I'm just learning to use sftp, and I want to copy a directory from the remote computer to my local computer. If I try

get [directory]

it gives me this error:

Cannot download non-regular file: /home/mpirocch/Documents

get -R doesn't work, either.

  • 2
    Recursive put/get was added to OpenSSH in 5.4, which was released in 2010. You may consider upgrading your servers as it also adds a lot of bug fixes and better security features. – Lèse majesté Sep 28 '12 at 4:50

Use the -r (recursive) flag:

get -r *
  • 16
    Thank you for putting an answer that actually answers the question. – jonnyflash Jan 19 '12 at 19:56
  • 30
    Gives me: get: Invalid flag -r – ghbarratt Jul 18 '12 at 21:21
  • 2
    This also gives me Invalid flag. I'm not sure this is supported on all systems. – Ben Aug 28 '12 at 7:35
  • @Ben: When I asked this question in 2009, the -r flag did not exist. Is your system up to date? – Matthew Dec 10 '12 at 16:24
  • 15
    @silvinci not all current systems. Illegal option with CentOS 6.4 openssh-clients-5.3p1-84.1.el6.x86_64 – CrackerJack9 Nov 5 '13 at 1:25


scp -r mpirocch@my-server:/home/mpirocch/Documents Documents
  • 3
    This works, but it would be nice to be able to do this from SFTP (so I can see what I copy before I copy it). Is this possible? – Matthew Sep 12 '09 at 22:53
  • @Matthew: I don't think so. I have been asking myself the same question for some time and the best answer that I have for the moment is scp -r. Or you could use an advanced SFTP client like Filezilla. – Cristian Ciupitu Sep 12 '09 at 23:53
  • 1
    scp -r will follow symlinks... – jsleuth Feb 13 '13 at 15:57
  • 5
    Some systems may allow sftp, but not scp access. – Turion Aug 4 '17 at 9:41

Use lftp:

lftp sftp://user@host

Then, within lftp, cd into the directory you want to copy, and use the mirror command to recursively download the selected directory, like this:


This command accepts options and arguments:

mirror [OPTIONS] [source [target]]

For example, the -R (or --reverse) option will cause it to upload the local directory tree to the remote directory:

mirror -R

See the lftp(1) man page at the project’s site or at Debian.org for other commands and options.

  • 4
    +1 lftp is like a little bundle of magic and joy! – WCWedin Apr 27 '11 at 13:32

well this little guide should help, mirror a remote server to local folder with lftp

lftp sftp://user:password@server.org:22 -e 'mirror --verbose --use-pget-n=8 -c /remote/path /local/path'

  • sftp:// = uses SFTP protocol
  • mirror = mirror mode
  • verbose = shows the files being downloaded
  • use-pget-n = number of segments, realy useful to speed up big files
  • parallel = downloads multiplier files at the same time

if you want to download files in parallel switch out use-pget-n=8 with --parallel=8

hope this helps anyone needing to mirror a remote folder to a local folder

  • Thanks, this worked for me, after the other methods failed (in particular no "-r" option on sftp). The first part of the command in my case needed to be quoted, due to dollar characters in the password lftp 'sftp://user:pa$$word@server.org:22' -e 'mirror --verbose --use-pget-n=8 -c /remote/path /local/path' – Jason Nov 9 '14 at 22:57

Don't use the sftp program directly if you can find something better. For Linux, many file managers (at least Nautilus and Dolphin, the GNOME and KDE ones) support sftp natively, and there's always sshfs. For windows, there's WinSCP, and probably others. The point of all of these is to let you access files over sftp as if they were on a regular filesytem, so you don't have to care that you're accessing them over sftp.

  • Wow, nautilus does work very well with SFTP. I added a bookmark in Nautilus, and now it's all ridiculously easy. Thanks! – Matthew Sep 13 '09 at 14:13
  • I've had performance issue with Nautilus SFTP. Yeah, it's really convenient but I wasn't able to saturate 1 Gbit/s network via Nautilus, while with plain sftp/ssh command line interface I was (cca 100 MB/s file transfers). So the issue was Nautilus on GNU/Linux Mint. – stamster Jan 25 '18 at 22:15

Try mget instead of get.

Clarification: mget will work if you are inside the directory you want to copy; if you do something like this:

sftp> cd dir_to_get
sftp> mget *

it will get all the files in that directory. However, it will not recursively get the contents of any subdirectories.

  • 1
    mget doesn't work any better than get for me. – Matthew Sep 12 '09 at 22:53
  • 1
    getting Cannot download non-regular file with this – Dchris Aug 24 '15 at 9:04
  • 1
    This worked for me on a system where 'get -r' didn't work. – Tchotchke Sep 20 '16 at 19:47
get -r [directory]

gets [directory] and everything under it, where r stands for recursive. I found this just by typing help from sftp.

  • 1
    IMO this is the best answer to this question. :) – ramrunner Jan 24 '13 at 18:28
  • 3
    This is a duplicate of an answer from Nov 29 '10 (almost one year and a half ago). – Cristian Ciupitu Jan 4 '14 at 19:43

As with cp:

scp -rp user@host:/path/to/dir dir

The above will preserve times and modes of the original files and subdirectories. This is especially useful for the retrieval of backups.

  • This is basically a duplicate of an answer from Nov 29 '10 (almost two years ago). – Cristian Ciupitu Jan 4 '14 at 19:47

I have Java dist folder in remote server, where i have following tree:

- dist
--- Audio.jar
--- lib
----- lib.jar

Goal is: I want to use SFTP? And put them in /tmp/<>

Step 1. sftp remoteuser@ip

Step 2. cd /var/tmp

Step 2. lmkdir /tmp/dist; lmkdir /tmp/dist/lib

Step 3. lcd /tmp/dist

Step 4. mget *

Step 5. lcd /tmp/dist/lib

Step 6. mget *

Step 7. finally i have my goal

$ ls
Audio.jar  lib  README.TXT

protected by studiohack Mar 14 '12 at 21:33

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.