I have a list of files, with their full paths, one per line in a file "files.txt"

I was trying to move all of those files from their original location to a new directory.

I CDed into the directory where they live now and issued

for file in ~/Desktop/files.txt do mv $file ~/newfolder

but nothing happens. I am sure I am missing something obvious

  • 1
    You need some separators there, try to just echo it with: for file in ~/Desktop/files.txt; do echo $file; done.
    – nerdwaller
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:01
  • 1
    @nerdwaller that won't work, bash will just print "~/Desktop/files.txt" it won't read the file unless explicitly told to either by for n in $(cat files.txt); do something; done or while read n; do something; done < files.txt.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:24
  • @terdon, I wanted to edit it when I realized I was on non-thinking autopilot but it was past the expiration. Thanks for pointing it out and providing the fix :)
    – nerdwaller
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:25

9 Answers 9


bash won't read the contents of the file unless you tell it to.

for file in $(cat ~/Desktop/files.txt); do mv "$file" ~/newfolder; done
  • 1
    If this is on a single line, you would need ; between $() and do.
    – nerdwaller
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:20
  • 1
    @nifle Would this work if the files all had different paths, when a path might be /Users/lombardi/work files/myfile.png and another in the same file.txt /docs/file.jpg?
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:56
  • 2
    Useless use of cat, and your script breaks in multiple ways, even if a file just contains a space in its path. Please fix this, as this kind of a common cause for problems.
    – slhck
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:06
  • @slhck - I don't agree on the useless use of cat dogma, especially for oneliners like this. Finding out what cat does if you are unfamilliar is simple, trying to understand what < ~/Desktop/files.txt is not as straight forward.
    – Nifle
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 19:14
  • 3
    This still breaks on file names that contain spaces. Since IFS is set to any white space, a file name like Quarterly report.pdf will fail above, even though $file is quoted, since Bash will split loop arguments on the whitespace: first $file will contain "Quarterly" and on the next iteration it will contain "report.pdf". One workaround is to set IFS='\n', but a failsafe solution already exists in the < files.txt version. This is one of the reasons that it is not good to learn people to loop like this, since it will break sooner or later. Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 20:29

You need to tell your loop to read the file, otherwise it is just executing:

mv ~/Desktop/files.txt ~/newfolder

In addition, as nerdwaller said, you need separators. Try this:

while read file; do mv "$file" ~/newfolder; done < ~/Desktop/files.txt

If your paths or file names contain spaces or other strange characters, you may need to do this:

while IFS= read -r file; do mv "$file" ~/newfolder; done < ~/Desktop/files.txt

Notice the quotes " around the $file variable.

  • Thanks for editing mine, I realized my error but was unable to correct (comment edit time limit) and was writing an answer when yours popped up. Thanks!
    – nerdwaller
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:21
  • Thanks, that works too but I found the other post to be easier to remember for the future.
    – Steve
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:47
  • No worries, they are both correct.
    – terdon
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 17:50
  • I was going to make the same edit as you did, thanks :) (Sorry, it's just that there are so many "good enough" or mostly wrong Bash loops around on the Internet…)
    – slhck
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:15
  • 1
    Yeah, I just checked. With while, it works somewhat okay. It's just the -r option should be used to retain backslashes, and setting IFS= makes read not trim any leading or trailing whitespace. It's for that causes issues. See: Don't Read Lines With For
    – slhck
    Commented Jan 18, 2013 at 18:29

If the filenames do not contain whitespace:

mv -t dest_dir $(< text.file)

is probably the most concise way.

If there is whitespace in the filenames

while IFS= read -r filename; do mv "$filename" dest_dir; done < test.file

is safe.

  • The mv command only supports the -t flag on systems with the GNU version of mv; this version won't work on OS X or non-GNU UNIX derivatives. Commented Jan 29, 2019 at 17:56

I usually do it with

cat filename | xargs -I {} mv {} /new/dir/path

but not sure right now it works with spaces in filenames.

