I have two directories images and images2 with this structure in Linux:


... and other 4000 folders

and the other is like:


... and other 4000 folders

Each of these folders contain images and the directories' names under images and images2 are exactly the same, however their content is different. Then I want to know how I can copy-merge the images of /images2/ad into images/ad, the images of /images2/foo into images/foo and so on with all the 4000 folders..

  • 1
    are the end files named the same in both directories?
    – Simply_Me
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 23:06
  • Nope... for example in images/ad are 1.jpg, 2.jpg and 3.jpg. But in images2/ad are 4.jpg and 5.jpg
    – ssierral
    Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 23:09
  • 8
    @AmirAliAkbari, I don't think that it is a duplicate - the other question basically is 'Does mv do merging?' (answer: no). This question is about how to merge 2 directory hierarchies. Commented Feb 7, 2016 at 7:55
  • 1
    can't believe cp doesn't have an option for this...
    – rogerdpack
    Commented Jan 21, 2021 at 18:05
  • 1
    I can't believe people don't know that cp does have this option. Check my answer below.
    – asiby
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 18:23

10 Answers 10


This is a job for rsync. There's no benefit to doing this manually with a shell loop unless you want to move the file rather than copy them.

rsync -a /path/to/source/ /path/to/destination

In your case:

rsync -a /images2/ /images/

(Note trailing slash on images2, otherwise it would copy to /images/images2.)

If images with the same name exist in both directories, the command above will overwrite /images/SOMEPATH/SOMEFILE with /images2/SOMEPATH/SOMEFILE. If you want to replace only older files, add the option -u. If you want to always keep the version in /images, add the option --ignore-existing.

If you want to move the files from /images2, with rsync, you can pass the option --remove-source-files. Then rsync copies all the files in turn, and removes each file when it's done. This is a lot slower than moving if the source and destination directories are on the same filesystem.

  • 41
    ..add -P if you'd like to see progress..
    – Meetai.com
    Commented Jun 16, 2015 at 6:00
  • 4
    @Wildcard, well, that's not quite the same as moving. As Gilles points out, it's a lot slower than moving if they're on the same fs; and moreover it requires a lot more temporary spae.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 2:11
  • 10
    I'd also like to point out that it's important to include the trailing slashes for each directory. For example, if you simply ran rsync -a images images2, it will just copy images2 into images instead of merging them. Commented Oct 18, 2017 at 1:28
  • 2
    Is there a way to make rsync ASK you if you want to overwrite or not?
    – Max Coplan
    Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 3:31
  • 3
    @MaxCoplan No. Rsync isn't an interactive tool. Commented Sep 28, 2019 at 6:00

The best choice, as already posted, is of course rsync. Nevertheless also unison would be a great piece of software to do this job, though typically requires a package install. Both can be used in several operating systems.


rsync synchronizes in one direction from source to destination. Therefore the following statement

rsync -avh --progress Source Destination

syncs everything from Source to Destination. The merged folder resides in Destination.

-a means "archive" and copies everything recursively from source to destination preserving nearly everything.

-v gives more output ("verbose").

-h for human readable.

--progress to show how much work is done.

If you want only update the destination folder with newer files from source folder:

rsync -avhu --progress source destination


unison synchronizes in both directions. Therefore the following statement

unison Source Destination

syncs both directories in both directions and finally source equals destination. It's like doing rsync twice from source to dest and vice versa.

For more advanced usages look at the man pages or the following websites:

  1. https://www.cis.upenn.edu/~bcpierce/unison/
  2. https://rsync.samba.org/
  • 3
    I want to mention that the correct path to the folder should be with the trailing slash at the end rsync -avh --progress source/ destination/ , otherwise source folder will be created in destination folder, at least in my case that was like this.
    – electroid
    Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 7:12
  • This works great for me (with the trailing slash in folders). Thank you! Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 22:30

There are faster and much more space-efficient ways of merging two directories using the --link option to cp if the directories are on the same file system, described in the multiple varied answers in a related article here: (The title of the article doesn't exactly match the user's question, and the answers address the title topic, merging, more than they address the user's actual question.)

Merging folders with mv?

The --link option to cp means no file data is copied. An example of this, where everything in /images2 replaces any older items in /images is:

cp --force --archive --update --link /images2/. /images

After the merge into /images, you can then rm -rf /images2

This solution will fail if anywhere in the file tree the merge tries to merge a directory onto an existing file or symlink with the same name, i.e. it won't merge a directory named /images2/x onto an existing file or symlink with the same name /images/x and if you get such an error you can manually delete the file or symlink and just re-run the command.

The nice thing about --link is that no data is moved to merge the directories.

  • 1
    In particular it doesn't require lots of temporary space... I just needed to merge two large folders (several TBs each) and that's a much better way!
    – wazoox
    Commented Dec 23, 2022 at 11:58
  • For anyone wondering, --archive is a shortcut for --recursive --no-dereference --preserve=all.
    – bfontaine
    Commented Apr 24 at 13:56

The answer to this question is dead simple. I have used it many times.

All you need to do is ...

cp -rf source_folder parent_of_dest_folder

Using the specific file structure in the original question, the command would be...

cp -rf /images/* /images2/

The result will be a merged version of source and the destination. This will also process subdirectories recursively.

