I have ubuntu file system directories in the root directory and I accidentally copied hundreds of files into root directory.

I intuitively tried to remove copied files by excluding file system like

rm -rf !{bin,sbin,usr,opt,lib,var,etc,srv,libx32,lib64,run,boot,proc,sys,dev} ./.

bu it doesn't work. What's the proper way to exclude some directories while deleting the whole?

EDIT: Never try any of the commands here without knowing what to do!

  • 1
    What shell are you using? Filename globbing is shell dependent when it comes to doing fancy stuff like that.
    – Kusalananda
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:02
  • 2
    Not an answer, but I would use for example mc. Select everything with *, then deselect specific files with - or Insert key.
    – pbm
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:05
  • 1
    Can you explain what 'mc' is?
    – MikeP
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:12
  • @Kusalananda it's /bin/bash
    – kenn
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:15
  • 3
    @MikeP: mc is Midnight Commander, a very useful imitation of Norton Commander. It runs in a terminal. (Both Midnight Commander and Norton Commander are examples of what is called an orthodox file manager.)
    – AlexP
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:18

3 Answers 3


Since you are using bash:

shopt -s extglob
echo rm -rf ./!(bin|sbin|usr|...)

I recommend to add echo at the beginning of the command line when you are running something what potentially can blow up the entire system. Remove it if you are happy with the result.

Note: The above command won't remove hidden files (those which name start by a dot). If you want to remove them as well then activate also dotglob option:

shopt -s dotglob
  • I used it to clean up the filesystem successfully. At first I tested it in a directory. I also tried rm -rf ./!(bin,sbin,..) comma seperated, but it removes all directories.
    – kenn
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 14:25
  • What is that !(...) syntax? From the example I intuitively thought ls ./!(*/) would list only files, but it doesn't work that way.
    – giusti
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 14:38
  • @giusti This syntax is extended pattern matching in filename expansion mechanism - you will find its description in the bash manual under Pathname Expansion chapter. It cannot be used to exclude files' types, only names, just like with star * or other globs.
    – jimmij
    Commented Jan 7, 2017 at 16:51

This command will show all non-directories in /:

find / -maxdepth 1 -type f

Once you have made absolutely sure no files are there that you wish to keep, you can use:

find / -maxdepth 1 -type f -delete

Safer, would be to move them elsewhere to ensure you aren't deleting something you want to preserve:

mkdir /root/preserve
find / -maxdepth 1 -type f -exec mv -- "{}" /root/preserve/\;

If, in addition to files, you also have directories that you've added to the root of the filesystem, this could be automated by excluding the LSB directories from an automated mv or rm, but honestly, since we're dealing with purging things in the root of the filesystem, I would strongly suggest you consider doing it manually if at all feasible.

If this is not feasible, something like this could do the trick:

declare -a excludes
for item in root sys 'lost+found' mnt home proc etc opt boot lib lib64 libx32 sbin media srv dev var usr bin tmp run; do
if ! [[ -d /root/preserve ]]; then
    mkdir -p /root/preserve
for item in find / -type d -maxdepth 1; do
    for exclude in ${excludes[@]}; do
        if [[ "$exclude" == "${item#/}" ]]; then
    if [[ "true" == "$really" ]]; then
        mv -- "$item" /root/preserve/

Once you've passed the scream test (i. e. your system still runs and you are not screaming in anguish), you can remove the contents of /root/preserve/.

Important note: Whatever you do, don't even think about running any permutation of rm -fr [ANYTHING GOES HERE] /.

  • your solution only deletes files but there are folders around too.
    – kenn
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 21:31
  • 1
    One too many times, I have heard shrieks of dismay from a poorly-aimed rm. Like a script with rm -fr $somepath/ with somepath uninitialized in it. I could have gone further in expressing how grave this is, but opted to remain family friendly in my admonition.
    – DopeGhoti
    Commented Jan 6, 2017 at 22:44

This should get the job done (though not in the same way as the OP asks):

ls -1 >1.txt
pico 1.txt 

remove all files/directories you want to keep

xargs rm < 1.txt

If your files all have the same name format, date, or something else, then there are other methods.

I'd look at the inodes - and see if they are sequential via ls -i |sort and if they are, then the new files will have larger inodes. Then using the same type of process as above...

ls -iF1 | sort |cut -c10- | grep -vE "\/|\@" >i.txt   #This part removes entries that are not regular files, such as directories and links.  
pico i.txt
xargs rm < i.txt

in the cut command above, check your inodes list first to make sure it is the right amount.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .