How to copy a file in Python?

In this post, we’ll discuss how to copy a file in Python with code examples.

How to copy a file in Python?

shutil has many methods you can use. One of which is:

from shutil import copyfile
copyfile(src, dst)

# 2nd option
copy(src, dst)  # dst can be a folder; use copy2() to preserve timestamp
  • Copy the contents of the file named src to a file named dst. Both src and dst need to be the entire filename of the files, including path.
  • The destination location must be writable; otherwise, an IOError exception will be raised.
  • If dst already exists, it will be replaced.
  • Special files such as character or block devices and pipes cannot be copied with this function.
  • With copysrc and dst are path names given as strs.

Another shutil method to look at is shutil.copy2(). It’s similar but preserves more metadata (e.g. time stamps).

If you use os.path operations, use copy rather than copyfilecopyfile will only accept strings.

copy2(src,dst) is often more useful than copyfile(src,dst) because:

  • it allows dst to be a directory (instead of the complete target filename), in which case the basename of src is used for creating the new file;
  • it preserves the original modification and access info (mtime and atime) in the file metadata (however, this comes with a slight overhead).

Here is a short example:

import shutil
shutil.copy2('/src/dir/file.ext', '/dst/dir/newname.ext') # complete target filename given
shutil.copy2('/src/file.ext', '/dst/dir') # target filename is /dst/dir/file.ext

Copying files in Python

In Python, you can copy the files using

  • shutil module
  • os module
  • subprocess module

import os
import shutil
import subprocess

1) Copying files using shutil module

shutil.copyfile signature

shutil.copyfile(src_file, dest_file, *, follow_symlinks=True)

# example    
shutil.copyfile('source.txt', 'destination.txt')

shutil.copy signature

shutil.copy(src_file, dest_file, *, follow_symlinks=True)

# example
shutil.copy('source.txt', 'destination.txt')

shutil.copy2 signature

shutil.copy2(src_file, dest_file, *, follow_symlinks=True)

# example
shutil.copy2('source.txt', 'destination.txt')  

shutil.copyfileobj signature

shutil.copyfileobj(src_file_object, dest_file_object[, length])

# example
file_src = 'source.txt'  
f_src = open(file_src, 'rb')

file_dest = 'destination.txt'  
f_dest = open(file_dest, 'wb')

shutil.copyfileobj(f_src, f_dest)  

2) Copying files using os module

os.popen signature

os.popen(cmd[, mode[, bufsize]])

# example
# In Unix/Linux
os.popen('cp source.txt destination.txt') 

# In Windows
os.popen('copy source.txt destination.txt')

os.system signature

os.system(command)


# In Linux/Unix
os.system('cp source.txt destination.txt')  

# In Windows
os.system('copy source.txt destination.txt')

3) Copying files using subprocess module

subprocess.call signature

subprocess.call(args, *, stdin=None, stdout=None, stderr=None, shell=False)

# example (WARNING: setting `shell=True` might be a security-risk)
# In Linux/Unix
status = subprocess.call('cp source.txt destination.txt', shell=True) 

# In Windows
status = subprocess.call('copy source.txt destination.txt', shell=True)

subprocess.check_output signature

subprocess.check_output(args, *, stdin=None, stderr=None, shell=False, universal_newlines=False)

# example (WARNING: setting `shell=True` might be a security-risk)
# In Linux/Unix
status = subprocess.check_output('cp source.txt destination.txt', shell=True)

# In Windows
status = subprocess.check_output('copy source.txt destination.txt', shell=True)

The table below summarises the capabilities of each of the methods discussed in this article. Note that the only method that accepts File Objects is shutil.copyfileobj.

━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━
Function              preserves     supports          accepts     copies other
                      permissions   directory dest.   file obj    metadata  
――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――――
shutil.copy              ✔             ✔                 ☐           ☐
shutil.copy2             ✔             ✔                 ☐           ✔
shutil.copyfile          ☐             ☐                 ☐           ☐
shutil.copyfileobj       ☐             ☐                 ✔           ☐
━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━━

Example Answer #3:

Copying a file is a relatively straightforward operation as shown by the examples below, but you should instead use the shutil stdlib module for that.

def copyfileobj_example(source, dest, buffer_size=1024*1024):
    """      
    Copy a file from source to dest. source and dest
    must be file-like objects, i.e. any object with a read or
    write method, like for example StringIO.
    """
    while True:
        copy_buffer = source.read(buffer_size)
        if not copy_buffer:
            break
        dest.write(copy_buffer)

If you want to copy by filename you could do something like this:

def copyfile_example(source, dest):
    # Beware, this example does not handle any edge cases!
    with open(source, 'rb') as src, open(dest, 'wb') as dst:
        copyfileobj_example(src, dst)

Hope you learned something from this post.

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Linux and Python enthusiast, in love with open source since 2014, Writer at programming-articles.com, India.

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