So, you can use the * as a wild card for all files when using cp within context of a directory. Is there a way to copy all files except x file?

7 Answers 7


Rsync handles this nicely.

Example copy all: rsync -aP /folder1/* /folder/2

Example copy all with exclusion: rsync -aP --exclude=x /folder1/* /folder2/

The -aP switch:

  • a: Similar to cp -a, recursive, etc.
  • P: Shows progress, a nice feature of rsync.
  • 7
    And see this answer for a short guide to common rsync exclusion lists. Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 22:27
  • 2
    On darwin/MacOS, use -rP instead of -aP if you want to recurse. -a is for archiving. Not sure if this changed or if it's just different on MacOS.
    – jpoveda
    Commented Jun 2, 2017 at 23:30
  • 1
    rsync does have the option to make it recursive. Example: rsync --recursive -P --exclude=x /folder1/* /folder2/. (Tested only on Ubuntu)
    – n1k31t4
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 10:45

In bash you can use extglob:

 $ shopt -s extglob  # to enable extglob
 $ cp !(b*) new_dir/

where !(b*) exclude all b* files.

You can later disable extglob with

 $ shopt -u extglob
  • Do you know if there's something equivalent for the tcsh shell?
    – Levon
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 1:33
  • Unfortunately I don't. Seems like find is the only way in tcsh: find . -maxdepth 1 ! -name "exclude*" -exec cp -t destination {} \+
    – rush
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 5:25

This isn't a feature of cp, it's a feature of your shell (it expands the * to mean all non-dot files), so the answer depends on which shell you're using. For example, zsh supports this syntax:

$ cp ^x /path/to/destination

Where ^x means "all files except x"

You can also combine selection and de-selection patterns, e.g. to copy all wav files except those containing xyz, you can use:

cp *.wav~*xyz*
  • 1
    Any comments on bash? Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 19:59
  • @hydroparadise I don't know much about bash, but this answer seems to cover it Commented Jun 26, 2012 at 20:00
  • What about tcsh? Anyone know?
    – Levon
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 1:32

If you want to copy everything in a folder (including subfolders) to a particular sub-directory:

cp -R $(ls | grep -v '^subdir$') subdir/

Works with sh, bash, zsh (at least).

  • 2
    Convince me this isn't the same intention as cp -R * subdir/ Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 23:51
  • 2
    If you use that command "cp -R * subdir/", bash/zsh tried to copy 'subdir' recurvively. You end up with an error: "name too long (not copied)". Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 10:48
  • 2
    Good point. Your suggestion attempts to avoid the warning from cp (not from bash/sh), "cp: cannot copy a directory, ‘subdir’, into itself, ‘subdir/subdir’". The copy does complete correctly, though. Unfortunately your variant breaks with any filename containing a space or shell-sensitive punctuation. See unix.stackexchange.com/q/128985/135943 Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:41

Could also be done in plain old (portable/compatible) bourne shell in a variety of ways with standard tools in a lot less elegant ways than using advanced shell globbing or commands with built-in-exclusion options.

If there are not too many files (and not with names including spaces and/or linebreaks), this could be a way:

cp `ls | egrep -v '^excludename$'` destdir/.

Sure, bash and GNU tools are great and powerful, but they're still not always available. If you intend to put it in a portable script, I would recommend find as in the comment by Rush.

  • 2
    I find that the last part of your answer just distracts from the topic at hand. Besides, "Unix" isn't the gold standard anymore (if it ever were). It just isn't that relevant if something is "Unix" or not anymore, despite the title of this site being "Unix and Linux".
    – Alexander
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 8:44
  • 2
    OK. I moved the comment to here instead: Unix is not GNU. I agree that the "unixness" of things is not very interesting, but I still believe in portability and knowing a bit about your history.
    – MattBianco
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 8:55
  • Fully agree with you there.
    – Alexander
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 8:57

The best and simple way is using find. Go to the source directory. Then use the following commands.

find . ! -name "*.log" | xargs -i cp -r {} ~/destination_dir

This copies all files except "*.log" files.

  • 1
    Note that find recursively searches all subdirectories by default, so using cp -r is causing to recurse twice on each file. Either use find with -maxdepth 0 or remove -r from the cp.
    – not2savvy
    Commented Jul 23, 2021 at 8:14
  • Suggestion to exclude both the -r on cp as well as to limit find result to files only: find . -type f ! -name "*.log" | xargs -i cp {} ~/destination_dir
    – MikeOnline
    Commented Nov 14, 2023 at 17:26

extglob is the best way so far I guess.

Another way is using cp $(ls --ignore=x) subdir/


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