I'm able to use the following to remove the target directory and recursively all of its subdirectories and contents.

find '/target/directory/' -type d -name '*' -print0 | xargs -0 rm -rf

However, I do not want the target directory to be removed. How can I remove just the files in the target, the subdirectories, and their contents?

4 Answers 4


The previous answer is almost correct. However, you shouldn't quote the shell glob characters if you want them to work. So, this is the command you're looking for:

rm -rf "/target/directory with spaces/"*

Note that the * is outside of the double quotes. This form would also work:

rm -rf /target/directory\ with\ spaces/*

If you have the * in quotes as shown above, then it will only attempt to remove the single file literally named * inside the target directory.

  • 1
    This does not work with hidden files and folders. I had to do it once more with a Oct 3, 2013 at 11:41

Three more options.

  1. Use find with -mindepth 1 and -delete:

    −mindepth levels
    Do not apply any tests or actions at levels less than levels (a non‐negative integer).
    −mindepth 1 means process all files except the command line arguments.

    Delete files; true if removal succeeded. If the removal failed, an error message is issued. If −delete fails, find’s exit status will be nonzero (when it eventually exits). Use of −delete automatically turns on the −depth option.
    Test carefully with the -depth option before using this option.

    # optimal?
    # -xdev      don't follow links to other filesystems
    find '/target/dir with spaces/' -xdev -mindepth 1 -delete
    # Sergey's version
    # -xdev      don't follow links to other filesystems
    # -depth    process depth-first not breadth-first
    find '/target/dir with spaces/' -xdev -depth -mindepth1 -exec rm -rf {} \;

2. Use find, but with files, not directories. This avoids the need to rm -rf:

    # delete all the files;
    find '/target/dir with spaces/' -type f -exec rm {} \;

    # then get all the dirs but parent
    find '/target/dir with spaces/' -mindepth 1 -depth -type d -exec rmdir {} \;

    # near-equivalent, slightly easier for new users to remember
    find '/target/dir with spaces/' -type f -print0 | xargs -0 rm
    find '/target/dir with spaces/' -mindepth 1 -depth -type d -print0 | xargs -0 rmdir

3. Go ahead and remove the parent directory, but recreate it. You could create a bash function to do this with one command; here's a simple one-liner:

    rm -rf '/target/dir with spaces' ; mkdir '/target/dir with spaces'

How about

rm -rf /target/directory\ path/*

If there may be files starting with . in the target directory.

rm -rf "/target/directory path/*" "/target/directory path/.??*"

This second will match everything starting with a ., except . and .. It will fail on names like .a, but that isn't very common. It could be tweaked if necessary to cover all of the cases.

  • I tried both and they don't work for me. Perhaps it is because my target directory path has spaces in it? rm -rf '/target/directory path/*' It gives no error, but the subdirectories remain. Feb 11, 2010 at 14:55
  • You need to escape the spaces, either with a backslash (\) before the space, or by enclosing the entire directory name in quotes ("). I edited the examples to show this.
    – KeithB
    Feb 11, 2010 at 16:10
  • Thanks, I tried that to as shown in my previous comment and still no go. (I'm using OS X, does that matter?) Feb 11, 2010 at 18:40
  • OS X should work fine, that is what I'm using. Make sure that you don't both use backslash and quotes. Only one or the other.
    – KeithB
    Feb 11, 2010 at 18:49
  • Yes, just using the quotes. If I remove the * and so I'm only using rm -rf "/target/directory path/" the "directory path" directory will be removed along with "directory path" subdirectories. If I use the rm -rf "/target/directory path/*", nothing happens. Feb 11, 2010 at 19:34
find /target/directory/ -xdev -depth -mindepth 1 -exec rm -Rf {} \;

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