How to find and delete directory recursively on Linux or Unix-like system

Posted on in Categories , , last updated June 22, 2017

I type ‘find . -type d -iname foo -delete‘ command to find the foo directories and delete them. However, I am getting an error message that read as find: cannot delete './hourly.4/data/foo': Directory not empty on Linux server. How do delete directories based on find command output on Linux or Unix-like system?

Delete directories based on find command output
The -delete option remove the DIRECTORY(ies), if they are empty. You need to use the -exec option to delete all directories and its contents. The syntax is as follows.

Find command syntax to delete dirs

find /dir/to/search/ -type d -name "dirName" -exec rm -rf {} +
find /dir/to/search/ -type d -name "dirName" -exec rm -rf \;

Warning: Be careful with the rm command when using with find. You may end up deleting unwanted data.

Find will execute given command when it finds files or dirs. For example:
find . -type d -name "foo" -exec rm -rf {} +
find . -type d -name "bar" -exec rm -rf "{}" \;
Sample outputs:

removed './daily.0/bar/.cache/'
removed directory './daily.0/bar/root/.cache'
removed './daily.0/bar/.lesshst'
removed './daily.0/bar/.viminfo'
removed './daily.0/bar/.vim/.netrwhist'
removed directory './daily.0/bar/root/.vim'
removed './daily.0/bar/root/.bashrc'
removed './daily.0/bar/.ssh/authorized_keys'
removed directory './daily.0/bar/root'
removed directory './daily.0/bar/var/spool/cron/crontabs'

You can find directories that are at least four levels deep in the working directory /backups/:
find /backups/ -type d -name "bar" -depth +4 -print0 -exec rm -rf {} +

Find and xargs

The syntax is as follows to find and delete directories on Linux/Unix system:
## delete all empty dirs ##
find /path/to/dir/ -type d -empty -print0 | xargs -0 -I {} /bin/rm -rf "{}"
## delete all foo dirs including subdirs in /backups/
find /backups/ -type d -name "foo*" -print0 | xargs -0 -I {} /bin/rm -rf "{}"

The second command is secure and fast version as it deals with weird dir names such as:

  • “foo bar”
  • “Foo _ *bar”

Posted by: Vivek Gite

The author is the creator of nixCraft and a seasoned sysadmin and a trainer for the Linux operating system/Unix shell scripting. He has worked with global clients and in various industries, including IT, education, defense and space research, and the nonprofit sector. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

3 comment

  1. I’d escape the curly brackets with §'{}’§ instead of leaving them §{}§ or §”{}”§ cuz that leaves no room for mistakes and, as a minor point, provides a speed boost.

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