How can I make cp -r copy absolutely all of the files and directories in a directory


  • Include hidden files and hidden directories.
  • Be one single command with an flag to include the above.
  • Not need to rely on pattern matching at all.

My ugly, but working, hack is:

cp -r /etc/skel/* /home/user
cp -r /etc/skel/.[^.]* /home/user

How can I do this all in one command without the pattern matching? What flag do I need to use?

  • 1
    More answers here, though they do not look as good;… – Roel Van de Paar Jun 1 '16 at 8:43
  • Please, Eleven81, consider changing the accepted answer to that given by @bruno pereira, because it avoids creating a new folder. If not, let this comment be a warning to new readers to check also the other (most voted) answer. Tx. – Dr Beco Jul 12 '16 at 20:27

13 Answers 13

up vote 218 down vote accepted

Don't specify the files:

cp -r /etc/skel /home/user

(Note that /home/user must not exist already, or else it will create /home/user/skel.)

  • 47
    Is it possible to use something similar if /home/user/skel does exist? – bradley.ayers Aug 24 '11 at 2:10
  • @bradley.ayers I think one could copy into a temporary subdirectory then move them to the upper level (since moving in the same drive is fast). Less than ideal, but shorter than other solutions to me. – Halil Özgür Mar 16 '13 at 9:58
  • 7
    @bradley.ayers Bruno's answer below addresses your question – Mark Aug 20 '13 at 15:38
  • 1
    This solution didn't work for me. It did not copy hidden files. I'm using CentOS release 6.5. @Bruno's solution did the trick. – Technext Jan 29 '16 at 13:02
  • 2
    Under ubuntu/debian this places the directory 'skel' inside target directory and not the recursed files inside skel. Use -T (no target) per below for proper use. (-rT for recursive) – bshea Jun 23 '17 at 15:45

Lets say you created the new folder (or are going to create one) and want to copy the files to it after the folder is created

mkdir /home/<new_user>
cp -r /etc/skel/. /home/<new_user>

This will copy all files/folder recursively from /etc/skel in to the already existing folder created on the first line.

  • 3
    If I didn't get it wrong, this didn't copy hidden/dot files. – Halil Özgür Mar 16 '13 at 9:56
  • 25
    Works well for me. Note that the '.' is critical to it working. – Mark Aug 20 '13 at 15:39
  • 11
    It works, but, why ? Can't find a reference to this in the manual. – Julien Palard Jan 14 '14 at 13:37
  • 4
    I think it works because normally, this would create a new folder with the name of the last folder in the first argument. However, since that name is ., this behavior would require it to create an already-existing directory, so it just skips that step. – Zenexer Jun 11 '14 at 20:07
  • 20
    @Technext The default globbing in bash does not include filenames starting with a ., to change that you need to use the shopt -s dotglob command before to be able to include those files. So with *, by default, you are asking to copy all files recursively from this directory that can be expanded using * (which does not include hidden files by default). While on the other end with . you are using cp to recursively copy everything from "this directory". – Bruno Pereira Feb 1 '16 at 20:39

bash itself has a good solution, it has a shell option, You can cp, mv and so on.:

shopt -s dotglob # for considering dot files (turn on dot files)


shopt -u dotglob # for don't considering dot files (turn off dot files)

Above solution is standard of bash


shopt # without argument show status of all shell options
-u # abbrivation of unset 
-s # abbrivation of set
  • 2
    That's usefull when you want to copy just content without creating new directory inside destination. Especially when destination dir is mount point. – kaszynek Nov 11 '13 at 12:27
  • 3
    This really is the best answer and gets to the heart of the question.. – Stephen May 23 '14 at 16:51
  • 5
    It's setopt for zsh, in case anyone else is wondering. – Pat Dec 29 '14 at 23:18

The correct means of doing this is to use the -T (--no-target-directory) option, and recursively copy the folders (without trailing slashes, asterisks, etc.), i.e.:

cp -rT /etc/skel /home/user

This will copy the contents of /etc/skel to /home/user (including hidden files), creating the folder /home/user if it does not exist; however the -T option prevents the contents of /etc/skel from being copied to a new folder /home/user/skel should the folder /home/user exist.

  • 2
    Correct answer. +1 – bshea Jun 23 '17 at 15:47
  • this was indeed exactly the right answer – Gaetan Feb 27 at 16:12
  • this is the BEST answer of the bunch; its the only one that solves the problem without complicating it – ZaxLofful Sep 12 at 18:25

Use rsync:

rsync -rtv source_folder/ destination_folder/

If your source and target directory have the same name, even if target directory exists, you can simply type:

cp -R /etc/skel /home/

This will copy the /etc/skel directory into /home/, including hidden files and directories.

