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I've tried deleting a directory using "rm -rf" and I'm getting the message "Directory not empty":

Bens-MacBook-Pro:please benjaminhocking$ ls -lart empty_directory/
total 16
drwxr-xr-x  5 benjaminhocking  staff  170 Aug 27 14:46 .
drwxr-xr-x  3 benjaminhocking  staff  102 Aug 27 15:28 ..
Bens-MacBook-Pro:please benjaminhocking$ rm -rf empty_directory/
rm: empty_directory/: Directory not empty
Bens-MacBook-Pro:please benjaminhocking$ rmdir empty_directory/
rmdir: empty_directory/: Directory not empty

If I try the same thing using Finder (dragging the folder to the Trash), I get the message

The operation can’t be completed because the item “empty_directory” is in use.

I've tried doing xattr -d, purely out of superstition, but it did no good.

A probably important piece of context is that this directory was initially in a directory that should've been deleted by a "make clean" command I issued prior to Terminal locking up on me, after which a little over half of the other programs I had running also locked up, including Skype, and eventually the OS itself. I ended up having to reboot the computer by pressing and holding the power key.

Edit to add: Another important piece of information I left off was that this was happening in an encrypted folder à la encfs. I was able to track down the corresponding folder in the encrypted side of things and delete it there. I still don't know why I couldn't do it from the decrypted side of things like I normally do. I'll leave this unanswered for now in case anyone has a good answer for that.

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Do you have any other shell open within this directory, or an app running just using it? The term "is in use" could also mean that (though I never experienced not being able to rmdir it -- but it often is the cause why one cannot unmount a volume). –  Izzy Aug 27 '12 at 22:44
Not at the time those particular commands had been issued. I had done a complete reboot just prior to that. –  Ben Hocking Aug 28 '12 at 13:03
I sometimes have the same problem with EncFS and so far I have no idea how to solve this. Anything new? –  Martin Preusse Oct 4 '12 at 21:34
@emempe: What I finally ended up doing was deleting the folder in the encrypted space, using the last modified timestamp as my identifier. (Which can be dangerous.) If I come up with a better solution, I'll let you know. –  Ben Hocking Oct 4 '12 at 21:42
@BenHocking: I do that too. Happens rarely for me so I'm fine with this. Still, I don't like the feeling that my EncFS got corrupted somehow ... ;) My EncFS is in a Dropbox, maybe some connection? –  Martin Preusse Oct 4 '12 at 21:49

4 Answers 4

Reboot your computer and run rmdir(1) again.

$ rmdir -r empty_directory/

If that doesn't work, then try:

$ rm -rf empty_directory/

If it still doesn't work, assuming OS X has lsof(8) preinstalled, then enter:

$ lsof +D empty_directory/

This should tell if any files in this directory are being used by any programmes. I think that the HFS+ filesystem does not allow the deletion of files in use. Anyway, killall(1) any executables that might be using this directory or any hidden files inside it. It is likely that Finder is using a hidden file in the empty_directory directory to store folder view settings. Hope this helps.

P.S.: To find out if lsof(8) is installed, enter:

$ lsof

If the output looks like this, then lsof(8) is installed on your system.

lsof: /usr/bin/lsof /usr/bin/X11/lsof /usr/share/man/man8/lsof.8.gz

Thank you for asking.

Edit: Check for any hidden and encrypted files or encryption key files in that directory. These could be the culprit.

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Repairing the disk using Disk Utility fixed this problem for me.

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If this happens and you're sure you want to delete everything, you should try using sudo rm -rf directory/

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This doesn't work on ~/.Trash for some reason. –  MarcusJ Aug 6 at 8:06

I ran into exactly this error while also trying to remove a directory (rm -r dirname). I had already tried all of the suggestions I've read here before I searched and found this thread. I do not know if there may have been any additional points unintentionally left unstated from the original question, but in my case the root of the trouble, and the solution was:

  • the directory in question was on a network-mounted disk

  • any ls attempt from Finder or command line showed nothing but . and ..

  • I logged into the network disk server via the ssh command and checked ls -al there. The result showed, in addition to . and .., several .__filename items with extended security information (i.e., + appended to the mode).

I believe these are, or are similar to, files which I first noted Mac OSX creating years ago when using cp -R, tar, or cpio to archive or move groups of files. I had deduced at the time that they were used to properly reset some file properties after the move - maybe uid/gid, mode, acls, mtime/utime/ctime, etc; I'm not really sure - properties which had not been getting reset correctly by those commands before that time (I remember that OSX used to include mvmac and cpmac commands to work around the problem before these .__filename types of files started appearing when using the usual forms of cp, tar, etc).

I had never encountered trouble deleting these files when they had been written onto an internal, USB, or Firewire drive; this was the first time I'd found them on a network disk; completely undetectable from the client side of the mount, but normal in every way when viewed from the server side.

rm -rf dirname from a login on the network disk server properly removed the directory along with its contents.

So, there's another answer for what it's worth; another potential solution to this problem if it should appear for anyone in conjunction with a network disk.

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