Linux Copy File Command [ cp Command Examples ]

Posted on in Categories , , last updated March 20, 2015

How do I copy files under Linux operating systems? How do I make 2nd copy of a file on a Linux bash shell? How can I copies files and directories on a Linux?

To copy files and directories use the cp command under a Linux, UNIX-like, and BSD like operating systems. cp is the command entered in a Unix and Linux shell to copy a file from one place to another, possibly on a different filesystem. The original file remains unchanged, and the new file may have the same or a different name.

cp Command Syntax

The syntax is as follows to copy files and directories using the cp command:

cp SOURCE DEST
cp SOURCE DIRECTORY
cp SOURCE1 SOURCE2 SOURCE3 SOURCEn DIRECTORY
cp [OPTION] SOURCE DEST
cp [OPTION] SOURCE DIRECTORY

Where,

  • In the first and second syntax you copy SOURCE file to DEST file or DIRECTORY.
  • In the third syntax you copy multiple SOURCE(s) (files) to DIRECTORY.

Note: You need to type the cp command at the dollar sign ($) prompt. This prompt means that the shell is ready to accept your typed commands. Do not type the dollar ($) sign. You need to open the Terminal app to use cp command on a Linux.

Linux Copy File Examples

To make a copy of a file called file.doc in the current directory as newfile.doc, enter:
$ cp file.doc newfile.doc
$ ls -l *.doc

Sample outputs:

-rw-r--r--  1 veryv  wheel  20 Mar 20 17:42 file.doc
-rw-r--r--  1 veryv  wheel  20 Mar 20 17:43 newfile.doc

You can copy multiple files simultaneously into another directory. In this example, copy the files named main.c, demo.h and lib.c into a directory named backup:
$ cp main.c demo.h libc. backup
If backup is located in /home/project, enter:
$ cp main.c demo.h libc. /home/project backup

Copy a file to another directory

To copy a file from your current directory into another directory called /tmp/, enter:
$ cp filename /tmp
$ ls /tmp/filename
$ cd /tmp
$ ls
$ rm filename

Verbose option

To see files as they are copied pass the -v option as follows to the cp command:

$ cp -v filename.txt filename.bak
$ cp -v foo.txt /tmp

Sample outputs:

foo.txt -> /tmp/foo.txt

Preserve file attributes

To copy a file to a new file and preserve the modification date, time, and access control list associated with the source file, enter:
$ cp -p file.txt /dir1/dir2/
cp -p filename /path/to/new/location/myfile

This option force cp to preserve the following attributes of each source file in the copy as allowed by permissions:

  1. Modification time/date
  2. Access time
  3. File flags
  4. File mode
  5. User ID (UID)
  6. Group ID (GID)
  7. Access Control Lists (ACLs)
  8. Extended Attributes (EAs)

Copying all files

The star wildcard represents anything i.e. all files. To copy all the files in a directory to a new directory, enter:
$ cp * /home/tom/backup

The star wildcard represents anything whose name ends with the .doc extension. So, to copy all the document files (*.doc) in a directory to a new directory, enter:
$ cp *.doc /home/tom/backup

Recursive copy

To copy a directory, including all its files and subdirectories, to another directory, enter (copy directories recursively):
$ cp -R * /home/tom/backup

For more info see man pages: cp(1),ls(1).

Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. He has worked with global clients and in various industries, including IT, education, defense and space research, and the nonprofit sector. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

23 comment

  1. sir

    i am having server where user are created in home partition i want to copy one file to eache users desktop wheather i.e. possible with one command of cp if somebody knows please mail me

      1. Dear NixCraf,
        Its not mean that. suppose i have one folder named folder1 but i need 6-more folder.
        usually i type command as bellow to do my job,
        cp folder1 folder2
        cp folder1 folder3
        cp folder2 folder3
        ….
        i don’t want to use for-loop so, have any option in cp command to do that?
        thanks for your reply
        sophea

    1. If you need helping with the copy command (CP)….

      At the command line (CLI)… type:

      cp –help

      This will display the list of switches used on how to copy. It also shows the format on how to copy single, multiple files and directories.

  2. How does this command know what directory you are saving the newly copied file too? Where is that in the below example?

    $ cp filename /tmp
    $ ls /tmp/filename
    $ cd /tmp
    $ ls
    $ rm filename

  3. Can we copy files (1.txt, 2.txt etc.,) from a all the sub directiries to one folder (see below).

    eg: Test—>test1, test2… each of test1 folder has *.txt file
    Main Directory = Test
    Sub Directorty Name within Test = test1, test2 etc.,
    Each Sub directory has a text file = 1.txt (in test1 folder) and 2.txt (in test2 folder)

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