I need to delete all files in a directory, but exclude some of them. For example, in a directory with the files a b c ... z, I need to delete all except for u and p. Is there an easy way to do this?

  • The answers below are a lot better, but you could just make the files to save read-only, delete all, and then change them back to their original permissions (as long as you don't use rm -f). You'd have to know what permissions to restore and you'd have to know that nothing needed write access to them during the process. This is why the other answers are better. – Joe Jan 15 '13 at 5:13
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    If you also want to delete hidden files run shopt -s dotglob before running rm (...). – user185585 Jan 28 '13 at 8:07

17 Answers 17


What I do in those cases is to type

rm *

Then I press Ctrl+X,* to expand * into all visible file names.

Then I can just remove the two files I like to keep from the list and finally execute the command line.

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    I guess this works only as long as the list of files which * expands too isn't getting too long. :-} – Frerich Raabe Jan 8 '13 at 16:57
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    Esc followed by * will also expand the "*". – slowpoison Jan 9 '13 at 20:45
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    @SantoshKumar: That doesn't make sense to me. The expansion will always work, it doesn't depend on what command you want to use afterwards. – Der Hochstapler Jan 17 '13 at 18:18
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    @OliverSalzburg Sorry, the combination is little bit confusing. I think you should write like Ctrl + Shift + x + * – Santosh Kumar Jan 18 '13 at 5:22
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    @SantoshKumar: But that's not the combination. – Der Hochstapler Jan 18 '13 at 11:26

To rm all but u,p in bash just type:

rm !(u|p)

This requires the following option to be set:

shopt -s extglob

See more: glob - Greg's Wiki

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    you must have 'extglobbing' active: shopt -s extglob – sparkie Jan 8 '13 at 13:07
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    You need to shopt -s extglob, @Ashot. Also, it's just files, not directories, which is why I've removed the -rf options in your command. – slhck Jan 8 '13 at 13:07
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    If you need to exclude one file of a selection of files, try this: rm !(index).html. This will delete all files ending in ".html" with the exception of "index.html". – mzuther Jul 24 '15 at 21:46

You can use find

find . ! -name u ! -name p -maxdepth 1 -type f -delete
  • ! negates the next expression
  • -name specifies a filename
  • -maxdepth 1 will make find process the specified directory only (find by default traverses directories)
  • -type f will process only files (and not for example directories)
  • -delete will delete the files

You can then tune the conditions looking at the man page of find


  • Keep in mind that the order of the elements of the expressions is significant (see the documentation)
  • Test your command first by using -print instead of -delete

    find . ! -name u ! -name p -maxdepth 1 -type f -print
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    order of predicates is critical here. If one put -delete just after . it will be disaster (will delete all files in CWD) – Michał Šrajer Jan 8 '13 at 17:34
  • This could be written more compactly as find . -maxdepth 1 -type f -name '[^up]' -delete – kojiro Jan 8 '13 at 18:09
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    @kojiro yes but only for files that are just one letter. With more complex names the regex could be a mess. – Matteo Jan 8 '13 at 20:15
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    find is my best friend, especially when there are too many files to glob – Terence Johnson Jan 9 '13 at 22:36
  • +1 for the explanation of all arguments – Mohan Munisifreddy Apr 28 '20 at 19:20


mv the files you want in a upper directory, rm the directory and then mv them back.

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    Offcourse, mv them to a directory higher. Try not to mv them to a subdirectory you are deleting... – Konerak Jan 8 '13 at 19:21
  • @Konerak: rm without -r won't remove subdirectories. – reinierpost Jan 8 '13 at 23:07
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    This will overwrite files with the same name in the destination directory – Matteo Jan 9 '13 at 9:29
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    I am downvoting this because while it can be handy, it also is non-atomic and effectively removes all files from the directory during a short period of time; this would not be acceptable if, for instance, the files are being shared on the network. – sam hocevar Jan 10 '13 at 12:19
  • Also you'd need write access on the parent directory, which you likely not have on a shared web server. – Jan Heinrich Reimer Apr 4 '20 at 20:57

