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How to Copy Files in Ubuntu Command Line

Learn how to copy files from one place to another or from one file to another files in Ubuntu command line.

Sagar Sharma

In Linux, there is a straightforward way to copy files. Yes, you guessed it right. There is a specific utility for this purpose named cp.

To copy files using the cp command, you just have to mention the location of a file that needs to be copied and the destination:

cp [path/to/file] [destination]
use cp command to copy files in ubuntu

But that was just copying a single file but what about copying multiple files, directories, etc? Well, I got you covered as always!

How to rename and copy files in Ubuntu

This is probably what I use daily as I often make file copies with new names.

While it may sound complex, you just have to append the new file name with the destination:

cp [path/to/file] [destination/New_File_name]

For example, If I want to copy the file named Hello.txt at Downloads renamed as World.txt, I'd have to follow the given command:

cp Hello.txt Downloads/World.txt
rename and copy files in ubuntu

How to copy multiple files in Ubuntu

This is what you will end up using the most as generally most of the users will copy more than one file and trust me it is pretty easy than you think it might be.

You just have to append multiple files with the cp command separating them with space and that's it:

cp file1 file2 file3 Destination/
how to copy multiple files in ubuntu

Similarly, you can also specify the file extension as a wildcard to copy every file associated with that extension.

cp File_Directory/*extension Target_Directory/

For example, If I want to copy all the mp3 files from Downloads directory to the Music directory, I will have to use the given command:

cp Downloads/*.mp3 Music/
copy multiple files using bsaed on file extension in ubuntu
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How to copy files recursively in Ubuntu

Recursively means it will copy the entire directory with every sub-directory present and will keep on till the maximum depth.

To do that, you will have to use the -R option and append the directory that needs to be copied recursively:

cp -R Target_Directory/ Destination/

For example, if I want to copy every file present in the Downloads directory including files of the subdirectory to the directory named Documents, I have to use the given command:

cp -R /Downloads /Documents
copy files recursively in ubuntu

And as you can see, it copied the entire Downloads directory at the desired location.

Use the option -n to not overwrite an existing file while copying. You can also use the interactive mode with option -i.

How to preserve file attributes while copying

While making a copy of a file, the file attributes such as file permissions and timestamps are also changed while making a copy of a file.

file owner was changed while copying files

As you can clearly see in the above image that the file owner and timestamp were manipulated in the copied file.

And to preserve such attributes, you'd have to use the -p option while copying files:

cp -p Source_Directory/ Destination/
preserve timestamp while copying files in ubuntu

But what about ownership? Well, you have to use superuser privileges (sudo) to preserve ownership:

preserve ownership while copying files using cp command in ubuntu

Wrapping Up

In this guide, I explained how you can copy files in Ubuntu using the cp command, and if you want to learn more about the cp command, here are some practical examples of the cp command.

Sagar Sharma