cp - macOS


The cp command in macOS is used for copying files and directories from one location to another. It is a fundamental tool in Unix-based systems for file management, useful for backing up and duplicating file content. The command can be effectively used in scripting to automate system backups, manage configuration files, or deploy applications.


The basic syntax of the cp command is:

cp [options] source destination
cp [options] source1 [source2 ...] destination_directory

Here, source and destination can be files or directories, depending on the options specified.


  1. -R, -r, –recursive: Copy directories recursively.
  2. -f, –force: If an existing destination file cannot be opened, remove it and try again.
  3. -i, –interactive: Prompt before overwriting files.
  4. -l, –link: Make hard links instead of copying the file data.
  5. -s, –symbolic-link: Make symbolic links instead of copying the file data.
  6. -u, –update: Copy only when the source file is newer than the destination file or when the destination file does not exist.
  7. -v, –verbose: Verbose mode; show files as they are copied.
  8. -p, –preserve: Preserve the specified attributes (by default: mode, ownership, timestamps), when possible additional attributes: context, links, xattr, all.


  1. Basic Copying

    cp file.txt backup-file.txt

    Copies file.txt to backup-file.txt.

  2. Directory Copy

    cp -R project backup-project

    Recursively copies the project directory to backup-project.

  3. Interactive Copy

    cp -i source.txt destination.txt

    Prompts before overwriting destination.txt.

  4. Update Copy

    cp -u source.txt destination.txt

    Copies source.txt to destination.txt only if source.txt is newer.

Common Issues

  • Permission Denied: Users may encounter permission errors if they don’t have read or write privileges on the files or directories. Use sudo or adjust permissions appropriately.
  • Overwriting Files Without Confirmation: The -i option should be used to prevent accidental file overwriting.
  • Copying Special Files: When copying devices, pipes, or special files, use the --copy-contents option.


cp can be combined with other commands like find for advanced file management:

find . -name "*.txt" -exec cp {} /path/to/destination/ \;

This command finds all .txt files and copies them to a specified directory.

  • mv: Move files and directories.
  • rm: Remove files or directories.
  • find: Search for files in a directory hierarchy.

For more advanced copying scenarios, consider using rsync, which offers more control over what is copied and has better performance for syncing large directories.

Further reading and more detailed information on the cp command can be found in the official man page.