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delete file

An inode identifies the file and its attributes such as file size, owner, and so on. A unique inode number within the file system identifies each inode. But, why to delete file by an inode number? Sure, you can use rm command to delete file. Sometime accidentally you creates filename with control characters or characters which are unable to be input on a keyboard or special character such as ?, * ^ etc. Removing such special character filenames can be problem. Use following method to delete a file with strange characters in its name:

Please note that the procedure outlined below works with Solaris, FreeBSD, Linux, or any other Unixish oses out there:

Find out file inode

First find out file inode number with any one of the following command:

stat {file-name}


ls -il {file-name}

Use find command to remove file:

Use find command as follows to find and remove a file:

find . -inum [inode-number] -exec rm -i {} \;

When prompted for confirmation, press Y to confirm removal of the file.

Delete or remove files with inode number

Let us try to delete file using inode number.

(a) Create a hard to delete file name:
$ cd /tmp
$ touch "\+Xy \+\8"
$ ls

(b) Try to remove this file with rm command:
$ rm \+Xy \+\8

(c) Remove file by an inode number, but first find out the file inode number:
$ ls -ilOutput:

781956 drwx------  3 viv viv 4096 2006-01-27 15:05 gconfd-viv
781964 drwx------  2 viv viv 4096 2006-01-27 15:05 keyring-pKracm
782049 srwxr-xr-x  1 viv viv    0 2006-01-27 15:05 mapping-viv
781939 drwx------  2 viv viv 4096 2006-01-27 15:31 orbit-viv
781922 drwx------  2 viv viv 4096 2006-01-27 15:05 ssh-cnaOtj4013
781882 drwx------  2 viv viv 4096 2006-01-27 15:05 ssh-SsCkUW4013
782263 -rw-r--r--  1 viv viv    0 2006-01-27 15:49 \+Xy \+\8

Note: 782263 is inode number.

(d) Use find command to delete file by inode:
Find and remove file using find command, type the command as follows:
$ find . -inum 782263 -exec rm -i {} \;

Note you can also use add \ character before special character in filename to remove it directly so the command would be:
$ rm "\+Xy \+\8"

If you have file like name like name "2005/12/31" then no UNIX or Linux command can delete this file by name. Only method to delete such file is delete file by an inode number. Linux or UNIX never allows creating filename like 2005/12/31 but if you are using NFS from MAC OS or Windows then it is possible to create a such file.

See also:

Linux : How to delete file securely

Recently we had lot of discussion regarding this issue. How to remove files securely so that it cannot be undeleted. Peter Gutmann paper "Secure Deletion of Data from Magnetic and Solid-State Memory" has very good information. Here are some commands/tools available under Debian GNU/Linux (it should work with other Linux distributions) to delete file securely.

srm: Securely remove files or directories

This command is a replacement for rm command. It works under Linux/BSD/UNIX-like OSes. It removes each specified file by overwriting, renaming, and truncating it before unlinking. This prevents other people from undelete or recovering any information about the file from the command line. Because it does lots of operation on file/directory for secure deletion, it also takes lot of time to remove it. Download srm from http://sourceforge.net/projects/srm (RPM file is also available for RPM based Linux distributions)

i) Untar and install the srm:

# ./configure
# make
# make install 

ii) How to use srm?
srm syntax is like rm command. Read man srm. Here is simple example:

$ srm privateinfo.doc

wipe: It is a secure file wiping utility

Download wipe from http://wipe.sourceforge.net/
i) Untar and install the wipe

# ./configure
# make
# make install

ii) How to use wipe?

$ wipe filename

Read man page of wipe for information.

shred: Delete a file securely, first overwriting it to hide its contents.

It is available on most of Linux distributions including Debian GNU/Linux. To remove file called personalinfo.tar.gz :

$ shred -n 200 -z -u  personalinfo.tar.gz


  • -n: Overwrite N (200) times instead of the default (25)
  • -z: Add a final overwrite with zeros to hide shreddin
  • -u: Truncate and remove file after overwriting

Read the man page of shred(1) for more information. Most of these utilities are not effective (read as useless) only if :

  • File system is log-structured or journaled filesystems, such as JFS, ReiserFS, XFS, Ext3 etc
  • Your filesystems is RAID-based, compressed filesystem etc
  • In addition, file system backups and remote mirrors may contain copies of the file that cannot be removed by these utilities.

See also: