11.9. shutil — High-level file operations

Source code: Lib/shutil.py

The shutil module offers a number of high-level operations on files and collections of files. In particular, functions are provided which support file copying and removal. For operations on individual files, see also the os module.


Even the higher-level file copying functions (shutil.copy(), shutil.copy2()) cannot copy all file metadata.

On POSIX platforms, this means that file owner and group are lost as well as ACLs. On Mac OS, the resource fork and other metadata are not used. This means that resources will be lost and file type and creator codes will not be correct. On Windows, file owners, ACLs and alternate data streams are not copied.

11.9.1. Directory and files operations

shutil.copyfileobj(fsrc, fdst[, length])

Copy the contents of the file-like object fsrc to the file-like object fdst. The integer length, if given, is the buffer size. In particular, a negative length value means to copy the data without looping over the source data in chunks; by default the data is read in chunks to avoid uncontrolled memory consumption. Note that if the current file position of the fsrc object is not 0, only the contents from the current file position to the end of the file will be copied.

shutil.copyfile(src, dst, *, follow_symlinks=True)

Copy the contents (no metadata) of the file named src to a file named dst and return dst. src and dst are path names given as strings. dst must be the complete target file name; look at shutil.copy() for a copy that accepts a target directory path. If src and dst specify the same file, Error is raised.

The destination location must be writable; otherwise, an OSError 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.

If follow_symlinks is false and src is a symbolic link, a new symbolic link will be created instead of copying the file src points to.

Changed in version 3.3: IOError used to be raised instead of OSError. Added follow_symlinks argument. Now returns dst.

shutil.copymode(src, dst, *, follow_symlinks=True)

Copy the permission bits from src to dst. The file contents, owner, and group are unaffected. src and dst are path names given as strings. If follow_symlinks is false, and both src and dst are symbolic links, copymode() will attempt to modify the mode of dst itself (rather than the file it points to). This functionality is not available on every platform; please see copystat() for more information. If copymode() cannot modify symbolic links on the local platform, and it is asked to do so, it will do nothing and return.

Changed in version 3.3: Added follow_symlinks argument.

shutil.copystat(src, dst, *, follow_symlinks=True)

Copy the permission bits, last access time, last modification time, and flags from src to dst. On Linux, copystat() also copies the “extended attributes” where possible. The file contents, owner, and group are unaffected. src and dst are path names given as strings.

If follow_symlinks is false, and src and dst both refer to symbolic links, copystat() will operate on the symbolic links themselves rather than the files the symbolic links refer to–reading the information from the src symbolic link, and writing the information to the dst symbolic link.


Not all platforms provide the ability to examine and modify symbolic links. Python itself can tell you what functionality is locally available.

  • If os.chmod in os.supports_follow_symlinks is True, copystat() can modify the permission bits of a symbolic link.
  • If os.utime in os.supports_follow_symlinks is True, copystat() can modify the last access and modification times of a symbolic link.
  • If os.chflags in os.supports_follow_symlinks is True, copystat() can modify the flags of a symbolic link. (os.chflags is not available on all platforms.)

On platforms where some or all of this functionality is unavailable, when asked to modify a symbolic link, copystat() will copy everything it can. copystat() never returns failure.

Please see os.supports_follow_symlinks for more information.

Changed in version 3.3: Added follow_symlinks argument and support for Linux extended attributes.

shutil.copy(src, dst, *, follow_symlinks=True)

Copies the file src to the file or directory dst. src and dst should be strings. If dst specifies a directory, the file will be copied into dst using the base filename from src. Returns the path to the newly created file.

If follow_symlinks is false, and src is a symbolic link, dst will be created as a symbolic link. If follow_symlinks is true and src is a symbolic link, dst will be a copy of the file src refers to.

copy() copies the file data and the file’s permission mode (see os.chmod()). Other metadata, like the file’s creation and modification times, is not preserved. To preserve all file metadata from the original, use copy2() instead.

Changed in version 3.3: Added follow_symlinks argument. Now returns path to the newly created file.

shutil.copy2(src, dst, *, follow_symlinks=True)

Identical to copy() except that copy2() also attempts to preserve all file metadata.

