Q: how do I use dired to copy/move files without overwriting?

I'd like to use dired to copy (or move) files from directory A to directory B. However, I only want to copy files in A that do not already exist in B.


  • Directory A contains file1.txt, file2.txt, and file3.txt.
  • Directory B contains file1.txt.

How do I tell dired to copy only file2.txt and file3.txt from directory A to directory B? I can tell which ones to mark with just a few files, but I'm thinking about situations in which there are potentially thousands of files in the two directories.

1 Answer 1


Dired should prompt the user before overwriting any files by default.

Try this:

  1. Create directories A and B and populate them as per your example.
  2. Mark all files in directory A using dired-mark-subdir-files (default binding * s).
  3. Copy them to directory B using dired-do-copy (default binding C).
  4. Dired should prompt you with something like Overwrite 'B/file1.txt'? [Type yn!q or C-h].
  5. If you type C-h, Dired will explain that you can either overwrite/skip this and/or all following conflicts using the different options. In your case, ESC or q will only copy non-conflicting files.
  6. Dired should report something like Copy failed for 1 of 3 files--type ? for details ((file1.txt)).
  • You may also be interested in the documentation/implementation of dired-create-files, which is where the magic happens. At its core, this function effectively wraps the core functions copy-file and rename-file, which see.
    – Basil
    May 9, 2017 at 20:29

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