Right Outer Join

5 December 2013

Copy files between s3 buckets

Filed under: AWS, Linux — Tags: , , , , — mdahlman @ 15:06

The problem

I needed to copy files between Amazon AWS S3 buckets. This should be easy. Right?

To be clear, I wanted the equivalent of this:

cp s3://sourceBucket/file_prefix* s3://targetBucket/

The solution (short version)

No, it’s not easy.

Or rather, in the end it turned out to be pretty easy; but it was entirely unintuitive.

s3cmd cp --recursive --exclude=* --include=file_prefix* s3://sourceBucket/ s3://targetBucket/

The explanation (long version)

Get s3cmd

The best command line utility for working with S3 is s3cmd. You can get it from s3tools.org. If you’re on Amazon Linux (or CentOS or RHEL, etc) then this is the easiest way to install it.

# Note the absence of s3tools.repo in your list of repositories like this:
ls /etc/yum.repos.d/
# Put s3tools.repo in your list of repositories like this:
sudo wget http://s3tools.org/repo/RHEL_6/s3tools.repo -O /etc/yum.repos.d/s3tools.repo
# Confirm that you did it correctly:
ls /etc/yum.repos.d/

# Install s3cmd:
sudo yum install s3cmd

# Configure s3cmd:
s3cmd --configure

False start 1

s3cmd has a copy command, “cp”. Try that:

# This should do the trick:
s3cmd s3://sourceBucket/file_prefix* s3://targetBucket/

One file copies successfully… but then it crashes:

File s3://sourceBucket/file_prefix_name1.txt copied to s3://targetBucket/file_prefix_name1.txt

    An unexpected error has occurred.
  Please report the following lines to:

Problem: KeyError: 'dest_name'
S3cmd:   1.0.0

Traceback (most recent call last):
  File "/usr/bin/s3cmd", line 2006, in 
  File "/usr/bin/s3cmd", line 1950, in main
  File "/usr/bin/s3cmd", line 614, in cmd_cp
    subcmd_cp_mv(args, s3.object_copy, "copy", "File %(src)s copied to %(dst)s")
  File "/usr/bin/s3cmd", line 604, in subcmd_cp_mv
    dst_uri = S3Uri(item['dest_name'])
KeyError: 'dest_name'

    An unexpected error has occurred.
    Please report the above lines to:

Argh!! This stackoverflow answer confirms that s3cmd cp cannot handle this. (It is wrong, but for a long time I believed it.)

False start 2

This stackoverflow answer suggests “sync” as the command to use.

It is correct. But sync is not the same as copy, so this has bad side effects if what you really want to achieve is copying files. For example, sync will remove files in the target folder (to keep things in sync, duh). So syncing from source1 and source2 into a single target will cause grief. For copying all files from one location to another it’s great. I wanted to copy files, and I did not want any of the side effects of sync.

Bad alternatives

You can write your own script using boto and python or muck around with awk and getting lists of files to copy one-by-one. In principle these will work, but yuck.

You could download the files from s3 then put them back up into the intended target bucket. This is a terrible solution. It will succeed… but what a waste of time and bandwidth. What makes it so tempting is that s3cmd works exactly like you want it to work with “get” and “put”.

s3cmd put /localDirectory/file_prefix* s3://targetBucket/

If “put” is so easy, why is “cp” so hard?


I studied the s3cmd options over and over. Eventually I realized “cp” had more flexibility if you look deep enough.

  • –recursive
    In my mind, my requirement is clearly not recursive. I simple want multiple files. But recursive in this context just tells s3cmd cp to handle multiple files. Great.
  • –exclude
    It’s an odd way to think of the problem. Begin by recursively selecting all files. Next, exclude all files. Wait, what?
  • –include
    Now we’re talking. Indicate the file prefix (or suffix or whatever pattern) that you want to include.
  • s3://sourceBucket/  s3://targetBucket/
    This part is intuitive enough. Though technically it seems to violate the documented example from s3cmd help which indicates that a source object must be specified:
    s3cmd cp s3://BUCKET1/OBJECT1 s3://BUCKET2[/OBJECT2]

I posted a brief version of my answer to the most elegant of technical websites. You should vote it up. But that didn’t seem like the best place to elaborate on the answer as I’ve done here.


Amazon offers a command line interface (CLI) tool to do the same thing. AWS Command Line Interface. I swear that I looked extensively and repeatedly for exactly this saying, “I just can’t believe that Amazon wouldn’t have this by now.” Well, they do. I have no idea why I could not find it, but I’m mentioning it here for my own future reference and for anyone else who is using s3cmd as an alternative to the Amazon utility that they couldn’t find.

I have no idea if the Amazon CLI is [ better | worse | different ] than s3cmd in any interesting way regarding S3. (It’s certainly different in the respect that it interacts with many other AWS services besides S3.) If I ever need to compare them, then I’ll write it up.


Blog at WordPress.com.