I have a cpio archive with lots of files and I need to extract only one file, not all. With tar I could just use tar -xf archive.tar path/to/file, but that does not work with cpio:

cpio -i < archive.cpio path/to/file
bash: path/to/file: No such file or directory

Does anyone know how to extract just a single file from a cpio archive?

2 Answers 2


You should use the -d option to let cpio create the leading directories (path/to) if they don't exist:

cpio -id < archive.cpio path/to/file

Also, bsdtar (the regular tar on FreeBSD) knows how to extract cpio archives, whether compressed or not.

  • Make sure to OMIT the leading forward slash on the /path/to/file... I mean... path/to/file... or it will not work! Also, you can include more than one file with spaces in between them, just in case you want to extract TWO files.
    – Brain2000
    Oct 22, 2020 at 4:58

If you want to consume the file right away in a pipe you can skip the -d and add --to--stdout

here is an overkill example - checking the MD5SUM of an executable in an initramfs cpio

$ objdump -sj '.init.ramfs' ./usr/initramfs_data.o | \
    tail -n +5 | \
    cut -b1-44 | \
    xxd -r | \
    gunzip | \
    cpio --to-stdout -i usr/bin/mount 2>/dev/null | \
bffe60496ce15be471e7cfc04c14fac5  -
  • the tail kills the lines before the hexdump from objdump
  • The cut removes the ASCII porion of the hexdump
  • xxd -r un-hexdumps (hex back to binary)

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