There's a similar question about windows. This is the same, but for mac. By the way, it's odd there's no question on this yet, since it seems like it's the most hated thing on Mac OS X.

If I try to copy or move a folder to somewhere it already exists, it asks to replace it. That would result in deleting the target. Rather I want to merge.

There's already a aquataskforce request about this, and it's a discussion going for a long time if it's even something that should exist on Mac, due to its whole philosophy. Discussions at Apple are outdated and didn't help much as well.

As usual, there are professional solutions for doing this, such as Changes and Araxis. And there is the rsync or command line alternatives. But I want a free and simple solution, something like how it is done in Windows or Linux. I won't be doing it much anyway. By the way, PathFinder don't have such option as well and FolderMerge doesn't work on Snow Leopard as far as my 1 test went.

Suggestions to whom may come up with a solution:

I think a good idea would be to move everything non-exact-duplicate to the same folder, and leave every duplicate behind. No confirmation is needed in this case, and I can easily check the duplicates later. If it's copying merge, then the target folder will contain everything, and the source will be rather untouched. Duplicate-check is just on the file name. Leave any more complicated thing to third parties.

6 Answers 6


Try MacUpdate, Softpedia and Brothersoft. Search for Folder Merge.

Folder Merge

Small software utility that will merge folder contents

By Default OSX doesn't merge folder contents so this is a simple GUI tool to do just that.

If simply you want to merge the files located in two separate folders, you can easily do that with Folder Merge.


This is free.

Unison is a file-synchronization tool for Unix and Windows. It allows two replicas of a collection of files and directories to be stored on different hosts (or different disks on the same host), modified separately, and then brought up to date by propagating the changes in each replica to the other.


Once in Terminal, type: ditto from_folder destination_folder


ditto ~/Desktop/SomeFolder ~/Desktop/SomeOtherFolder


  • 3
    It would be easy enough to include this into an automator script so that it was accesible through the Finder GUI.
    – stib
    Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 6:30
  • 1
    Note that ditto overrides a file at at destination if it has the same name. Even if the destination file is newer.
    – publicJorn
    Commented Aug 11, 2017 at 10:32
  • I completely disagree with using ditto. Maybe this is something that's changed, but I tested this a few minutes ago on macOS Monterey 12.5.1. Ditto overwrites the destination file even if the source file has an older modification timestamp. rsync -aru source/ destination/ is safer.
    – drewster
    Commented Sep 4, 2022 at 5:25

Holding down the Option key on Mac OS X Lion gives you the option to 'Keep Both' which then merges the two folders.

This was one of the new features of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

  • 2
    Shouldn't have to hold down option to get the prompt, but it's still better than the other solutions, given that it's built-in. Thanks for adding this here!
    – purefusion
    Commented Dec 20, 2013 at 16:32
  • 1
    Unfortunately, holding down the Option key will Copy instead of Move the files. Commented May 12, 2014 at 21:25
  • @Eptin: Only hold down Option after the dialog appears asking you what action to take in case of name collisions.
    – Daniel Beck
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 5:10
  • 2
    Is it my imagination or is this option no longer available in Mavericks??
    – JVC
    Commented Jul 15, 2014 at 19:31
  • @JonathanvanClute seems the "Merge" option is available when you copy the folder. So far, I guess the best solution is to copy/merge folders, and then delete the original (doesn't seem like an Apple solution, but still works..)
    – tyron
    Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 8:40

I'm a proponent for full-blown support for merge-replace-skip in the Finder, no question. In fact, it's disheartening that Apple's simplicity-minded philosophy actually results in more mouse movement, more clicks, and more steps to accomplish what seem like simple things. And clearly people want to see this kind of change (among many others) in the Finder, especially. Snow Leopard has made some steps towards FTFF with the Cocoa-rewrite.

Thanks to this Cocoa-rewrite, bliss has arrived in the ability to extend/hack the Finder in Snow Leopard with plug-ins thanks to SIMBL, which provides means for hacking/reverse-engineering Cocoa-based apps. So I figure it's only a matter of time until someone extends Finder to support this more natively. Regardless, Apple is still to blame for the Finder flaws, and they need to own up soon and just Fix the Freakin' Finder, once and for all! (I mean, it is so central to the OS you'd think they'd have done this by now.) < /rant >

Meanwhile, you can fool Transmit into using its merge capabilities with your local files: http://andrew.hedges.name/blog/2007/01/16/merge-folders-with-transmit