As pointed out by @ingyhere, the above commands will override existing files in the destination directory. If you wish to keep existing files, then you must add the -n parameter to the cp command. Read more about this in the cp man page at https://man7.org/linux/man-pages/man1/cp.1.html#:~:text=links%20in%20SOURCE-,%2Dn%2C%20%2D%2Dno%2Dclobber,-do%20not%20overwrite

cp -rfn /images/* /images2/

edit: Based on the comment from @Kolay.Ne, the -f parameter is redundant (and ignored) when using -n. For that reason, the previous example is equivalent to:

cp -rn /images/* /images2/
  • Good question. However, in a typical situation, if you are trying to merge a source directory into a destination, it means that the source files are more relevant in the event that some of them exist at the destination. That said, if you want to keep existing files, then use the -n option. Read more about it at man7.org/linux/man-pages/man1/…. I will update the answer to reflect that.
    – asiby
    Commented Aug 25, 2022 at 15:37
  • 2
    According to the man page you shared, the -f option is ignored when -n is present
    – Kolay.Ne
    Commented Mar 26 at 11:06
  • You are correct. I will mention it in the answer.
    – asiby
    Commented May 18 at 4:05
for dir in images2/*; do mv "$dir"/* "images/$(basename "$dir")"; done

Loop over all the contents of images2 using an expanded glob (to avoid the problems with parsing ls) then mv the contents of those items to the matching entry in images. Uses basename to strip the leading images2 from the globbed path.

  • I know this is really old, but is there a convenient way to modify this to only copy the files that contain a certain string in their name? something like if filename like '*2160*' then mv Commented Jan 15, 2020 at 5:38

This effectively merges using the cp command without overwriting:

cp -prnv /images/* /images2/


-p -- preserve ownership, perms and detailed attributes
-r -- recursive
-n -- no overwrite
-v -- verbose (display operation detail for each file)

To see what actually was copied, run it this way:

cp -prnv /images/* /images2/ | grep '\->'  # shows copies

To see the opposite of what didn't copy, use grep -v '\->'.

If you want to do something more complex, like replacing files with differences, use rsync or fly your own by testing the md5sum on both sides then copying based on the diff exit code (not recommended for large files or big directories -- use rsync).


@inulinux12 , you can use the following one line for loop from command line:

$ for dir in images2/*; do mv "$dir"/* "${dir/2/}"; done

This will move all of the files from images2 to images in their respective directories. Note: this assumes no files have the same name.

For example:

Before execution:

$ ls -R images*
ad  adfoo  fe
jpg.1  jpg.2
ad  adfoo  fe

After execution:

$ ls -R images*
ad  adfoo  fe
jpg.1  jpg.2  jpg.3
jpg.6  jpg.7
jpg.4  jpg.5
  • 4
    Don't parse the output of ls. mywiki.wooledge.org/ParsingLs Commented Aug 12, 2014 at 23:48
  • @EtanReisner Thank you for the suggestion; seems pretty narrow scenarios though given the information given in the question.
    – Simply_Me
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 0:01
  • 2
    @Simply_Me While true that it will usually be fine, you really don't want it to blow up when you hit a case you weren't counting on. It can cause really bad problems. Not to mention that it is quite often (as in this case) almost trivially replaceable with a simple glob. See my answer as an example of that. Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 0:04
  • @Simply_Me The scenarios include file names with spaces, which is pretty common for images. Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 0:35
  • @Gilles and @Etan Reisner , thank you for the input, I appreciate it! Updated and tested my answer to use string substitution, and it came to be faster than using basename in this particular situation (no need to call basename for this). Thanks again for constructive comments.
    – Simply_Me
    Commented Aug 13, 2014 at 1:30


# filename: merge_dirs.sh


cd "$SOURCE"
# duplicate the directory structure into TARGET, no files
find . -type d -exec mkdir -vp "$TARGET/{}" ';'
# move files from SOURCE to TARGET, skip if existing
find . -type f -exec mv -vn '{}' "$TARGET/{}" ';'
cd "$OLDPWD"
# optional: remove all empty directories from SOURCE
find "$SOURCE" -type d -empty -exec rmdir -vp '{}' '+'

merge_dirs.sh will give you a merged TARGET. Anything left in SOURCE was a duplicate filename. Whether to delete those is a different problem, but you can always make a script like cmp_rm.sh.


# filename: cmp_rm.sh
cmp "$1" "$2" && rm -v "$1"  -i  # -i: prompt before deletion

and run:

find "$SOURCE" -type f -exec ./cmp_rm.sh '{}' "$TARGET/{}" ';'
  • 1
    I like this because it allows writing scripts for systems where installing additional binaries isn't an option. Commented Aug 12, 2021 at 11:28

kdiff3 has an awesome, if slightly frustrating, interactive merge tool that can merge up to three directories into a fourth output directory.


Another simple solution is to make an archive of images/:

~$ zip -1 images/* images.zip

then unpack images.zip into images2/

~$ unzip images.zip images2/
  • Can you explain why zip is useful here?
    – Spooler
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 20:16
  • @Spooler upon decompressing zip overlays the paths: "path1/sub1/file1.ext" is unpacked into "outpath/path1/sub1/file.ext" - essentially the two zip commands are a shortcut for the bash code "for f in $(find images/ -type f); do mv $f images2/${f/images\//}; done
    – TheEagle
    Commented Jul 14, 2023 at 22:06

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