Find and Delete Files and Directories on Linux

In this article we are going to understand about the find command in Linux and also how to use the find command to delete files and directories in Linux.

The find command

The find command in Linux is a powerful command-line utility tool that helps you search,find or filter for files and directories based on the matching pattern specified by the user and allows you to perform subsequent operations on the result you get.The operations can be printing the files found, or deleting , reading the contents etc.

The file searching will be done starting from the current location and will go on recursively to all the directories, sub-directories present in the hierarchy. The user can limit the search to a certain level from the current directory by providing the required directory or subdirectory as the matching pattern.

The find command allows you to search by file , directory , name, date of creation of the file or directory, date of modification , owner and permissions.


Following is the syntax for find command −

$ find [path] [options] [expression]


All the parameters are optional and by default find command will take the current working directory and list all the files present in the hierarchy.

  • path − Here path is the location where you want to search for the file.

  • options − The options param is nothing but a pattern for the find command to search for the file.For example it can be the name of the file or folder, permission, creation or modification time or date.

  • expression − The action you want to perform on the result. For example -delete, -print etc. The expression can be used in different ways and will get to know more in detail in the examples we try below.


In this example to perform the delete operation we are going to make use of -delete expression. Consider you want to delete a .txt file from your current working directory, the command for same is as follows:

find  .  -name filepattern  -delete

In the above example the (.) refers to the current working directory.

  • The -name option is used to get the file pattern for example in our case it can be the name of the file for example test.txt or it can also be file extension (“.txt”). IF filename is given it will delete only the file with that name , if the file extension is given it will delete all the files with .txt in that working directory.

  • The -delete expression will perform the file deletion.

Let us try the same in command line.

$ ls
demo/  img.jpg  img2.jpg  img3.jpg  img4.jpg  test.txt  xyz.txt

In the current directory I have the demo/ sub-directory and files. Let us try to delete test.txt from it.

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -name test.txt -delete

The above command will delete the file and will not give you any output .But if you check now the folder the test.txt will be gone as shown below.

localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo      img.jpg   img2.jpg  img3.jpg  img4.jpg  xyz.txt

Using the same command lets try to delete all the files with .jpg extension. If you see in folder demo/ you will get following files:

localhost:~/testFindCommand/demo# ls
abc.txt   img5.jpg

So, when you try to delete files with the .jpg extension all the files from your current directory and also the sub-directory demo with .jpg will get deleted. Let us run the command and check the result.

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -name '*.jpg' -delete

Now if you check the folder you will get the following output −

localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo     xyz.txt

Inside demo/ you will have the following details

localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo     xyz.txt
localhost:~/testFindCommand# cd demo
localhost:~/testFindCommand/demo# ls

So now from your current folder and the sub folders you will not have any .jpg files.


In this case we are going to delete a directory. So let us know what patterns and options can be used to delete a directory.

The -delete option will allow you to delete the given directory only if the directory is empty.IF the directory has any files present it will throw an error. Let us check one example. So in our current working directory we have the following files and sub-directory.

localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo      testDemo  xyz.txt

We have a demo and testDemo sub-directory , let us check their contents :

localhost:~/testFindCommand# cd demo
localhost:~/testFindCommand/demo# ls

The demo folder is not empty and has a file abc.txt. The testDemo folder is empty as shown below:

localhost:~/testFindCommand# cd testDemo
localhost:~/testFindCommand/testDemo# ls

Now, let us use the find command with -delete on demo and testDemo.

find . -name demo -delete
find . -type d -name demo -delete //The -type d in above command is referred for directories.

The above command does not delete the demo folder and throws error as shown below:

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -name demo -delete
find: ./demo: Directory not empty

Now, let us try to delete the empty directory testDemo.

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -name testDemo -delete
localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo     xyz.txt

The empty directory got deleted without any issue. So please keep in mind to use -delete option to delete empty directories.


The exec option allows you to delete all the contents of the directories.The problem we ran into using -delete option will get sorted using -exec option. Before we get into the details of using the -exec command let us understand how to use it.

We are going to make use of the following expression with the find command.

  • -exec rm -rf {} \; − This allows you to make use of rm (remove command) with exec.All the files present in the directory and subdirectories will be recursively removed with -rf option in it. The files found are placed in the curly braces {} placeholder.

  • -exec rm -rf {} + − This command is more or less similar to the above one with only difference: it makes use of + sign at the end. The performance with + is said to be better when looking for matching files in comparison to (;). Also when you use (;) you need to escape it with (\) whereas + you don;t need to escape it.

  • -exec rm -rfi {} + − This command is also similar, but it has the -i option that stands for interactive and it will ask for your permission before deleting the file.

Let us test the command with examples:

-exec rm -rf {} \;

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -type d -name demo -exec rm -rf "{}" \;
find: ./demo: No such file or directory
localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls

-exec rm -rf {} +

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -type d -name test -exec rm -rf "{}" +

-exec rm -rfi {} +

localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -type d -name demo -exec rm -rfi "{}" +
rm: descend into directory './demo'? y
rm: descend into directory './demo/test'? y
rm: descend into directory './demo/test/abc'? y
rm: descend into directory './demo/test/abc/tt'? y
rm: remove directory './demo/test/abc/tt'? y
rm: remove directory './demo/test/abc'? y
rm: remove directory './demo/test'? y
rm: remove directory './demo'? y


You can make use of xargs command with the result that you get from find command to delete the directory or file. Command to delete all files with “*.txt” extension

find . -name “*.txt” | xargs rm -rf
localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo     xyz.txt
localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -type f -name "*.txt"|xargs rm -rf
localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls

Command to delete the directory with xargs.

localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls
demo     xyz.txt
localhost:~/testFindCommand# find . -name demo | xargs rm -rf
localhost:~/testFindCommand# ls

Updated on: 06-Jun-2023

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