When follow_symlinks is false, and src is a symbolic link, copy2() attempts to copy all metadata from the src symbolic link to the newly-created dst symbolic link. However, this functionality is not available on all platforms. On platforms where some or all of this functionality is unavailable, copy2() will preserve all the metadata it can; copy2() never returns failure.

copy2() uses copystat() to copy the file metadata. Please see copystat() for more information about platform support for modifying symbolic link metadata.

Changed in version 3.3: Added follow_symlinks argument, try to copy extended file system attributes too (currently Linux only). Now returns path to the newly created file.


This factory function creates a function that can be used as a callable for copytree()‘s ignore argument, ignoring files and directories that match one of the glob-style patterns provided. See the example below.

shutil.copytree(src, dst, symlinks=False, ignore=None, copy_function=copy2, ignore_dangling_symlinks=False)

Recursively copy an entire directory tree rooted at src, returning the destination directory. The destination directory, named by dst, must not already exist; it will be created as well as missing parent directories. Permissions and times of directories are copied with copystat(), individual files are copied using shutil.copy2().

If symlinks is true, symbolic links in the source tree are represented as symbolic links in the new tree and the metadata of the original links will be copied as far as the platform allows; if false or omitted, the contents and metadata of the linked files are copied to the new tree.

When symlinks is false, if the file pointed by the symlink doesn’t exist, a exception will be added in the list of errors raised in a Error exception at the end of the copy process. You can set the optional ignore_dangling_symlinks flag to true if you want to silence this exception. Notice that this option has no effect on platforms that don’t support os.symlink().

If ignore is given, it must be a callable that will receive as its arguments the directory being visited by copytree(), and a list of its contents, as returned by os.listdir(). Since copytree() is called recursively, the ignore callable will be called once for each directory that is copied. The callable must return a sequence of directory and file names relative to the current directory (i.e. a subset of the items in its second argument); these names will then be ignored in the copy process. ignore_patterns() can be used to create such a callable that ignores names based on glob-style patterns.

If exception(s) occur, an Error is raised with a list of reasons.

If copy_function is given, it must be a callable that will be used to copy each file. It will be called with the source path and the destination path as arguments. By default, shutil.copy2() is used, but any function that supports the same signature (like shutil.copy()) can be used.

Changed in version 3.3: Copy metadata when symlinks is false. Now returns dst.

Changed in version 3.2: Added the copy_function argument to be able to provide a custom copy function. Added the ignore_dangling_symlinks argument to silent dangling symlinks errors when symlinks is false.

shutil.rmtree(path, ignore_errors=False, onerror=None)

Delete an entire directory tree; path must point to a directory (but not a symbolic link to a directory). If ignore_errors is true, errors resulting from failed removals will be ignored; if false or omitted, such errors are handled by calling a handler specified by onerror or, if that is omitted, they raise an exception.


On platforms that support the necessary fd-based functions a symlink attack resistant version of rmtree() is used by default. On other platforms, the rmtree() implementation is susceptible to a symlink attack: given proper timing and circumstances, attackers can manipulate symlinks on the filesystem to delete files they wouldn’t be able to access otherwise. Applications can use the rmtree.avoids_symlink_attacks function attribute to determine which case applies.

If onerror is provided, it must be a callable that accepts three parameters: function, path, and excinfo.

The first parameter, function, is the function which raised the exception; it depends on the platform and implementation. The second parameter, path, will be the path name passed to function. The third parameter, excinfo, will be the exception information returned by sys.exc_info(). Exceptions raised by onerror will not be caught.

Changed in version 3.3: Added a symlink attack resistant version that is used automatically if platform supports fd-based functions.

Indicates whether the current platform and implementation provides a symlink attack resistant version of rmtree(). Currently this is only true for platforms supporting fd-based directory access functions.

New in version 3.3.

shutil.move(src, dst)

Recursively move a file or directory (src) to another location (dst) and return the destination.

If the destination is a directory or a symlink to a directory, then src is moved inside that directory.

The destination directory must not already exist. If the destination already exists but is not a directory, it may be overwritten depending on os.rename() semantics.

