The physical order of the files matters when I copy them onto my USB stick and listen in car mp3 player. Most of my music album folders are unsorted, e.g. ls -f may produce:

When I copy that folder onto my USB stick, the files get copied in that order. My car mp3 player displays the files in the unsorted order, which is not what I want. I can subsequently reorder the files on the USB stick (see: How to reorder folders? (as displayed in `ls -U`)), but could avoid that altogether if I could reorder them within that directory them on my hard drive (ext4)? Is there a way of doing that?

(Failing that, there might be a way of writing a find command, that gets the files, sorts them, and then copies them in order??) Any suggestions?


It's unlikely that you'll be able to do this on ext4. Unlike FAT(32), which used a linear table of files in a directory, modern filesystems use complex structures such as B+tree (NTFS, XFS) or hashed B-tree (ext3/4), where all entries are sorted according to a specific algorithm.

In particular, ext3/4 sorts files according to the hash value of their name, so you always get the same files in the same order. It's possible to disable the dir_index feature via tune2fs, but it might cost you performance if you have directories containing many files.

A very basic command for this could be cp dir/* otherdir/, where the shell sorts names when expanding arguments, and cp simply copies them in the order given.

Something more complex, for copying subdirectories:

#!/usr/bin/env bash

find "$srcdir" \( -type d -printf "0dir %P\0" \) \
            -o \( -type f -printf "1file %P\0" \) |
sort -z | while read -r -d '' type path; do
    case $type in
        "0dir") mkdir -vp "$destdir/$path";;
        "1file") cp -v "$srcdir/$path" "$destdir/$path";;
  • Is it possible to e.g. move the files to say a new_tmp folder, and then moving them back but dictate the order? (Seems to work from within a GUI for the folders?!) – ajo Jan 1 '12 at 20:05
  • 1
    @ajo: If the filesystem has dir_index enabled, it won't work. Regardless of which order you move/create files in, they will have the same sort order as long as they have the same name. Try, for example, mkdir test1 test2; touch test1/{a,b,c,d} test2/{d,c,b,a}; ls -f test1 test2 -- the files will be sorted in the same order (a c b .. d . in my system) even though they were created in reverse. – grawity Jan 1 '12 at 20:10
  • the cp dir/* otherdir/ looks a lot easier, but uses the original order. could I implement sorting there? – ajo Jan 1 '12 at 20:39
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    @ajo: The shell is supposed to sort file names before launching cp. Try echo dir/* to see what they expand to. But again, it only matters when copying to FAT memory sticks; it will not change anything when copying to ext4. – grawity Jan 1 '12 at 20:43
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    does this look OK for single directory? find SRC_DIR -iname '*mp3' -print0 | sort -z | xargs -0 -I {} cp {} DEST_DIR – ajo Jan 1 '12 at 21:07

Looks like others have similar problems.

Tool that lets users arrange files according to their wishes and sorts the FAT file system low-level style.

Same tool on freecode.com

Hope it helps.

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