  • 1
    Transmit rocks.
    – Josh K
    Commented Mar 8, 2010 at 21:20
  • That's something I might try later on, if nothing better pops up. :P
    – cregox
    Commented Mar 8, 2010 at 22:57
  • It was bugging me to no end, so I searched and searched until I found that reference to Snow Leopard extensibility I mentioned above. And while Apple did pave the way for Finder plugins/extensions by rewriting the Finder in Cocoa, the pluggable nature actually comes not from Apple directly, but from a little gem called SIMBL (Simple Bundle Loader, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SIMBL)
    – purefusion
    Commented Mar 9, 2010 at 12:12
  • Long story short, it enables hacks and plugins for Cocoa based apps. AKA Cocoa hacking! ... More details about this "application enhancement loader" can be found here: culater.net/software/SIMBL/SIMBL.php ... There are already a number of plug-ins (and growing): code.google.com/p/simbl/wiki/SIMBLPlugins (and of course, any Finder extensions require Snow Leopard).
    – purefusion
    Commented Mar 9, 2010 at 12:17
  • 1
    By the way, the plugin I had original come across that lead me to SIMBL was called TotalFinder and it fixes a lot of really nagging annoyances in the Finder (FTFF FTW!). Among other things, it adds options to the Finder for supporting: a global keyboard shortcut (hotkey), tabbed file browsing, dual panel and folders on top! Check it out: totalfinder.binaryage.com ... (Maybe we could get these guys to add merge support themselves?)
    – purefusion
    Commented Mar 9, 2010 at 12:40

I'm the author of TotalFinder SIMBL.

Replace instead of "copy over" is a big issue in Finder I think. I know two people personally who lost data because of this "feature".

On the other side I understand why it is designed this way. I guess the reason is moving application bundles. Application bundle is nothing but folder, when you drag app update to Applications folder you want to replace old app bundle completely without leaving old files in (imagine some app's author is checking existence of some files in Resources subfolder of his bundle).

Ok, so Finder removes a previous folder. But the wrong behavior is that it does not place it into Trash. It deletes it permanently which is really sad and unexpected.

As of TotalFinder modifying this behavior. It is not easy to tweak this process from SIMBL. I'm thinking about replacing whole copy/move functionality of Finder with my own. This would enable me to do several requested features at once:

  1. cut&paste
  2. better copy progress dialogs (like in PathFinder)
  3. implement copy over semantics

The problem here is that it is a lot of work with uncertain results.

In the meantime you have to use Terminal.app with cp -r source/folder destination/folder

  • Add me as a third person who lost data due to this. The data wasn't important fortunately, but it was annoying non the less. - Of course had I have read the message properly, it wouldn't have happened. But I was in disbelief when finder didn't even put the deleted directory into trash. FTFF Apple!
    – user5024
    Commented Mar 10, 2010 at 13:09
  • Excellent work on TotalFinder, I must say! I'm thankful for Apple's Cocoa-ifying the Finder so you could make your masterpiece. I occassionally get flamed for being "resistant to change" but I grew up on a Mac, not a PC. Apple is the one refusing to change, and I quote Steve, "because we like the behavior of the Finder"
    – purefusion
    Commented Mar 12, 2010 at 21:06
  • The least they could do is make it more customizable (and hey, MS is at fault here too, just not on the same level). Having spent time to provide a solution to the issue yourself, even if via hacks, makes Macs more tolerable, so I respect you very much for doing that. Meanwhile, investing more time in a merge solution is a tricky venture, because at that point, you're dealing with users' data, which is something you want to approach very cautiously and with a lot of testing. I'd hate to have been one of the unlucky subjects of the recent Snow Leopard data loss bug.
    – purefusion
    Commented Mar 12, 2010 at 21:12
  • In this end, your "meantime" solution still is the best. At least from my point of view.
    – cregox
    Commented Mar 17, 2010 at 19:03
  • shouldn't it be cp -Rn source/folder dest/folder? The -n switch means don't overwrite any existing files. And according to cp's man page there is no -r option (though weirdly enough it still works).
    – stib
    Commented Dec 14, 2010 at 6:41

There were two "in the meantime" solutions here that I would just not call "simple"... Luckily I've stumbled upon it:

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That's called FileMerge and can be found in /Developer/Application/Utilities when you install the Xcode developer tools from the Mac OSX CD or download it from apple.

It first compares the two folders you selected and then shows the differences. You can then select if you want to merge the files to one destination file.

Still not quite as simple as I suggested, but at least it must be the best "meanwhile" known option if you have about 1.5 GB free for the installation. The "cp" is hard to keep up and the server + Transmit won't let you do it unless it's local.

Now we just need a way to use it without installing Xcode... I'll edit later if I manage to do it - this seems like no simple mater after a lot of googling.

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