If the destination is on the current filesystem, then os.rename() is used. Otherwise, src is copied (using shutil.copy2()) to dst and then removed. In case of symlinks, a new symlink pointing to the target of src will be created in or as dst and src will be removed.

Changed in version 3.3: Added explicit symlink handling for foreign filesystems, thus adapting it to the behavior of GNU’s mv. Now returns dst.


Return disk usage statistics about the given path as a named tuple with the attributes total, used and free, which are the amount of total, used and free space, in bytes.

New in version 3.3.

Availability: Unix, Windows.

shutil.chown(path, user=None, group=None)

Change owner user and/or group of the given path.

user can be a system user name or a uid; the same applies to group. At least one argument is required.

See also os.chown(), the underlying function.

Availability: Unix.

New in version 3.3.

shutil.which(cmd, mode=os.F_OK | os.X_OK, path=None)

Return the path to an executable which would be run if the given cmd was called. If no cmd would be called, return None.

mode is a permission mask passed a to os.access(), by default determining if the file exists and executable.

When no path is specified, the results of os.environ() are used, returning either the “PATH” value or a fallback of os.defpath.

On Windows, the current directory is always prepended to the path whether or not you use the default or provide your own, which is the behavior the command shell uses when finding executables. Additionaly, when finding the cmd in the path, the PATHEXT environment variable is checked. For example, if you call shutil.which("python"), which() will search PATHEXT to know that it should look for python.exe within the path directories. For example, on Windows:

>>> shutil.which("python")

New in version 3.3.

exception shutil.Error

This exception collects exceptions that are raised during a multi-file operation. For copytree(), the exception argument is a list of 3-tuples (srcname, dstname, exception). copytree example

This example is the implementation of the copytree() function, described above, with the docstring omitted. It demonstrates many of the other functions provided by this module.

def copytree(src, dst, symlinks=False):
    names = os.listdir(src)
    errors = []
    for name in names:
        srcname = os.path.join(src, name)
        dstname = os.path.join(dst, name)
            if symlinks and os.path.islink(srcname):
                linkto = os.readlink(srcname)
                os.symlink(linkto, dstname)
            elif os.path.isdir(srcname):
                copytree(srcname, dstname, symlinks)
                copy2(srcname, dstname)
            # XXX What about devices, sockets etc.?
        except OSError as why:
            errors.append((srcname, dstname, str(why)))
        # catch the Error from the recursive copytree so that we can
        # continue with other files
        except Error as err:
        copystat(src, dst)
    except WindowsError:
        # can't copy file access times on Windows
    except OSError as why:
        errors.extend((src, dst, str(why)))
    if errors:
        raise Error(errors)

Another example that uses the ignore_patterns() helper:

from shutil import copytree, ignore_patterns

copytree(source, destination, ignore=ignore_patterns('*.pyc', 'tmp*'))

This will copy everything except .pyc files and files or directories whose name starts with tmp.

Another example that uses the ignore argument to add a logging call:

from shutil import copytree
import logging

def _logpath(path, names):
    logging.info('Working in %s' % path)
    return []   # nothing will be ignored

copytree(source, destination, ignore=_logpath)

11.9.2. Archiving operations

New in version 3.2.

High-level utilities to create and read compressed and archived files are also provided. They rely on the zipfile and tarfile modules.

shutil.make_archive(base_name, format[, root_dir[, base_dir[, verbose[, dry_run[, owner[, group[, logger]]]]]]])

Create an archive file (such as zip or tar) and return its name.

base_name is the name of the file to create, including the path, minus any format-specific extension. format is the archive format: one of “zip”, “tar”, “bztar” (if the bz2 module is available) or “gztar”.

root_dir is a directory that will be the root directory of the archive; for example, we typically chdir into root_dir before creating the archive.

base_dir is the directory where we start archiving from; i.e. base_dir will be the common prefix of all files and directories in the archive.

root_dir and base_dir both default to the current directory.

owner and group are used when creating a tar archive. By default, uses the current owner and group.

logger must be an object compatible with PEP 282, usually an instance of logging.Logger.