Eventually, you can copy the directory and rename it in a single line :

cp -R /etc/skel /home/ && mv /home/skel /home/user
  • Or you could simply use cp -r /etc/skel /home/user for renaming skel to user... – David Sep 13 '13 at 12:46
  • That's right, only if /home/user does not exist yet. – Gabriel Hautclocq Oct 14 '13 at 11:52

rsync is good, but another choice:

cp -a src/ dst/

From the main help:

   -a, --archive
          same as -dR --preserve=all

   -d     same as --no-dereference --preserve=links

   -R, -r, --recursive
          copy directories recursively
  • I always used cp -r. Thanks for mentioning cp -a – Pinaki Mukherjee Jun 19 '17 at 18:40

You could use rsync.

rsync -aP ./from/dir/ /some/other/directory/

You can even copy over ssh

rsync -aP ./from/dir/ username@remotehost:/some/other/directory/

There are various flags you can use: -a, --archive # archive (-rlptgoD)

-r, --recursive
-l, --links      # copy symlinks as links
-p, --perms      # preserve permissions
-t, --times      # preserve times
-g, --group      # preserve group
-o, --owner      # preserve owner
-D               # --devices --specials

--delete         # Delete extra files

You may want to add the -P option to your command.

--partial        # By default, rsync will delete any partially transferred file if the transfer is interrupted. In some circumstances it is more desirable to keep partially transferred files. Using the --partial option tells rsync to keep the partial file which should make a subsequent transfer of the rest of the file much faster.

-P               # The -P option is equivalent to --partial --progress.   Its  purpose  is to make it much easier to specify these two options for a long transfer that may be interrupted.

Rsync man page

Note that there is a command-line trick (works in, at least, sh, bash, and ksh): Just suffix the from directory with a slash. This will pour the contents of the from directory into the to directory (ironically, I had first learned about this trick when using rsync).


/tmp$ mkdir test_dir1
/tmp$ cd test_dir1/
/tmp/test_dir1$ touch aa
/tmp/test_dir1$ touch .bb
/tmp/test_dir1$ cd ..
/tmp$ mkdir test_dir2

/tmp$ cp -r test_dir1/* test_dir2
/tmp$ ls -1a test_dir2

/tmp$ cp -r test_dir1/ test_dir2
/tmp$ ls -1a test_dir2

I came here having Googled for a solution to the same problem, then I realized that it's easy to do with find. The advantage it doesn't depend on the shell, or special utilities that may not be installed.

find /etc/skel/ -mindepth 1 -exec cp -r {} /home/username/ \;

I tried the trick with trailing slash, but that didn't work for me.

My solution for this problem when I have to copy all the files (including . files) to a target directory retaining the permissions is: (overwrite if already exists)

yes | cp -rvp /source/directory /destination/directory/

yes is for automatically overwriting destination files, r recursive, v verbose, p retain permissions.

Notice that the source path is not ending with a / (so all the files/directory and . files are copied)

Destination directory ends with / as we are placing contents of the source folder to destination as a whole.

The simplest way is:

cp -r /etc/skel/{.,}* /home/user

The expression {.,}* includes all files and directories (also starting with a dot).

If you don't want use above expression, then you can use the cp property, which is the ability to specify multiple sources for one target folder:

cp -r /etc/skel/* /etc/skel/.* /home/user
  • this would miss files like ..anything or ...anything etc. - contains the correct regex for this problem. || but anyway using shopt -s dotglob is still the better solution! – DJCrashdummy Sep 6 at 17:53
  • @DJCrashdummy unfortunately, I do not understand why you wrote your attention. After all, my solution takes into account the cases you write about. Regards – simhumileco Sep 6 at 22:30
  • sorry wrong text! - the problem with your answer is, that it will also consider . and .. (which is equivalent to the current and its containing folder). || but still the answer in the link explains it further and provides a solution. – DJCrashdummy Sep 7 at 16:23

As of at least K3b 2.0.3, there is a question box that pops up when the directory is added to the project, that ask if you want to include hidden files ... there is also a question that pops up to ask about including links. Nice stuff!

  • "a question box that pops up" — for a shell (CLI) command? – Scott Dec 15 '16 at 1:02

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