10 Practical cp Command Examples in Linux

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This tutorial explains Linux “cp” command, options and its usage with examples.

“cp” command is used to copy files and directories. This post describes “cp” command used in Linux along with usage examples and/or output.

Usage:
cp [OPTION]… [-T] SOURCE DEST
cp [OPTION]… SOURCE… DIRECTORY

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To copy files and directories use the cp command under Linux, UNIX, and BSD like operating systems.

Here’s the listing of example usage of cp command. :

1. Copy a file or directory from source to destination(cp source_path destination_path):

sanfoundry-> touch 1.txt 
sanfoundry-> mkdir sample_folder
sanfoundry-> cp 1.txt sample_folder/
sanfoundry-> cd sample_folder/
sanfoundry-> ls
1.txt

Here as you can see that file 1.txt is copied from with the same name in folder sample_folder.

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If you want to copy the file in another file name, you can mention the name of the file in the destination path.

sanfoundry-> cp 1.txt sample_folder/1_copy.txt
sanfoundry-> cd sample_folder/
sanfoundry-> ls
1_copy.txt

2. A directory (and all its content) can be copied from source to destination with the recursive option -r(cp -r source destination):
It allows directories including all of their contents to be copied:

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sanfoundry-> ls sample_folder1
x  y  z
sanfoundry-> cp -r sample_folder1/ sample_folder2/
sanfoundry-> ls sample_folder2/
sample_folder1

3. Copy multiple files or directories (cp file1 file2 source destination):

sanfoundry-> cp 1.txt 2.txt sample_folder/
sanfoundry-> ls sample_folder/
1.txt  2.txt

To copy directories use -r option.

sanfoundry-> ls final/
sanfoundry-> ls | grep sample
sample1
sample2
sample3
sanfoundry-> cp -r sample* final/
sanfoundry-> ls final/
sample1  sample2  sample3

From the above example, you can see that all the folder named sample* are copied in a folder final in a single step.

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4. To avoid overwriting the the existing file(cp -n source destination):
If you want to copy only when the destination file doesn’t exist, use option “-n”.This won’t overwrite the existing file.

sanfoundry-> cat sample/1.txt 
Hi i am in sample folder
sanfoundry-> cat 1.txt 
Hi i am x
sanfoundry-> cp -n 1.txt sample/1.txt 
sanfoundry-> cat sample/1.txt 
Hi i am in sample folder

Here as we can see that after copying file 1.txt in sample folder the original file 1.txt in sample folder is not changed since of “-n” option.

5. Confirm before overwriting in a interactive mode(cp -i source destination):

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sanfoundry-> cp -i 1.txt sample/1.txt 
cp: overwrite `sample/1.txt'? y
sanfoundry-> cat sample/1.txt 
Hi i am x

6. To make a backup of files if copying file has the same name(cp –backup source destination ):

sanfoundry-> cat 1.txt 
Hi I am x 
sanfoundry-> cat sample/1.txt
Hi i am in folder sample 
sanfoundry-> cp --backup 1.txt sample/
sanfoundry-> ls sample
1.txt  1.txt~
sanfoundry-> cat sample/1.txt
Hi I am x 
sanfoundry-> cat sample/1.txt~
Hi i am in folder sample

As you can see here that when 1.txt is copied from source to destination in sample folder, a backup of the original file 1.txt in the sample folder is made as 1.txt~ and new file is copied in the 1.txt as usual.

7. To show copying details in a verbose manner(cp -v source destination):

sanfoundry-> cp -v 2.txt sample
`2.txt' -> `sample/2.txt'

8. To preserve the file permission and other attributes(cp -p source destination):
You need to pass the -p option to save File modification time, access time, modes, flags of the files.
if you copy withoy “-p” option.

sanfoundry-> ls -l /etc/shells 
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 165 Oct 12  2011 /etc/shells
sanfoundry-> cp /etc/shells .
sanfoundry-> ls -l shells 
-rw-r--r-- 1 himanshu himanshu 165 Jun 18 23:50 shells

If you apply “-p” option while copying ->

sanfoundry-> sudo cp -p /etc/shells .
[sudo] password for himanshu: 
sanfoundry-> ls -l shells 
-rw-r--r-- 1 root root 165 Oct 12  2011 shells

9. To preserve the links while copying(cp -d source destination):
If you copy a file, which refers to other file as a soft link, then only copying the file will remove the link of the file and only copy the file. So to preserve the links use “-d” option while copying.

sanfoundry-> ls -l 1_link.txt 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 himanshu himanshu 5 Jun 18 23:58 1_link.txt -> 1.txt
sanfoundry-> cp 1_link.txt sample/
sanfoundry-> ls -l sample/1_link.txt 
-rw-rw-r-- 1 himanshu himanshu 0 Jun 19 00:02 sample/1_link.txt
sanfoundry-> cp -d 1_link.txt sample/
sanfoundry-> ls -l sample/1_link.txt 
lrwxrwxrwx 1 himanshu himanshu 5 Jun 19 00:02 sample/1_link.txt -> 1.txt

As you can see from the above example, that after adding “-d” option a link is preserved while copying.

10. To create hard link to a file(cp -l source destination):
You can create a hard link to a file, instead of copying it.

sanfoundry-> ls -li 1.txt 
585339 -rw-rw-r-- 1 himanshu himanshu 0 Jun 19 00:05 1.txt
sanfoundry-> cp -l 1.txt sample/
sanfoundry-> ls -li sample/1.txt 
585339 -rw-rw-r-- 2 himanshu himanshu 0 Jun 19 00:05 sample/1.txt

As you can see, that after adding “-l”option in cp the innode, 585339 is same for the file i.e a hard link is created.

Note
To create a soft link while copying Use “-s” option.

cp -s file1 file2

Here, soft link for file1 is created as file2.

Sanfoundry Global Education & Learning Series – 1000 Linux Tutorials.

If you wish to look at all Linux commands and their usage examples, go to Linux Commands Tutorial.

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Manish Bhojasia - Founder & CTO at Sanfoundry
Manish Bhojasia, a technology veteran with 20+ years @ Cisco & Wipro, is Founder and CTO at Sanfoundry. He lives in Bangalore, and focuses on development of Linux Kernel, SAN Technologies, Advanced C, Data Structures & Alogrithms. Stay connected with him at LinkedIn.

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