I am trying to copy the contents of a folder to another folder in a different directory using terminal.

Would somebody be able to provide me an example of the command line syntax required to achieve this?

You can copy the content of a folder /source to another existing folder /dest with the command

cp -a /source/. /dest/

The -a option is an improved recursive option, that preserve all file attributes, and also preserve symlinks.

The . at end of the source path is a specific cp syntax that allow to copy all files and folders, included hidden ones.

  • 1
    Great answer. I will write a real example in case someone is having trouble with this command: sudo cp -a /var/www/opencart/. /var/www/opencart_local/ – pablofiumara Nov 11 '13 at 15:29
  • @enzotib I am trying to use this command to copy the contents of "Downloads/textext" to "~/.config/inkscape/extensions/." Using your command I type "cp -a /Downloads/textext/. /~/.config/inkscape/extensions/." but this does not work – Funzies Feb 5 '14 at 11:09
  • @Funzies: probably your command should be: cp -a ~/Downloads/textext/. ~/.config/inkscape/extensions/ – enzotib Feb 6 '14 at 7:58
  • Add -p flag as to preserve the file permissions and timestamps. cp -ap /var/www/original.com/images/. /var/www/new.com/images/ – Dylan Valade Dec 17 '14 at 2:31
  • 2
    @DylanValade: -a already implies --preserve=all, that is wider than -p = --preserve=mode,ownership,timestamps. – enzotib Dec 22 '14 at 16:22

An alternate is rsync

rsync -r source/ destination

The advantages of rsync are:

  1. After the initial sync, it will then copy only the files that have changed.

  2. You can use it over a network, convenient for files in $HOME, especially config files.

  • 5
    I think you don't need the asterisk. rsync -r source/ destination should be enough, no? – Joschua Dec 17 '15 at 15:10
  • 1
    This one is more appropriate: 'rsync -rtvp source/* destination' – shridutt kothari Sep 16 '16 at 14:14
  • -r not works for hidden files/folders – Nam G VU Sep 21 '16 at 4:42
  • 1
    This will not copy hidden files, since bash expands * only to non-hidden file. The solution by @Joschua is safer. – sauerburger Mar 9 '17 at 23:00
  • rsync will copy the entire directory, including hidden files, if you use the trailing / without a * so rync source/ dest Obviously people will need to customize the rsync command to function as they wish. – Panther Mar 10 '17 at 16:40

Lets say you have a folder called folder1 in your ~, inside folder1 is 1 file called file1 and 2 folders called sub1 and sub2 each with other files and folders inside them.

To copy all the contents of ~/folder1 to ~/new_folder1 you would use

cp -r ~/folder1/. ~/new_folder1

new_folder1 would then contain all the files and folders from folder1.

cp is the command to copy using a terminal, -r makes it recursively (so, current directory + further directories inside current) ~/folder1 is the origin folder, ~/new_folder1 is the destination folder for the files/folders inside the origin.

  • 4
    it does not catch hidden files – Portablejim Dec 11 '11 at 13:04
  • 1
    Thank you Bruno! It helped me to understand the syntax, though I had to change it a bit(removing ~ sign). Maybe because the destination folder was in /opt, which resides in another file system. And thank you Portablejim to remember the hidden file thing! – pandisvezia Dec 11 '11 at 15:51
  • 3
    The trailing period is important. Without it, sometimes it may create a new subdirectory ~/new_folder1/folder1 instead of copying the contents over. – wisbucky Jan 19 '15 at 23:00
  • Why not cp -r ~/folder1/* ~/new_folder1 – Alex78191 Jul 24 at 10:59
  • @Alex78191 [root@ home]# mkdir food [root@ home]# cd food/ [root@ food]# mkdir .fruit [root@ food]# mkdir veggies [root@ food]# touch veggies/carrots [root@ food]# touch .fruit/apple [root@ food]# ls * carrots [root@ food]# – Bruno Pereira Jul 24 at 11:19

Check this http://www.cyberciti.biz/faq/copy-folder-linux-command-line/ for more information on copying folder. Hope this helps.

cp Command

cp is a Linux command for copying files and directories. The syntax is as follows:

cp source destination
cp dir1 dir2
cp -option  source destination
cp -option1 -option2  source destination

In this example copy /home/vivek/letters folder and all its files to /usb/backup directory:

cp -avr /home/vivek/letters /usb/backup


-a : Preserve the specified attributes such as directory an file mode, ownership, timestamps, if possible additional attributes: context, links, xattr, all.

-v : Explain what is being done.

-r : Copy directories recursively. Example

Copy a folder called /tmp/conf to /tmp/backup:

$ cp -avr /tmp/conf/ /tmp/backup
  • 3
    This isn't what the question asks. – cybermonkey Mar 8 '15 at 13:18
  • (Using -r with -a is redundant; on gnu cp -a is the same as "-dr --preserve=all") – cristoper Feb 14 at 16:35

If there are two folders: (with write permission)

drwxr-xr-x 4 vimal vimal  4096 Sep  9 12:17 .
drwxr-xr-x 3 root  root   4096 Aug 18 14:35 ..
drwxrwxrwx 6 vimal vimal  4096 Sep  9 12:15 DATA
drwxrwxrwx 7 vimal vimal  4096 Sep  9 12:15 PORTAL

If you are inside the folder called PORTAL where you want to copy all content of another folder say DATA at the same level then you will do

vimal@vimal-D3H:/var/www/html/PORTAL$ cp -a ../DATA/. .

You have to notice 2 dots. Last dot says copy here in present folder


one following /DATA/. says that all the CONTENTS inside DATA folder to be copied, and not the DATA folder itself.

If you remove this trailing "." from /DATA/

then whole DATA folder will be copied inside PORTAL(from where you are coping).

protected by kos Apr 22 '16 at 11:11

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