Return a list of supported formats for archiving. Each element of the returned sequence is a tuple (name, description)

By default shutil provides these formats:

  • gztar: gzip’ed tar-file
  • bztar: bzip2’ed tar-file (if the bz2 module is available.)
  • tar: uncompressed tar file
  • zip: ZIP file

You can register new formats or provide your own archiver for any existing formats, by using register_archive_format().

shutil.register_archive_format(name, function[, extra_args[, description]])

Register an archiver for the format name. function is a callable that will be used to invoke the archiver.

If given, extra_args is a sequence of (name, value) pairs that will be used as extra keywords arguments when the archiver callable is used.

description is used by get_archive_formats() which returns the list of archivers. Defaults to an empty list.


Remove the archive format name from the list of supported formats.

shutil.unpack_archive(filename[, extract_dir[, format]])

Unpack an archive. filename is the full path of the archive.

extract_dir is the name of the target directory where the archive is unpacked. If not provided, the current working directory is used.

format is the archive format: one of “zip”, “tar”, or “gztar”. Or any other format registered with register_unpack_format(). If not provided, unpack_archive() will use the archive file name extension and see if an unpacker was registered for that extension. In case none is found, a ValueError is raised.

shutil.register_unpack_format(name, extensions, function[, extra_args[, description]])

Registers an unpack format. name is the name of the format and extensions is a list of extensions corresponding to the format, like .zip for Zip files.

function is the callable that will be used to unpack archives. The callable will receive the path of the archive, followed by the directory the archive must be extracted to.

When provided, extra_args is a sequence of (name, value) tuples that will be passed as keywords arguments to the callable.

description can be provided to describe the format, and will be returned by the get_unpack_formats() function.


Unregister an unpack format. name is the name of the format.


Return a list of all registered formats for unpacking. Each element of the returned sequence is a tuple (name, extensions, description).

By default shutil provides these formats:

  • gztar: gzip’ed tar-file
  • bztar: bzip2’ed tar-file (if the bz2 module is available.)
  • tar: uncompressed tar file
  • zip: ZIP file

You can register new formats or provide your own unpacker for any existing formats, by using register_unpack_format(). Archiving example

In this example, we create a gzip’ed tar-file archive containing all files found in the .ssh directory of the user:

>>> from shutil import make_archive
>>> import os
>>> archive_name = os.path.expanduser(os.path.join('~', 'myarchive'))
>>> root_dir = os.path.expanduser(os.path.join('~', '.ssh'))
>>> make_archive(archive_name, 'gztar', root_dir)

The resulting archive contains:

$ tar -tzvf /Users/tarek/myarchive.tar.gz
drwx------ tarek/staff       0 2010-02-01 16:23:40 ./
-rw-r--r-- tarek/staff     609 2008-06-09 13:26:54 ./authorized_keys
-rwxr-xr-x tarek/staff      65 2008-06-09 13:26:54 ./config
-rwx------ tarek/staff     668 2008-06-09 13:26:54 ./id_dsa
-rwxr-xr-x tarek/staff     609 2008-06-09 13:26:54 ./id_dsa.pub
-rw------- tarek/staff    1675 2008-06-09 13:26:54 ./id_rsa
-rw-r--r-- tarek/staff     397 2008-06-09 13:26:54 ./id_rsa.pub
-rw-r--r-- tarek/staff   37192 2010-02-06 18:23:10 ./known_hosts

11.9.3. Querying the size of the output terminal

New in version 3.3.

shutil.get_terminal_size(fallback=(columns, lines))

Get the size of the terminal window.

For each of the two dimensions, the environment variable, COLUMNS and LINES respectively, is checked. If the variable is defined and the value is a positive integer, it is used.

When COLUMNS or LINES is not defined, which is the common case, the terminal connected to sys.__stdout__ is queried by invoking os.get_terminal_size().

If the terminal size cannot be successfully queried, either because the system doesn’t support querying, or because we are not connected to a terminal, the value given in fallback parameter is used. fallback defaults to (80, 24) which is the default size used by many terminal emulators.

The value returned is a named tuple of type os.terminal_size.

See also: The Single UNIX Specification, Version 2, Other Environment Variables.