I'm curious. As far as cp and rsync I see all these different options. Correct me if I'm wrong, but if you copy + paste in Finder, lets say from one hard drive to another, it should preserve:

  • All file attributes (access time, modified time etc.)

  • All Symbolic Links

  • Recurse through the directory structure

  • (Can't think of anything else to preserve)?

So in the end, when you copy paste in Finder, everything will be an exact copy, just located in a different parent directory.

What I'm looking for is a command that mimics exactly what Finder does when you copy + paste. That will answer this question...

If it turns out Finder doesn't do what I think it does please explain, and show the command line equivalents for what Finder actually does... it must be calling a command when you use the GUI - right?

  • What you need is the ditto command that does exactly the same as copy files in Finder. See man ditto for additional information.
    – dante12
    Feb 26, 2017 at 21:40

1 Answer 1


If you want to preserve file attributes, symbolic links, and recursive structure, rsync should suffice:

rsync -a ~/somefolder /Volumes/SomeUSB/

The -a (archive) flag is a shortcut for the following rsync options:

--recursive recurse into directories
--links copy symlinks as symlinks
--perms preserve permissions
--times preserve times
--group sets the group of the destination file to be the same as the source file
--owner sets the owner of the destination file to be the same as the source file (if you're copying to a remote system, the remote SSH user will need to have superuser status for this)
--devices rsync will transfer character and block device files to the remote system.

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