shutil module in Python

File Management and Handling file objects are considered to be one of the most tricky tasks in all programming languages. Some programming languages provide us with some tools which abstract away the difficult parts of File Handling with easy to use functions and interfaces. This is exactly what Python‘s shutil module does as well.

Python shutil

Python shutil module allows a developer to use file objects very easily and without going into deeper detail about how things work under the covers. This module basically abstracts away the low-level semantics of creating and managing file objects, cleaning them once there use is complete and allows us to focus on the business logic of the application. We will see many examples here, let’s get started.

Examples with Python shutil module

We will study various examples demonstrating the use of Python shutil module here.

Copying a file

With the copyfile() function in shutil module, we can make an exact copy of an existing file anywhere on the machine. Let’s look at a sample program to demonstrate how this can be done:

import os
import shutil

file_directory = ‘./Files’
print(‘Files before:’, os.listdir(file_directory))

shutil.copyfile(‘./Files/hello.txt’, ‘./Files/hello_again.txt’)

print(‘Files after:’, os.listdir(file_directory))

We just copied a file which exists in the given directory to clone the file in the same directory. Here is what we get back with this command:

Python shutil file copy

The good thing about this function is that the mentioned function also takes as input the name to the new file to be created.

Copying Files to another directory

It is possible to copy a file to a new directory with shutil’s copy() function. Let’s look at it in action:

import os
import shutil

print(‘Making a new directory.’)

print(‘Files before: ‘, os.listdir(‘LinuxHint’))
shutil.copy(‘./Files/hello.txt’, ‘LinuxHint’)
print(‘Files after: ‘, os.listdir(‘LinuxHint’))

Let’s see the output for this command:

Copying file to a new directory

Note that when a file is copied using the copy() function, permissions for the file are also cloned but metadata of the file is not copied. This means when you check when this file was made, it will show the fresh time when you ran this script.

Copying file with Metadata

In the last section, we saw how we could make a copy of the file. What if you want to make an exact clone of a file which involves cloning its metadata as well like when the file was made etc. This is possible too but this may not work on a POSIX based system. Let’s look at an example on how this can be done:

import os
import shutil
import time

new_directory = ‘LinuxHint’
src_file = ‘./Files/hello.txt’
dest_file = ‘./LinuxHint/hello.txt’

def file_metadata(file):
stat_info = os.stat(file)
print(‘ Mode :’, oct(stat_info.st_mode))
print(‘ Created :’, time.ctime(stat_info.st_ctime))
print(‘ Accessed:’, time.ctime(stat_info.st_atime))
print(‘ Modified:’, time.ctime(stat_info.st_mtime))

print(‘Metadata for source file:’)

shutil.copy2(src_file, new_directory)

print(‘Metadata for destination file:’)

Here is what we get back with this command when we run this on a POSIX based system (metadata is not cloned completely):

Copy file with metadata

On non-POSIX based systems, even the created and accessed time would have matched exactly.

Cloning complete directory

In last section, we saw how we could make a copy of the file. Here, we will see how we can clone a complete directory recursively. This means that if another directory exists in the directory we want to clone, those will be cloned as well.

import pprint
import shutil
import os

src_directory = ‘./Files’
dest_directory = ‘./LinuxHint’

shutil.copytree(src_directory, dest_directory)

print(‘Contents of Source:’)

print(‘Contents of Destination:’)

Let’s see the output for this command:

Duplicating a directory

Note that the directory we pass to copytree() function as destination directory must not exist before we run this program.

Deleting a Directory

Deleting a directory is very simple with the rmtree() function in the module. Let’s see this function in action here:

import pprint
import shutil
import os

delete_directory = ‘LinuxHint’
current_directory = ‘.’

print(‘Content before removal:’)


print(‘Content after removal:’)

After running the script, LinuxHint directory is deleted along with the contents. Here is what we get back with this command:

Delete directory

Finding files

If you want to find a file which is present on the PATH variable on your machine, we can use the which() function to find that file by name. Let’s look at a demonstration example for this function:

import shutil


Here is what we get back with this command:

Find file on PATH

Monitoring File-system Space

With the shutil module, we have a function disk_usage() through which we can get disk space information about our machine as well. Let’s look at an example which shows this data in a human-readable manner:

import shutil

total_b, used_b, free_b = shutil.disk_usage(‘.’)

gb = 10 ** 9 # GB == gigabyte

print(‘Total: {:6.2f} GB’.format(total_b / gb))
print(‘Used : {:6.2f} GB’.format(used_b / gb))
print(‘Free : {:6.2f} GB’.format(free_b / gb))

Here is what we get back with this command:

Finding file system space

Archiving directories

As a final example, we will see how we can archive a directory shutil module make_archive() function. Let’s look at the sample program:

import shutil
import os

archive_directory =
    os.path.expanduser(os.path.join(‘destination-directory-path’, ‘linuxhint’))
root_dir = os.path.expanduser(os.path.join(‘~’, ‘.ssh’))
shutil.make_archive(archive_directory, ‘gztar’, root_dir)

Here is what we get back with this command:

Archiving directory

If you unarchive the TAR file and have a look, it will contain all the .ssh directory files in it.


In this lesson, we looked at how we can manage file objects with high-level file operations easily with shutil module in Python. Operations like copying contents of a file, create a new copy of a file etc. looked easy with this module.

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