I know how to use the cp command to recursively (-r) copy nested folders while preserving (-p) file meta-data such as modification times:

cp -pr "/path/from" "path/to"

Is there a way to omit one particular folder nested at the first level deep, by name?

For example, a folder named Photos is being copied. I want to skip the Dogs folder nested within. I want everything but not /Photos/Dogs folder nor its contents.

I suppose I could let it copy, then delete. But that is inefficient. Is there a way no avoid the folder copy in the first place.

I am working on macOS Mojave currently, and FreeBSD 12 later.

1 Answer 1


Yes, you can fairly easily make a copy of a file structure while avoiding copying one or several of the subdirectories, but you would not do it with cp.

With rsync, you can exclude files and/or directories using an exclusion pattern. In your case, it looks like you'd want to use

rsync -av --exclude='Photos/Dogs/' /path/from/ path/to

This would make path/to an exact copy of /path/from while avoiding any directory called Dogs at any path matching Photos/Dogs. If you remove the trailing / on the source directory, you'll instead get path/to/from as an exact copy of the source folder.

The exclude pattern used would make rsync ignore any subdirectory called Dogs located in a directory called Photos, for example /path/from/Photos/Dogs and /path/from/holidays/2013/Photos/Dogs. Using --exclude=Dogs/ would exclude any subdirectory called Dogs regardless of what its parent directory is called, and using --exclude=Dogs would exclude anything (regardless of file type) that is called Dogs. To match only a Photos/Dogs directory directly under /path/from, use --exclude='/Photos/Dogs/'.

See the section called "INCLUDE/EXCLUDE PATTERN RULES" in the rsync manual on your system.

The -a (--archive) option will make sure timestamps, permissions etc. are also copied, and also enable recursive copying. The -v (--verbose) option enables verbose operation.

Add -H (--hard-links) if you want to preserve hard linking between names (again, see the rsync manual).

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