Is it possible to delete . and ..?

I read somewhere there are some patches for the linux kernel which let you do that. I have no idea where I read it and I don't know how to search for it because google and duckduckgo ignore the .s.

  • 3
    Are you asking for a specific reason, i.e. do you have an application case where you would actually want/need to do that?
    – AdminBee
    Jan 21, 2021 at 13:11
  • I am asking out of curiosity. Jan 21, 2021 at 13:14
  • Why would you do this? Do you know that .. refers to the parent directory, and . to the current directory?
    – Panki
    Jan 21, 2021 at 13:19
  • Do you want to remove actual directories (example)? or entries in some directory only? To see the difference: suppose you're in /foo/bar/ and you manage to remove .. It may be you remove /foo/bar/; or it may be /foo/bar/ still exists but there is no longer . in it. Jan 21, 2021 at 13:20
  • I know what . and . refer to. I wan't to remove . and .. in the directory not the directory itself Jan 21, 2021 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


Technically, it is possible; for example, on an ext4 file system in e2test.img:

$ sudo mount e2test.img /mnt/temp
$ sudo mkdir /mnt/temp/dir{1,2}
$ sudo umount /mnt/temp
$ debugfs -w e2test.img
debugfs 1.45.6 (20-Mar-2020)
debugfs:  unlink dir1/..
debugfs:  unlink dir1/.
debugfs:  quit
$ sudo mount e2test.img /mnt/temp
$ ls -a /mnt/temp/dir{1,2}

.  ..

The shell isn’t particularly confused:

$ cd /mnt/temp/dir1
$ pwd
$ cd ..
$ pwd

As might be expected, e2fsck isn’t happy about this:

$ e2fsck e2test.img
e2fsck 1.45.6 (20-Mar-2020)
Pass 1: Checking inodes, blocks, and sizes
Pass 2: Checking directory structure
Missing '.' in directory inode 113793.
Fix<y>? yes
Setting filetype for entry '.' in ... (113793) to 2.
Missing '..' in directory inode 113793.
Fix<y>? yes
Setting filetype for entry '..' in ... (113793) to 2.
Pass 3: Checking directory connectivity
'..' in /dir1 (113793) is <The NULL inode> (0), should be / (2).
Fix<y>? yes
Pass 4: Checking reference counts
Pass 5: Checking group summary information

e2test.img: ***** FILE SYSTEM WAS MODIFIED *****
e2test.img: 14/128016 files (0.0% non-contiguous), 18478/512000 blocks

The exact behaviour will depend on the specific file system being used. Some don’t even store . and .. entries, but emulate them instead (POSIX requires . and .. to be understood and resolve to the appropriate directories, but doesn’t require them to be physically present).

  • 1
    POSIX doesn't require them. It requires . to resolve to the current directory and .. to resolve to the parent, but not readdir() to include any of them in its result. Actually, the world would be a better place if readdir() no longer returned them. See also: austingroupbugs.net/view.php?id=1228 Jan 21, 2021 at 13:59
  • @Stéphane yes, I only wanted to explain why a file system would emulate them; thanks for the clarification, I’ve updated the answer. Jan 21, 2021 at 14:12
  • I don't think it's good to conflate the emulation of . and .. when resolving paths (which is required by POSIX compat and is done by the kernel at VFS level) and their emulation of . and .. when listing directories (which is done by most filesystems, though not required by POSIX, and not at all useful or reliable). If you re-created . as a named pipe or regular file in debugfs, stat . would still show it as a directory. A much better question IMHO would've been: what programs would break if filesystems no longer faked the . and .. entries when listing directories?
    – user313992
    Jan 22, 2021 at 9:48
  • In the (unlikely) case someone actually tries that, notice that debugfs is a very blunt tool: mknod /dir/pipe p will not create a named pipe inside the /dir directory, but one named /dir/pipe (yes, including the slashes as part of the filename) inside the current directory.
    – user313992
    Jan 22, 2021 at 10:42

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