I run debian jessie on Host 64-bit and in virtualbox 32-bit. To spare traffic I try to cp the i386 packages from host to the shared folder, for using them in virualbox.

My Hostname/var/cache/apt/archives$ ls -al /var/cache/apt/archives/ |
    grep 'i386' | 
    awk '{print $9}'

Shows me the packages I'm looking for. but them I try to cp them after xargs

My Hostname/var/cache/apt/archives$ ls -al /var/cache/apt/archives/ |
    grep 'i386' |
    awk '{print $9}' |
    LANG=C xargs cp -u /home/alex/debian-share/apt-archives/
cp: target 'zlib1g_1%3a1.2.8.dfsg-2+b1_i386.deb' is not a directory

I can not figure out what I am doing wrong. Is this way even possible?

My problem is I can not script. Probable it is somthing like that

for i in *_i386.deb ; do cp [option] full-path to shared-folder

I didn't dry, because I will not mess my Host.

  • 1
    I think you meant to use cp -t instead of cp -u ?
    – Sundeep
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 10:29
  • No I mean -u -u, --update copy only when the SOURCE file is newer than the destination file or when the destination file is missing
    – user192526
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 10:33
  • also, whole thing can be simplified I feel.. something like cp -ut /home/alex/debian-share/apt-archives/ /var/cache/apt/archives/*i386* .. please try this on some other sample directories
    – Sundeep
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 10:42
  • That works. I'm thinkinng sometimes to complicated. ^^ Make your comment to an answer, so I can except this.
    – user192526
    Commented Mar 5, 2017 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


While you already know how you should solve your current problem, I'll still answer about xargs.

xargs puts the string it got in the end of command, while in your case you need that string before the last argument of cp. Use -I option of xargs to construct the command. Like this:

ls /source/path/*pattern* | xargs -I{} cp -u {} /destination/path

In this example I'm using {} to as a replacement string, so the syntax looks similar to find.

  • 3
    is the {} arbitrary? could I do -Iblah for example? Commented Jun 19, 2018 at 19:57
  • 1
    Yes, you could.
    – aragaer
    Commented Jun 20, 2018 at 4:36
  • 3
    on mac without -u
    – jancha
    Commented May 27, 2019 at 8:16
ls -al /var/cache/apt/archives/ |
    grep 'i386' | 
    awk '{print $9}'

can be simplified to /var/cache/apt/archives/*i386*

So, use either of these two:

cp -u /var/cache/apt/archives/*i386* /home/alex/debian-share/apt-archives/

cp -ut /home/alex/debian-share/apt-archives/ /var/cache/apt/archives/*i386*


   -t, --target-directory=DIRECTORY
          copy all SOURCE arguments into DIRECTORY

See also info on parsing ls

You must log in to answer this question.