to a directory
To copy a file to a directory, specify the absolute or the relative path to the directory. If the destination directory is omitted the file is copied to the current directory.
In the following example we are copying the file
file.txt to the
cp file.txt /backup
When specifying only the directory name as destination the copied file will have the same name as the original file.
If you want to copy the file under a different name you need to specify the desired file name:
cp file.txt /backup/new_file.txt
The command above will copy the file to the specified directory as
Copy multiple files
To copy multiple files and directories at once specify the names of source files and directories followed with the destination directory as the last argument:
cp file.txt dir file1.txt file2.txt dir1
When copying multiple files, the destination must be a directory.
The cp command also allows you to use pattern matching. For example, to copy all
.png files from the current directory to the
/backup directory, you would use:
cp *.png /backup
Copying Directories with
To copy a directory, including all its files and subdirectories, use the
-r option. In the following example we are copying the directory
cp -R Pictures Pictures_backup
The command above will create the destination directory and recursively copy all files and subdirectories from the source to the destination directory.
If the destination directory already exists, the source directory itself and all its content will be copied to the destination directory. To copy only the files and subdirectories but not the target directories use the
cp -RT Pictures Pictures_backup
The options used when copying files can also be used when copying directory. The main difference is that when copying directories, you need to use the
Copying Files and Directories with the
rsync is a fast and versatile command line-utility that synchronizes files and directories between two locations. It can be used to copy files to local and remote locations.
rsync includes a number of options that control every aspect of its behavior. The most useful option is
-a which copies directories recursively, transfer special and block devices, preserve symbolic links, modification times, group, ownership, and permissions.
To copy a single file from one to another location, you would run the following command:
rsync -a file.txt file_backup.txt
If the destination file exists,
rsync will overwrite it.
The same command can be used to copy a directory:
rsync -a /var/www/public_html/ /var/www/public_html_backup/
rsync threats the source directories that end with a trailing slash
/ differently. If you add a trailing slash on the source directory, the command will copy only the source directory’s contents to the destination directory. When the trailing slash is omitted,
rsync will copy the source directory inside the destination directory. The safest option is to always include the trailing slash
/ on both the destination and source.
To learn more about
rsync check the following articles:
- How to Use Rsync for Local and Remote Data Transfer and Synchronization
- How to Exclude Files and Directories with Rsync
In this guide, we have shown you how to copy files and directories in Linux and Unix-based systems using the
If you have any questions, please leave a comment below.