base (version 3.4.0)

files: File Manipulation


These functions provide a low-level interface to the computer's file system.


file.create(…, showWarnings = TRUE)
file.rename(from, to)
file.append(file1, file2)
file.copy(from, to, overwrite = recursive, recursive = FALSE,
          copy.mode = TRUE, = FALSE)
file.symlink(from, to), to)
Sys.junction(from, to)


…, file1, file2
character vectors, containing file names or paths.
from, to
character vectors, containing file names or paths. For file.copy and file.symlink and Sys.junction to can alternatively be the path to a single existing directory.
logical; should existing destination files be overwritten?
logical; should the warnings on failure be shown?
logical. If to is a directory, should directories in from be copied (and their contents)? (Like cp -R on POSIX OSes.)
logical: should file permission bits be copied where possible?
logical: should file dates be preserved where possible? See Sys.setFileTime.


These functions return a logical vector indicating which operation succeeded for each of the files attempted. Using a missing value for a file or path name will always be regarded as a failure. If showWarnings = TRUE, file.create will give a warning for an unexpected failure.

Case-insensitive file systems

Case-insensitive file systems are the norm on Windows and macOS, but can be found on all OSes (for example a FAT-formatted USB drive is probably case-insensitive). These functions will most likely match existing files regardless of case on such file systems: however this is an OS function and it is possible that file names might be mapped to upper or lower case.

Symbolic links on Windows

Symbolic links in the sense of POSIX file systems do not exist on Windows: however, NTFS file systems support two similar concepts. Windows 2000 and later have ‘junctions’ (or ‘junction points’), unfortunately without a public API. They are a Windows version of the Unix concept of mounting one directory on another. One way to create, list and delete junctions is via junction.exe from (see On recent enough versions of Windows mklink /J can also be used. Function Sys.junction creates one or more junctions: to should either specify a single existing directory or a set of non-existent file paths of the same length as from. A version of symbolic linking to files/directories was implemented starting with Vista, and file.symlink makes use of that interface. However, it has restrictions (apart from the OS version restriction) which are crippling. First, the user needs permission to make symbolic links, and that permission is not normally granted except to Administrator accounts (note: not users with Administrator rights): further many users report that whereas the Policy Editor appears to be able to grant such rights, the API still reports insufficient permissions. Second, the interface needs to know if from is a file or a directory (and it need not yet exist): we have implemented this to allow linking from a directory only if it currently exists. Care is needed with removing a junction (and most likely also a symbolic link): many tools will remove the target and its contents.


Always check the return value of these functions when used in package code. This is especially important for file.rename, which has OS-specific restrictions (and note that the session temporary directory is commonly on a different file system from the working directory).


The arguments are concatenated to form one character string: you can specify the files separately or as one vector. All of these functions expand path names: see path.expand. file.create creates files with the given names if they do not already exist and truncates them if they do. They are created with the maximal read/write permissions allowed by the ‘umask’ setting (where relevant). By default a warning is given (with the reason) if the operation fails. file.exists returns a logical vector indicating whether the files named by its argument exist. (Here ‘exists’ is in the sense of the system's stat call: a file will be reported as existing only if you have the permissions needed by stat. Existence can also be checked by file.access, which might use different permissions and so obtain a different result. Note that the existence of a file does not imply that it is readable: for that use file.access.) What constitutes a ‘file’ is system-dependent, but should include directories. (However, directory names must not include a trailing backslash or slash on Windows.) Note that if the file is a symbolic link on a Unix-alike, the result indicates if the link points to an actual file, not just if the link exists. Lastly, note the different function exists which checks for existence of R objects. file.remove attempts to remove the files named in its argument. On most Unix platforms ‘file’ includes empty directories, symbolic links, fifos and sockets. On Windows, ‘file’ means a regular file and not, say, an empty directory. file.rename attempts to rename files (and from and to must be of the same length). Where file permissions allow this will overwrite an existing element of to. This is subject to the limitations of the OS's corresponding system call (see something like man 2 rename on a Unix-alike): in particular in the interpretation of ‘file’: most platforms will not rename files across file systems. (On Windows, file.rename can move files but not directories between volumes.) On platforms which allow directories to be renamed, typically neither or both of from and to must a directory, and if to exists it must be an empty directory. file.append attempts to append the files named by its second argument to those named by its first. The R subscript recycling rule is used to align names given in vectors of different lengths. file.copy works in a similar way to file.append but with the arguments in the natural order for copying. Copying to existing destination files is skipped unless overwrite = TRUE. The to argument can specify a single existing directory. If copy.mode = TRUE file read/write/execute permissions are copied where possible, restricted by ‘umask’. (On Windows this applies only to files.) Other security attributes such as ACLs are not copied. On a POSIX filesystem the targets of symbolic links will be copied rather than the links themselves, and hard links are copied separately. Using = TRUE may or may not copy the timestamp exactly (for example, fractional seconds may be omitted), but is more likely to do so as from R 3.4.0. file.symlink and make symbolic and hard links on those file systems which support them. For file.symlink the to argument can specify a single existing directory. (Unix and macOS native filesystems support both. Windows has hard links to files on NTFS file systems and concepts related to symbolic links on recent versions: see the section below on the Windows version of this help page. What happens on a FAT or SMB-mounted file system is OS-specific.)

See Also, file.access, file.path,, list.files, unlink, basename, path.expand. dir.create. Sys.glob to expand wildcards in file specifications. file_test, Sys.readlink (for ‘symlink’s). and for the concepts of links and their limitations.


Run this code
cat("file A\n", file = "A")
cat("file B\n", file = "B")
file.append("A", "B")
file.append("A", rep("B", 10))
file.copy("A", "C")
file.copy(c("A", "B"), "tmp")
file.symlink(file.path("..", c("A", "B")), ".")
unlink("tmp", recursive = TRUE)
file.remove("A", "B", "C")

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