I find myself doing this often enough that I wonder if there's a standard Unix way to do it:

% mkdir -p /TARGETDIR/relative/path/to
% cp ./relative/path/to/somefile /TARGETDIR/relative/path/to

In other words, I don't want to just copy somefile to /TARGETDIR, but actually I want to copy its entire relative path.

Is there a simpler way to do this than the two-liner above?

  • 1
    you could use rsync to "mirror" one directory/filesystem to the other (including structure)
    – h3rrmiller
    Mar 5, 2013 at 20:15
  • @h3rrmiller How do you propose to do that (in a way that isn't cp -R relative /TARGETDIR)? Mar 5, 2013 at 23:29

2 Answers 2


With GNU coreutils (non-embedded Linux, Cygwin):

cp -p --parents path/to/somefile /TARGETDIR

With the POSIX tool pax (which many default installations of Linux unfortunately lack):

pax -rw -pp relative/path/to/somefile /TARGETDIR

With its traditional counterpart cpio:

find relative/path/to/somefile | cpio -p -dm /TARGETDIR

(This last command assumes that file names don't contain newlines; if the file names may be chosen by an attacker, use some other method, or use find … -print0 | cpio -0 … if available.)

Alternatively, you could make it a shell script or function.

cp_relpath () {
  mkdir -p -- "$2/$(dirname -- "$1")"
  cp -Rp -- "$1" "$2/$(dirname -- "$1")"
  • I'd say that cp's -p is irrelevant to the matter of the question (as well as writing scripts/programs is obviously redundant — actually I'm tempting to see another "answer" with version in Fortran, Cobol and Haskel, may be).
    – poige
    Mar 6, 2013 at 13:34
  • @poige It isn't, but usually the option is desirable, so I include it by default. Mar 6, 2013 at 13:36
  • "Usually" != "really needed in question"
    – poige
    Mar 6, 2013 at 13:37
  • So, to conclude — the only difference between our answers really worth mentioning was pax "which many default installations of Linux unfortunately lack". Entropy thanks you, чо.
    – poige
    Mar 6, 2013 at 13:41
  • 1
    @poige Besides cp --parents, I wanted to mention pax and cpio for the non-Linux audience, and show how to do it with a function. Mar 6, 2013 at 15:47

man cp reveals --parents. So simple, yeah.

$ mkdir /tmp/myetc && cp --parents init.d/cron /tmp/myetc && find /tmp/myetc/
  • 1
    Note that --parents is a GNUism (it is only a long version flag).
    – vonbrand
    Mar 5, 2013 at 22:13

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