Getting Started With Linux Terminal

Linux Command Tutorials for Absolute Beginners

Terminal Basics #6: Delete Files and Folders in Linux

You have learned to create files and directories. Now it is time to learn about deleting files and folders in the command line.

In the earlier chapters of the Terminal Basics series, you learned to create new files and directories (folders).

Let's now see how you can delete files and folders in the Linux terminal.

Deleting files

To remove files, you can use the rm command in the following fashion:

rm filename_or_path

You won't see any output if the file is successfully deleted.

Here's an example where I removed one of the files named new_file. When I list the directory contents, you can see that new_file no longer exists.

Removing files in Linux terminal
Removing a single file

You can also remove multiple files in the same command:

rm file1 file2 file3

Let me show an example of deleting two files in a single command.

Deleting multiple files in single rm command
Removing multiple files

πŸ‹οΈExercise file deletion

Let's practice what you just learned. Create a directory named practice_delete and switch to it:

mkdir practice_delete && cd practice_delete

Now create a few empty files:

touch file1 file2 file3

Delete the file3:

rm file3

Now, let's do something extra. Run this command and change the permission on file2:

chmod u-w file1 file2

Try deleting file2 now:

rm file2

Do you see a message 'remove write protected file'? That's because you removed the write permission (for modification) from this file.

You can press Y or enter key to confirm the deletion or N to deny the removal.

If you don't want to see this message and still delete it, you can use the force delete option -f. Try it by deleting file1:

rm -f file1

Here's a replay of all the above examples to help you:

Deleting files in Linux terminal
There is no trash bin in the Linux command line. Once the file is deleted, you cannot undo the action to bring it back from the trash bin as you do in the graphical file manager. For this reason, be extra careful while deleting the files.

Remove but with caution

The lack of trash bin makes the deletion a permanent jobs of sort. This is why you should be careful about what files are you deleting.

There is an interactive mode with option -i. With this, you'll be asked to confirm the deletion.

rm -i filename

This is helpful when you are deleting several files based on a certain pattern.

Here's an example where I am interactively deleting all the files that match file_ pattern in their name. I delete some and keep some in the interactive mode.

Deleting files in interactive mode
I advise switching to the directory where the files are located and then removing them. This helps in reducing any potential caused by a typo in file path.

Deleting directories

There is a dedicated rmdir command to remove directories in Linux.

rmdir dir_name

However, it can only delete empty directories. If the directory has any files or subdirectories in it, the rmdir command will throw error.

abhishek@itsfoss:~/practice_delete$ rmdir dir2
rmdir: failed to remove 'dir2': Directory not empty

And that makes it less useful in most cases.

So, how do you delete a non-empty folder then? Well, you use the same rm command that you used earlier for removing files.

Yes, the same rm command but with the recursive option -r:

rm -r dir_name

πŸ‹οΈExercise folder deletion

Let's practice what you learned.

Switch to practice_delete folder if you are not already there. Now, create two directories dir1 and dir2.

mkdir dir1 dir2

Create a file in dir2:

touch dir2/file

Now try deleting the directories using the rmdir command:

rmdir dir1
rmdir dir2

Since the dir2 is not empty, rmdir command will fail. Instead, use the rm command with recursive option:

rm -r dir2

Here's a replay of all the above command examples to help you out:

Deleting folders in Linux
The interactive deletion mode is even more helpful while deleting a directory with the recursive option of the rm command: rm-ri dir_name

So, you learned to delete files and folders both using Linux commands. It's time to practice some more.

Test your knowledge

Prepare a directory tree that looks like this:

β”œβ”€β”€ dir1
β”‚   β”œβ”€β”€ file1
β”‚   β”œβ”€β”€ file2
β”‚   └── file3
β”œβ”€β”€ dir2
β”œβ”€β”€ dir3
└── file

Basically, you create a file named file and three directories dir1, dir2 and dir3 in the current directory (practice_delete). And then you create files file1, file2 and file3 in dir1.

Now do the following:

  • Delete file2.
  • Switch to the dir3 and force delete the file named file in the upper directory.
  • Delete all the contents of dir1 but not the directory itself.
  • List the contents of the dir.

I encourage you to discuss the practice questions in the It's FOSS community forum.

This is going good. You have learned several basic things like switching directories, checking contents of directory, creating and deleting files and directories. In the next chapter, you'll learn about copying files and folders in the terminal. Stay tuned!