Copy files.

      cp [-R [-H | -L | -P]] [-fi | -n] [-pvX] Source_file Target_file

      cp [-R [-H | -L | -P]] [-fi | -n] [-pvX] Source_file(s) Target_Folder

   -R   Copy the folder and subtree (recursive).  
        If source_file designates a directory, cp copies the directory and
        the entire subtree connected at that point.  If the source_file
        ends in a /, the contents of the directory are copied rather than
        the directory itself.  This option also causes symbolic links to be
        copied, rather than indirected through, and for cp to create special
        files rather than copying them as normal files.  Created
        directories have the same mode as the corresponding source directory,
        unmodified by the process' umask.

        COMPATIBILITY Historic versions of the cp utility had a -r option.
        This implementation supports that option; however, its use is strongly
        discouraged, as it does not correctly copy special files, symbolic links, or fifo’s.

        A Homebrew-installed (GNU) cp does not have this limitation.

   -H   Symbolic links on the command line are followed.
        (but Symbolic links encountered in the tree traversal are not followed.)

   -L   All symbolic links are followed.

   -P   No symbolic links are followed. This is the default.

   -f   For each existing destination pathname, remove it and create a new
        file, without prompting for confirmation regardless of its permissions.
        (The -f option overrides any previous -i or -n options.)

   -i   Cause cp to write a prompt to the standard error output before
        copying a file that would overwrite an existing file.  If the
        response from the standard input begins with the character 'y' or
        'Y', the file copy is attempted.  (The -i option overrides any
        previous -f or -n options.)

   -n   Do not overwrite an existing file.  (The -n option overrides any
        previous -f or -i options.)

   -p   Cause cp to preserve the following attributes of each source file
        in the copy: modification time, access time, file flags, file mode,
        user ID, and group ID, as allowed by permissions.  Access Control
        Lists (ACLs) will also be preserved.

        If the user ID and group ID cannot be preserved, no error message
        is displayed and the exit value is not altered.

   -v   Verbose - show files as they are copied.

   -X   Do not copy Extended Attributes (EAs) or resource forks.

In -R mode, cp will continue copying even if errors are detected.

Note that cp copies hard linked files as separate files. If you need to preserve hard links, consider using tar, cpio(1), or pax(1) instead.

For each destination file that already exists, its contents are overwritten if permissions allow. Its mode, user ID, and group ID are unchanged unless the -p option was specified.

In the second synopsis form, target_directory must exist unless there is only one named source_file which is a directory and the -R flag is specified.

Many users find it useful to set an alias cp="cp -iv" in their startup profile, so that progress is always displayed and files do not get overwritten without a confirmation.


Appropriate permissions are required for file creation or overwriting.

If the source file has its set user ID bit on and the user ID can not be preserved, the set user ID bit is not preserved in the copy’s permissions. If the source file has its set group ID bit on and the group ID cannot be preserved, the set group ID bit is not preserved in the copy’s permissions.
If the source file has both its set user ID and set group ID bits on, and either the user ID or group ID cannot be preserved, neither the set user ID nor set group ID bits are preserved in the copy’s permissions.

If the destination file does not exist, the mode of the source file is used as modified by the file mode creation mask (umask).
If the source file has its set-user-ID bit on, that bit is removed unless both the source file and the destination file are owned by the same user.
If the source file has its set-group-ID bit on, that bit is removed unless both the source file and the destination file are in the same group and the user is a member of that group.
If both the set-user-ID and set-group-ID bits are set, all of the above conditions must be fulfilled or both bits are removed.

Symbolic links are always followed unless the -R flag is set, in which case symbolic links are not followed, by default. The -H or -L flags (in conjunction with the -R flag) cause symbolic links to be followed as described above. The -H, -L and -P options are ignored unless the -R option is specified. In addition, these options override each other and the command’s actions are determined by the last one specified.

If cp receives a SIGINFO (see the status argument for stty(1)) signal, the current input and output file and the percentage complete will be written to the standard output.

The -v and -n options are non-standard and their use in scripts is not recommended.

The cp utility exits 0 on success, and >0 if an error occurs.


Copy a file in the current folder:

$ cp old.txt new.txt

With variables make sure you quote everything:

$ cp "$SOURCE" "$DEST"

Copy a file in the current folder to your 'Documents' folder:

$ cp old.txt ~/Documents

Copy the file to the 'Documents' folder and rename the copy "new.txt":

$ cp old.txt ~/Documents/new.txt

Copy all .jpg files to the Documents folder:

$ cp *.jpg ~/Documents

Copy the "Documents" folder to "Documents backup".
The quotes are needed because of the space in the folder name:

$ cp -R Documents "Documents backup"

Copy all .jpg files to the CA folder, and for those with "New York" in the filename, replace with "California_"
the "${f/New York/California_}" is an application of bash parameter expansion:

$ mkdir CA
$ for f in *.jpg; do cp "$f" "CA/${f/New York/California_}"; done

Copy the entire /Users folder (including subfolders), preserving file ownership and permissions but not resource forks.
Root access is required to use -p, so the example uses sudo to get root access temporarily:

$ sudo cp -Rp /Users "/Users backup"

“The white man knows how to make everything but he does not know how to distribute it” ~ Sitting Bull

Related macOS commands

cpio - Copy files to and from archives.
dd - Data Duplicator - convert and copy a file.
ditto - copy files and folders (Can preserve Apple resource forks, type & creator).
install - Copy files and set attributes.
mv - Move or rename files or directories.
rcp - Remote copy.
tar - Store or extract files to an archive (allows symbolic links to be copied as links).
umask - Users file creation mask.
xattr - Display and manipulate extended file attributes.

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