What Is Cp in Shell Scripting?


Heather Bennett

Shell scripting is a powerful tool that allows users to automate tasks and execute commands in a Unix or Linux environment. In shell scripting, the cp command is used to copy files and directories from one location to another.

Understanding the cp Command

The cp command stands for “copy” and is an essential tool in shell scripting. It allows you to create duplicates of files or directories, either within the same location or in a different directory.

The basic syntax of the cp command is:

$ cp [options] source_file destination_file


  • The square brackets indicate that the options are optional.
  • The source_file specifies the file or directory you want to copy.
  • The destination_file specifies where you want to copy the source_file.

Copying a File with cp

To copy a file using the cp command, you need to specify both the source file and the destination file. For example, suppose we have a file called “example.txt” in our current directory, and we want to make a copy of it named “example_copy.txt”. We can do this by running:

$ cp example.txt example_copy.txt

This command will create a new file called “example_copy.txt” which contains the same content as “example. If “example_copy.txt” already exists, it will be overwritten without any warning.

Duplicating a Directory with cp

In addition to copying individual files, the cp command can also duplicate entire directories. To copy a directory, you need to use the -r option, which stands for “recursive”. This option ensures that all the files and subdirectories within the specified directory are copied.

$ cp -r source_directory destination_directory

For example, let’s say we have a directory called “my_directory” in our current location, and we want to create a copy of it named “my_directory_copy”. We can achieve this by running:

$ cp -r my_directory my_directory_copy

This command will create a new directory called “my_directory_copy” with the same content as “my_directory”. If “my_directory_copy” already exists, it will be overwritten without any warning.

Additional Options for cp

The cp command provides several options that allow you to customize its behavior. Here are some commonly used options:

  • -i: Prompts for confirmation before overwriting an existing file.
  • -v: Displays detailed information about the files being copied.
  • -u: Copies only when the source file is newer than the destination file or when the destination file does not exist.
  • -p: Preserves the original file’s permissions, ownership, and timestamps during the copy operation.

You can combine these options with the basic syntax of the cp command to suit your specific requirements.

In Conclusion

The cp command is a fundamental tool in shell scripting that allows you to copy files and directories. Whether you want to duplicate a single file or an entire directory, the cp command provides the flexibility to accomplish your tasks efficiently. By understanding the syntax and options available, you can harness the power of cp in your shell scripting endeavors.

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