In bash all I know is that

rmdir directoryname

will remove the directory but only if it's empty. Is there a way to force remove subdirectories?

3 Answers 3


The following command will do it for you. Use caution though if this isn't your intention as this also removes files in the directory and subdirectories.

rm -rf directoryname
  • 73
    "-f" is "--force" which overrides some sanity checks and prompting. A safer command to start with would be rm -r directoryname.
    – Jim Paris
    Commented Aug 17, 2012 at 3:35
  • 1
    For some reason I get a rm: invalid option -- r error when trying to delete a directory with rm -r <directoryname>.
    – Sunspawn
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 15:58
  • @Sunspawn Check this related question to see if that's the case.
    – Marc.2377
    Commented Jul 3, 2016 at 9:50
  • 1
    @JimParis I think the word "safer" is relative. Suppose you are writing a script to run on a remote computer. That script has a command which is supposed to remove a directory. Here, it would be "safer" to use rm -rf directoryname coz you wouldn't want your script to pause execution, because it's waiting for user input. Of course, you have to be sure that deleting the directory would do no harm.
    – John Red
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 10:08
  • Note that this will also delete files (as opposed to subdirectories). Commented Apr 21, 2022 at 15:32

if rm -rf directoryname fails you, try using rm -R -f directoryname, or rm --recursive -f directoryname.

If you are not having any luck with these, you should consider reinstalling rm or switching shells.

  • These were the options available on my rm man page, I looked it up by typing man rm to view my options on recursive deletion and the force options.
    – saterHater
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 18:38
  • Does your rm man page list -r?  What does it do?  (Try it in a directory that you create just for testing purposes, with only dummy files (and maybe subdirectories) in it.)  What operating system are you using? Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 19:08
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    P.S. If rm -r doesn't work, that would be an OS issue, not a shell issue. (Strictly speaking, it would be an issue with the version of rm that you're using, so you could address it by installing a different version of rm, or searching your system to see whether you already have a different version of rm in some directory other than /bin.) Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 21:34
  • Ah, right. I forgot to mention I'm on Ubuntu 14.04 When I ran man rm in my terminal, it gave me a text file with the less text viewer. I scrolled found an indented entry with a whole that had the -R and --recursive options cozied up with the -r option, signifying that all of those arguments are identical.
    – saterHater
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 22:38
  • 1
    edit: have you tried sudo rm -r directoryName? The unwritten rules of the basic commands is that -r will allow a program to run recursively on every file your filesystem (starting where ever you choose!) and that -f will forcefully do things, even if it's dangerous. 'cd', 'mv', 'ls' mostly holds this principle true. ls -r / is gonna be a duzie, and cp -rf / /dev/null will destroy everything on your filesystem. <--Never run that command!
    – saterHater
    Commented Nov 11, 2015 at 22:49

Other answers show how to completely remove a directory’s content, but IMO they don’t address the literal question of the original post — that is, how can one delete subdirectories (as opposed to usual files). In other words, how can one delete empty directory structures while keeping subdirectories containing files ?

This can be achieved with find :

find directoryname -type d -delete

This command will recursively search for directories (-type d) through directoryname and -delete them only if their subdirectories or themselves don’t contain any files.

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