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Start Using XCOPY to Speed up Transferring Files

Updated on November 23, 2016

The Need for Speed

People are copying, storing, backing up, and sharing more and more media files than ever. While it's important to have fast CPU’s, lots of RAM, and plenty of storage on a drive with good speed (if not a Solid State Drive), one of the easiest and best ways to save time transferring files is by using a simple cmd line tool called XCOPY.

Even if you're not familiar or comfortable using the cmd line interface, XCOPY is one of the easiest commands to learn and use. Why Use XCOPY? Because in Windows, that pretty little graphic display you see that shows you files are being transferred is actually eating up processor speed and slowing the file transfer down! By exactly how much you ask? Glad you asked, Read on and I’ll show you.

Timing is Everything

Lets say I want to copy my music files from my local HD to my external drive. I open up both windows, select my music file, hit the CTRL keys + C (Copy), and then in my External USB Window hit the CTRL + V keys (Paste). Note - I personally always copy and paste to ensure files don't placed in the wrong directory, and that they were copied and not moved.

Windows 7 is estimating this transfer will take an hour or so. (Pic above). For the sake of this article I (painfully) let this run and it actually took 20 minutes. Now, lets try to use XCOPY to copy these files and see how long it takes.

Example 1

First, I’ll get to my command prompt by using the search box in Windows 7 (Desktop --> Windows Icon bottom left corner --> where it says "Search programs and files" and type CMD. If you are running Windows Vista do the same, if you are running Windows XP go to start, run, and type CMD.

The black screen that appears is the cmd prompt. Now I will Type XCOPY C:\music H:\music /s /e.

I was able to copy my files in ten minutes. Here's a quick breakdown of the syntax:

First, always start with XCOPY. Next you type the source, in my case the C drive and the folder “photos”. Then second you enter the destination. My external drive is H and the folder I want to copy the contents of photos into is also creatively named photos. The s “copy all directories and subdirectories even if empty” and e ”copy all subdirectories even if empty” tags are necessary. Without them you will see individual files were copied (from the main directory) but not the subdirectories. Please check this link for a full break down of syntax used.


Generally speaking, if you are copying an entire directory from one drive to another, the /s and /e tags will usually do the trick. Tip – after your transfer is done you should always check the folder size on both drives to make sure they are the same (right click the folder and select properties).

Example 2

In this example Ill copy the contents of my spreadsheet folder into a network share. The syntax is the same, XCOPY C:\spreadsheets “S:\user share” /s /e

You may have noticed I used quotes this time, this is because of the space between user and share, the cmd line will not recognize this drive without them.

Since you're copying files and not moving them your risk is limited, but before you try copying any wedding photos or baby pictures I would run a test or two first to get the hang of XCOPY. With just a little bit of effort you can speed up your file transfers and maybe even show off to your friends a bit.


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    • kschang profile image

      kschang 4 years ago from San Francisco, CA, USA

      Good tip. For those who are command-line allergic, Teracopy may be of some assistance:


    • profile image

      JC 3 years ago

      teracopy was significantly slower for me

    • howlermunkey profile image

      Jeff Boettner 3 years ago from Tampa, FL

      Thanks JC, yeah results seem to vary with teracopy for me as well. I've been using robocopy or xcopy lately. Thanks for stopping by, -- J

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