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Copying information in Linux |

Copying paperwork used to require a devoted workers member in workplaces, after which a devoted machine. Today, copying is a activity pc customers do with no second thought. Copying information on a pc is so trivial that copies are made with out you realizing it, similar to when dragging a file to an exterior drive.

The idea that digital entities are trivial to breed is pervasive, so most trendy computerists don’t take into consideration the choices out there for duplicating their work. And but, there are a number of other ways to repeat a file on Linux. Each technique has nuanced options that may profit you, relying on what it’s good to get finished.

Here are a lot of methods to repeat information on Linux, BSD, and Mac.

Copying within the GUI

As with most working techniques, you are able to do your whole file administration within the GUI, if that is the best way you favor to work.

Drag and drop

The most blatant technique to copy a file is the best way you’re in all probability used to copying information on computer systems: drag and drop. On most Linux desktops, dragging and dropping from one native folder to a different native folder strikes a file by default. You can change this habits to a replica operation by holding down the Ctrl key after you begin dragging the file.

Your cursor might present an indicator, similar to a plus signal, to indicate that you’re in copy mode:

Note that if the file exists on a distant system, whether or not it’s an online server or one other pc by yourself community that you just entry by a file-sharing protocol, the default motion is commonly to repeat, not transfer, the file.


If you discover dragging and dropping information round your desktop imprecise or clumsy, or doing so takes your fingers away out of your keyboard an excessive amount of, you possibly can often copy a file utilizing the right-click menu. This chance will depend on the file supervisor you utilize, however typically, a right-click produces a contextual menu containing widespread actions.

The contextual menu copy motion shops the file path (the place the file exists in your system) in your clipboard so you possibly can then paste the file some other place:

In this case, you’re not really copying the file’s contents to your clipboard. Instead, you are copying the file path. When you paste, your file supervisor seems to be on the path in your clipboard after which runs a replica command, copying the file situated at that path to the trail you might be pasting into.

Copying on the command line

While the GUI is a typically acquainted technique to copy information, copying in a terminal may be extra environment friendly.


The apparent terminal-based equal to copying and pasting a file on the desktop is the cp command. This command copies information and directories and is comparatively easy. It makes use of the acquainted supply and goal (strictly in that order) syntax, so to repeat a file known as instance.txt into your Documents listing:

$ cp instance.txt ~/Documents

Just like whenever you drag and drop a file onto a folder, this motion doesn’t change Documents with instance.txt. Instead, cp detects that Documents is a folder, and locations a replica of instance.txt into it.

You may, conveniently (and effectively), rename the file as you copy it:

$ cp instance.txt ~/Documents/example_copy.txt

That reality is necessary as a result of it lets you make a replica of a file in the identical listing as the unique:

$ cp instance.txt instance.txt
cp: 'instance.txt' and 'instance.txt' are the identical file.
$ cp instance.txt example_copy.txt

To copy a listing, you will need to use the -r choice, which stands for —recursive. This choice runs cp on the listing inode, after which on all information throughout the listing. Without the -r choice, cp doesn’t even acknowledge a listing as an object that may be copied:

$ cp notes/ notes-backup
cp: -r not specified; omitting listing 'notes/'
$ cp -r notes/ notes-backup


The cat command is likely one of the most misunderstood instructions, however solely as a result of it exemplifies the acute flexibility of a POSIX system. Among the whole lot else cat does (together with its meant function of concatenating information), it may possibly additionally copy. For occasion, with cat you possibly can create two copies from one file with only a single command. You can’t do this with cp.

The significance of utilizing cat to repeat a file is the best way the system interprets the motion. When you utilize cp to repeat a file, the file’s attributes are copied together with the file itself. That signifies that the file permissions of the duplicate are the identical as the unique:

$ ls -l -G -g
-rw-r--r--. 1 57368 Jul 25 23:57  foo.jpg
$ cp foo.jpg bar.jpg
-rw-r--r--. 1 57368 Jul 29 13:37  bar.jpg
-rw-r--r--. 1 57368 Jul 25 23:57  foo.jpg

Using cat to learn the contents of a file into one other file, nonetheless, invokes a system name to create a brand new file. These new information are topic to your default umask settings. To be taught extra about umask, learn Alex Juarez’s article masking umask and permissions typically.

