UNIX Tutorials, Tips, Tricks and Shell Scripts

Basic UNIX Commands for Beginners: How to Copy, Move or Delete UNIX Files

How to Copy a UNIX File

You may want to make a copy of a file before making changes to it or for a variety of other reasons.

The cp command is used to make a copy of a file, and uses the following syntax:

$ cp source-filename destination-filename
Two freqently used copy command options are the -p and -R options. -p is used to preserve the file attributes (e.g., file permissions and date), and -R is used to copy directories recursively.

[ If you are new to UNIX and need an overview of important UNIX commands and concepts, check out our Basic UNIX Commands and Concepts Tutorial for Beginners ]
TIP: If you wanted to copy a file to a different directory, you would replace the destination-filename with the absolute or relative path to the directory.

How to Move a UNIX File

The mv command is used for moving or renaming files.

The syntax is the same as the copy (cp) command:

$ mv source-filename destination-filename
There's really not too much more to say about the move command.

TIP: If you wanted to move a file to a different directory, you would replace the destination-filename with the absolute or relative pathname to the directory. If you are renaming the file, you will need to add the new name for the file to the end of the absolute or relative pathname.

How to Delete a UNIX File

The command to delete a file is rm (remove). The syntax of the rm command is:

$ rm filename
The -f (force) option is often used when deleting files with rm. This causes the command to never ask if you really want to delete the file.

WARNING: Be extremely careful when using the remove command because once the file is gone it can be very difficult to get back. You may be able to have the file restored from an offline backup, assuming that regular backups for the system you work on are being performed. Even if it can be restored, it may not be an up-to-date version of the file.

*Like ALL UNIX commands which are new to you, it is wise to read through the command's man page (e.g., man cp) prior to running the command against production data.

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