Copying a directory tree on a Windows system using XCOPY and ROBOCOPY

My usual method for copying a directory tree without any of the files in there involves the use of the Windows commands line XCOPY and the command takes the following form:

xcopy /t /e <source> <destination>

The /t switch tells XCOPY to copy only the directory structure while the /e one tells it to include empty directories too. Substituting /s for /e would ensure that only non-empty directories are copied. <source> and <destination> are the directory paths that you want to use and need to be enclosed in quotes if you have a space in a directory name.

There is one drawback to this approach that I have discovered. When you have long directory paths, messages about there being insufficient memory are issued and the command fails. The limitation has nothing to do with the machine that you are using but is a limitation of XCOPY itself.

After discovering that, I got to checking if ROBOCOPY can do the same thing without the same file path length limitation because I did not have the liberty of shortening folder names to get the whole path within the length expected by XCOPY. The following is the form of the command that I found did what I needed:

robocopy <source> <destination> /e /xf *.* /r:0 /w:0 /fft

Again, <source> and <destination> are the directory paths that you want to use and need to be enclosed in quotes if you have a space in a directory name. The /e switch copies all subdirectories and not just non-empty ones. Then, the xf *.* portion excludes all files from the copying process. The remaining options are added to help with getting around access issues and to try copy only those directories that do not exist in the destination location. The /ftt switch was added to address the latter by causing ROBOCOPY to assume FAT file times. To get around the folder permission delays, the /r:0 switch was added to stop any operation being retried with /w:0 setting wait times to 0 seconds. All this was enough to achieve what I wanted and I am keeping it on file for my future reference as well as sharing it with you.

Copying only updated new or updated files by command line in Linux or Windows

With a growing collection of photographic images, I often find myself making backups of files using copy commands and the data volumes are such that I don’t want to keep copying the same files over and over again so incremental file transfers are what I need. So commands like the following often get issued from a Linux command line:

cp -pruv [source] [destination]

Because this is in Linux, it the bash shell that I use so the switches may not apply to others like ssh, fish or ksh. For my case, p preserves file properties such as its time and date and the cp command does not do this always so it needs adding. The r switch is useful because the copy then in recursive so only a directory needs to specified as the source and the destination needs to be one level up from a folder with the same name there so as to avoid file duplication. It is the u switch that makes the file copy incremental and the v one issues messages to the shell that show how the copying is going. Seeing a file name issued by the latter does tell you how much more needs to be copied and that the files are going where they should.

What inspired this post though is my need to do the same in a Windows session and issuing xcopy commands will achieve the same end. Here are two that will do the needful:

xcopy [source] [destination] /d /s

xcopy [source] [destination] /d /e

In both cases, it is the d switch that ensures that the copy is incremental and you can add a date too, with a colon between it and the /d, if you see fit. The s switch copies only directories that contain files while the e one copies even empty directories. Using the d switch without either of those did not trigger any copying action when I tried so I reckon that you cannot do without either of them. By default, both of these commands issue output to the command line so you can keep an eye on what is happening and this especially is useful when ensuring that files are going to the right destination because the behaviour differs from that of the bash shell in Linux.

Copying only updated and new files

With Linux/UNIX, the command line remains ever useful and allows you to do all manner of things, including file copying that only adds new files to a destination. Here’s a command that accomplishes this in Linux:

cp -urv [source] [destination]

The u switch does the update while r ensures recursion (by default, cp only copies files from a source directory and not anything sitting in subfolders) and v tells the command to tell the user what is happening.

Though buried and hardly promoted, Windows also has its command line and here’s what accomplishes a similar result:

xcopy /d /u [source] [destination]

Anything’s better than having to approve or reject every instance where source and destination files are the same or, even worse, to overwrite a file when it is not wanted.