(From : https://stackoverflow.com/questions/15245144/copy-file-permissions-but-not-files, closed because off-topic)

I have two copies of the same directory tree. They almost have the same files in both (one version may have a couple extra or missing files). However, most of the files are in common to both directories (have the same relative paths and everything).

Assume these are in directories:


The problem is that the permissions in version1/ got messed up, and I would like to copy over the permissions from version2/, but do it without replacing the files in version1/ which are newer.

Is there an automated way to do this via shell commands or scripts?


5 Answers 5


GNU cp knows the --attributes-only flag since coreutils 8.6

--attributes-only don't copy the file data, just the attributes

  • 1
    My version doesn't seem to have that flag, and some posts seem to have scary warnings for example.
    – shearn89
    Feb 5, 2015 at 13:06

My version of cp doesn't have the --attributes-only flag, so I worked up this. Briefly tested on simple folders, YMMV.

$> ls
$> ls -l version1/1/a
-rw-rw-r-- 1 alex alex 0 Feb  5 12:49 version1/1/a
$> ls -l version2/1/a
-rwxrwxrwx 1 alex alex 0 Feb  5 12:49 version1/1/a

$> find version1 -type f -printf '%P\n' | xargs -I {} \
    chmod --reference=version1/{} version2/{}

$> ls -l version2/1/a
-rw-rw-r-- 1 alex alex 0 Feb  5 12:49 version1/1/a

You can, but i don't think in an "automated way" !

GNU chown and GNU chmod have a --reference=RFILE parameter you can use.

chown --reference=RFILE yourfile
chmod --reference=RFILE yourfile

It uses RFILE settings (permissions, owner, group, etc..) and copies them to yourfile.

the manual explains in more detail.


In my case I resolved by using "stat" command with "find" and "vi" to create a script that applies permissions.

cd version1/
find . -exec stat -c '%a %n' "{}" \; > setPerm.sh
vi setPerm.sh

Into "vi" I inserted into all the lines the "chmod" command: %s/^/chmod /g I copied the script in version2/ directory and executed it.

Other solutions seems valid but I do not tested them in case.


Inspired by Mariano Paniga's answer, I think I have a better one, that don't need to vi and search/replace commands. I'm even want to copy the ownership info too (uid/gid).

cd version1/
find . -exec stat -c 'chmod %a %n; chown %U:%G %n' "{}" \; > /tmp/setPerm.sh
chmod u+x /tmp/setPerm.sh
cd ../version2

You may customize the commands inside stat -c '...' into anything you want. For all the available options, see man stat.

  • Does your script handle names with embedded newlines? Apr 22, 2015 at 10:18
  • @deer-hunter It should work as-is, if not, you may add a quote ".." around the filename part.
    – Tomofumi
    Apr 23, 2015 at 3:13

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