I want to copy an entire file structure (with thousands of files and hundreds of directories), it's a hierarchy of directories and there are those node_modules directory that I want to exclude from the copying process.

Is there a Unix command to copy from a directory and all of its files and sub-directories recursively with an option to say don't include the directories with the name <name> ?

Something like :

cp root/ rootCopy/ --except node_modules


If not, is there a simple way to do that from the command line without writing a bash or something ?

2 Answers 2


You can try with rsync or tar command .

See this or this post.

From rsync man page

    --exclude=PATTERN       exclude files matching PATTERN
    --exclude-from=FILE     read exclude patterns from FILE

rsync -avz --exclude 'dir*' source/ destination/
  • I managed to transfer my workspace lightweighted thanks !
    – vdegenne
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 11:07

Creepy method, but it works for me:

(find source|egrep -v "node_modules|^source/exact/node_plugin" && echo tmptarget)|xargs cp --parents
mv tmptarget/source target

Explanation if needed. cp works like this:

cp source1 source2 ... sourceN target
  • So do the find to print your whole structure.
  • Use egrep to exclude all unwanted branches. Make sure you have properly formed your pattern. Use ^ and full path if you would like to exclude exact branch, or just node_modules if you want to exclude all of them.
  • printout the destination folder with echo command.
  • Let xargs put all these lines to cp command for you
  • --parents is needed to create parents folders, because we cant use -r option here, as it will mess everything on the target folder.
  • And finally mv whole new structure to real target

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