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?


3 Answers 3


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, 2012 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. Jan 1, 2012 at 20:10
  • the cp dir/* otherdir/ looks a lot easier, but uses the original order. could I implement sorting there?
    – ajo
    Jan 1, 2012 at 20:39
  • 2
    @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. Jan 1, 2012 at 20:43
  • 1
    does this look OK for single directory? find SRC_DIR -iname '*mp3' -print0 | sort -z | xargs -0 -I {} cp {} DEST_DIR
    – ajo
    Jan 1, 2012 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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