cp command lets you copy one or more files or directories. To be clear, the
cp command makes a duplicate copy of your information, whereas the
mv command moves your information from one location to another.
Let's take a look at some Linux cp command examples.
Simple file copying
Using a Linux or Unix system, to copy a file named "foo" to a new file named "bar" just type:
cp foo bar
To copy a file named "foo" to a new file named "bar" in the
/tmp directory type:
cp foo /tmp/bar
Or, if you don't want to rename the file but just want to copy it to the
/tmp directory just type:
cp foo /tmp
After this command you'll have one copy of the file "foo" in the current directory, and another in the
/tmp directory, assuming that you didn't get an error message.
Conversely, if the file "foo" is in the
/tmp directory, and you want to copy it to the current directory you'd type this:
cp /tmp/foo .
No matter where you are in the filesystem, if you want to copy the same file to your home directory you can use this cp command syntax:
cp /tmp/foo ~
~ character is a shortcut character that refers to your home directory (and works with all shell commands, not just the
cp command). To copy the same file to a directory named "dir1" in your home directory you could type this:
cp /tmp/foo ~/dir1
More-complicated file copying
To copy a file "foo" to a directory named "dir1" type:
cp foo dir1
To copy several files named "foo1", "foo2", and "foo3" to a directory named "dir1" type:
cp foo1 foo2 foo3 dir1
That's the long way to type it out. This command does this same thing:
cp foo dir1
And if you don't have any other file beginning with the string "foo" you can just take this shortcut:
cp foo* dir1
Copying directories with cp
If you try to copy a directory using the exact same command you'll get an error message ("cp: dir1 is a directory (not copied)"), like this:
cp dir1 dir2 cp: dir1 is a directory (not copied).
To copy a directory you need to use the
-r option, like this:
cp -r dir1 dir2
If "dir2" already exists, this command recursively copies the directory "dir1" into the directory named "dir2". If "dir2" did not exist, the system creates a new directory named "dir2" that is a copy of "dir1".
(To create an even closer copy you may want to add the
-p option, which attempts to preserve "modification time, access time, file flags, file mode, user ID, and group ID, as allowed by permissions". Usually I only do this when I'm acting as a system administrator.)
Don't clobber existing files
cp command has several options to keep you from clobbering existing files during copy operations. The
-i option prompts you before performing a copy operation that would overwrite an existing file. Assuming that "bar" is a file that already exists, the interaction looks something like this:
/Users/al/yada> cp -i foo bar overwrite bar? (y/n [n]) n not overwritten
The system prompts me with the
overwrite bar? (y/n) prompt, and I respond with
Instead of using
-i you can use
-n, which just doesn't allow this to happen at all. Unfortunately it doesn't give you any output, unless you also use the
-v option, like this:
/Users/al/yada> cp -nv foo bar bar not overwritten foo -> bar
Because of the potential danger of clobbering existing files a lot of people create an alias for the
cp command, like this:
alias cp="cp -i"
There's not any harm in doing this, and you can always undo it, so I highly recommend it.