  • just put {} in double quotes for the files with spaces in between. example: if I want to copy all the flies with extension png into a folder named screenshots, Use ls *png | xargs -I {} mv "{}" screenshots/ Commented Jul 2 at 6:23

Try this:

python -c "import shutil; [shutil.move(_.strip(), 'new') for _ in open('files.txt').readlines()];"

  • (1) Can you explain this?  (And have you tested it?)  (2) Does this have any advantage over the other answers? … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … … Please do not respond in comments; edit your answer to make it clearer and more complete. Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 8:18
  • I am attempting this on a mac. mv -t is not available. That short, one-liner that uses python is perfect, and for someone that uses python regularly, easier to remember than a bash invocation. To use, substitute 'new' with the path to move the files to, and 'files.txt' with the file containing the filenames. It also handles white-space in front of or behind the file paths. I used it after capturing a slew of files that git told me I needed to remove before checking out a branch. Commented Feb 28, 2019 at 16:01
  • Nope. Reads the entire contents of the file list in as if it's one long filename then complains that that file doesn't exist. Would only work if the file contained one single line and nothing more, which defeats the purpose.
    – John Smith
    Commented Dec 15, 2020 at 9:32

BASH code (you can script this):

IFS=$'\n'                         ## split only on newlines
for line in $(cat files_test.txt)    
    echo "$line"
    let ++i                       ## increment counter
unset IFS                         ## reset IFS to default
printf 'total: %s lines\n' $i

Test (complex file names):

$ pwd; ls -l

  total 5520
  -rw-r--r-- 1 victoria victoria    1537 Feb 14 11:10 files_test.txt

$ cat files_test.txt | wc -l

$ i=0

$ IFS=$'\n'                         ## split only on newlines

$ for line in $(cat files_test.txt)    
  ## snip

file:///mnt/Vancouver/FC/Psychology/Lesson Plan -- The Story of the Third Wave.mp4
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/UFO/Did the AAWSA program, AATIP really start in 2007%3F.pdf
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/UFO/Outbound to the Moon -- with a UFO%3F [James Oberg -- Jul 2015; apollo-11-ufo-3].pdf
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/UFO/Buzz Aldrin re Apollo 11  %22I saw this illumination....%22.mkv
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/Ötzi %7C Otzi %7C Iceman/Unexplained Files S01E02 Livestock Mutilation & Curse of the Ice Mummy (cattle mutilations; Otzi; 2013).mkv
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/UFO/Contact 2019 -- S01/contact.2019.s01e06.anatomy.of.a.cover.up (UFOs and nuclear sites).mkv
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/UFO/Robert M. L. Baker -- Exocosmology  Gravitational Waves & Brain -- Location of Exobiological Intelligence -- Exoklima 2.0.mkv
file:///mnt/Vancouver/FC/Consciousness/Rethinking Consciousness -- QA with Michael Graziano [behavioralscientist.org].pdf
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/60 Minutes/Nuremberg Prosecuter Ben Ferencz (60 Minutes S49E33, 2017) -- Transcript -- What the last Nuremberg prosecutor alive wants the world to know.pdf
file:///mnt/Vancouver/Downloads/downloads.archived/Economist -- Can Norway Help US Break the Reoffending Cycle?.mkv

$ unset IFS                         ## reset IFS to default
$ printf 'total: %s lines\n' $i
  total: 12 lines

Reference; https://askubuntu.com/questions/344407/how-to-read-complete-line-in-for-loop-with-spaces


# Check if the correct number of arguments is provided
if [ $# -ne 2 ]; then
    echo "Usage: $0 <file_list> <destination_directory>"
    exit 1


# Check if the file list exists
if [ ! -f "$file_list" ]; then
    echo "File list not found: $file_list"
    exit 1

# Check if the destination directory exists
if [ ! -d "$destination_directory" ]; then
    echo "Destination directory not found: $destination_directory"
    exit 1

# Read each filename from the file list and move it to the destination directory
while IFS= read -r filename; do
    if [ -f "$filename" ]; then
        echo "Moving $filename to $destination_directory"
        mv "$filename" "$destination_directory"
        echo "File not found: $filename"
done < "$file_list"

echo "File move completed."

Save the script in a file, for example, move_files.sh. Make the script executable using the command chmod +x move_files.sh. Then you can run the script by providing the file list and the destination directory as arguments:

./move_files.sh <file_list> <destination_directory>

Replace <file_list> with the path to your file containing the list of filenames, and <destination_directory> with the path to the directory where you want to move the files.

Note: The script assumes that the filenames listed in the file are either absolute paths or relative paths to the current directory. If the file names are relative to a different directory, you may need to modify the script accordingly.



mv -t dest_dir $(sed 's|^|"|;s|$|"|' text.file)

also deals with filenames with spaces while still using a single mv command and no loop. Untested.

  • There are three other answers, all upvoted and one accepted. This answer is unexplained code that you labeled as untested. Why would someone use this answer?
    – fixer1234
    Commented Feb 20, 2016 at 18:03

I did this with:

mv `cat file_list.txt` /dest/folder/name  

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