Run umask to get the present settings:

This setting signifies that new information created on this location are granted 664 (rw-rw-r–) permission as a result of nothing is masked by the primary digits of the umask setting (and the executable bit just isn’t a default bit for file creation), and the write permission is blocked by the ultimate digit.

When you copy with cat, you don’t really copy the file. You use cat to learn the contents of the file, after which redirect the output into a brand new file:

$ cat foo.jpg > baz.jpg
$ ls -l -G -g
-rw-r--r--. 1 57368 Jul 29 13:37  bar.jpg
-rw-rw-r--. 1 57368 Jul 29 13:42  baz.jpg
-rw-r--r--. 1 57368 Jul 25 23:57  foo.jpg

As you possibly can see, cat created a model new file with the system’s default umask utilized.

In the tip, when all you wish to do is copy a file, the technicalities usually don’t matter. But typically you wish to copy a file and find yourself with a default set of permissions, and with cat you are able to do it multi function command.


The rsync command is a flexible instrument for copying information, with the notable capacity to synchronize your supply and vacation spot. At its simplest, rsync can be utilized equally to cp command:

$ rsync instance.txt example_copy.txt
$ ls
instance.txt    example_copy.txt

The command’s true energy lies in its capacity to not copy when it’s not crucial. If you utilize rsync to repeat a file right into a listing, however that file already exists in that listing, then rsync doesn’t trouble performing the copy operation. Locally, that reality doesn’t essentially imply a lot, however should you’re copying gigabytes of information to a distant server, this characteristic makes a world of distinction.

What does make a distinction even regionally, although, is the command’s capacity to distinguish information that share the identical title however which comprise totally different information. If you’ve ever discovered your self confronted with two copies of what’s meant to be the identical listing, then rsync can synchronize them into one listing containing the newest modifications from every. This setup is a fairly widespread prevalence in industries that haven’t but found the magic of model management, and for backup options in which there’s one supply of reality to propagate.

You can emulate this case deliberately by creating two folders, one known as instance and the opposite example_dupe:

$ mkdir instance example_dupe

Create a file within the first folder:

$ echo "one" > instance/foo.txt

Use rsync to synchronize the 2 directories. The commonest choices for this operation are -a (for archive, which ensures symlinks and different particular information are preserved) and -v (for verbose, offering suggestions to you on the command’s progress):

$ rsync -av instance/ example_dupe/

The directories now comprise the identical info:

$ cat instance/foo.txt
$ cat example_dupe/foo.txt

If the file you might be treating because the supply diverges, then the goal is up to date to match:

$ echo "two" >> instance/foo.txt
$ rsync -av instance/  example_dupe/
$ cat example_dupe/foo.txt

Keep in thoughts that the rsync command is supposed to repeat information, to not act as a model management system. For occasion, if a file within the vacation spot in some way will get forward of a file within the supply, that file continues to be overwritten as a result of rsync compares information for divergence and assumes that the vacation spot is all the time meant to reflect the supply:

$ echo "You will never see this note again" > example_dupe/foo.txt
$ rsync -av instance/  example_dupe/
$ cat example_dupe/foo.txt

If there isn’t any change, then no copy happens.

The rsync command has many choices not out there in cp, similar to the power to set goal permissions, exclude information, delete outdated information that don’t seem in each directories, and far more. Use rsync as a strong substitute for cp, or simply as a helpful complement.

Many methods to repeat

There are some ways to attain primarily the identical final result on a POSIX system, so plainly open supply’s popularity for flexibility is nicely earned. Have I missed a helpful technique to copy information? Share your copy hacks within the feedback.

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