Somewhat similar to this answer but no special options are needed, as far as I know the following is "ancient" functionality supported by any (vaguely) /bin/sh resembling shell (e.g. bash, zsh, ksh, etc)

rm [^up]
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    This works for the 1-char filenames. For longer names, sparkie's answer is better. – glenn jackman Jan 8 '13 at 15:31
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    What would be wrong with rm [^up]*? I do similar things rather often. – user Jan 8 '13 at 15:33
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    @MichaelKjörling - this would delete all files beginning with either u or p, not just those with the names u and p. I think the OP (@Ashot) meant the a-z and u,p,etc. symbolically and not literally. – Sudipta Chatterjee Jan 9 '13 at 9:07
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    @HobbesofCalvin That would delete all files not beginning with u or p, not those beginning with them. – rjmunro Jan 9 '13 at 10:48

Doing it without find:

ls | grep -v '(u|p)' | xargs rm

(Edit: "u" and "v", as in other places here, are being used as generic versions of entire regexes. Obviously you'll want to be careful to anchor your regexes to avoid matching too many things.)

You're definitely going to want a script if you're going to be doing much of this, as others have suggested.

  • grep will not handle extended regexpt by default: either use -E or egrep – Matteo Jan 9 '13 at 9:28
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    this will exclude any file containing a u or a p – Matteo Jan 9 '13 at 9:28
  • @Matteo No it won't. The grep isn't grepping the files, it's grepping the output of the ls command. You're thinking of something like grep -L (u|p)' * | xargs rm where -L means list filenames not containing a match. – rjmunro Jan 9 '13 at 10:52
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    Oh, you mean any file who's name contains u or p, not any file containing a u or a p. That is correct. You can fix by using egrep -v '^(u|p)$' – rjmunro Jan 9 '13 at 12:40
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    Here is remove everything except these matches! ls | grep -v 'vuze\|progs' | xargs rm -rf – Nick Sep 25 '14 at 12:32

In zsh:

setopt extended_glob  # probably in your .zshrc


rm ^(u|p)


rm *~(u|p)

The second will work even if you have ^ in $histchars for history substitution, and of course you can put an arbitrary glob before the ~.


GLOBIGNORE takes a colon-separated list

rm *
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    This does not work on my shell (GNU bash 4.1.5(1)). Be sure to test it first with something a little less harmful than rm or in a testing directory! – user Jan 8 '13 at 20:09

Back in the floppy era I had a dos executable called "Except" that would move things out of the current directory temporarially and execute a command, so you could say:

except *.txt del *.*

to delete everything but your text files.

This would be a pretty trivial thing to implement as a shell script and if this is the kind of thing you are likely to do more than twice it seems like it would be a good idea.

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    It reminded me the same thing. But temporarily moving out of folder may not be a good idea in the era of multitasking :) – Sedat Kapanoglu Jan 9 '13 at 9:18
 find . -maxdepth 1 ! -name "u" ! -name "p" -type f -exec rm -rf {} \;

This will delete all files except u and p in unix


For those preferring to specify arbitrary complex exclude patterns (spanning all affected filenames) in a full blown regexp emacs, posix-awk or posix-extended style (see find man page) I would recommend this one. It excludes u and p in current dir in this example. This may be handy for scripts.

find -regextype posix-awk ! -regex './(u|p)' -print0 | xargs -0 rm -rf
  • You need to specify a directory before the expression (`find . -regextype ...). – Matteo Jan 9 '13 at 9:25
  • -regextype will only work on GNU versions – Matteo Jan 9 '13 at 9:26
  • no - my find version (debian squeeze) does definitively not require an explicit directory before the expression if the current directory should be used – sparkie Jan 9 '13 at 9:44
  • @sparke: this just works on GNU implementations – Matteo Jan 9 '13 at 9:48
  • @sparkie: not defining the directory (first parameter) for find is a GNU extension of find command. The same applies for -regextype option. In addition, your command will delete files in subdirectories, too, whereas the original question clearly asked about files in a directory. – Mikko Rantalainen Sep 4 '15 at 5:28

Yet another:

for FILE in ./*; do if [[ $FILE != ./u* ]] || [[ $FILE != ./p* ]];then rm $FILE; fi; done;

It's kind of lengthy and I don't know if you could easily make it into an function that could easily accommodate and arbitrary number of arguments, but it works well.

And it's pure bash goodness.


I always use:

rm [a-o,q-t,v-z]*

This will allow you to define how granular you want to make it. So if you want to delete a through o and Z files you can use:

rm [a-o,z]*

Yet another version using xargs:

ls -1 | grep -v do_not_delete | xargs -I files rm "files"

Note that xargs -I is needed to handle filenames including spaces correctly.


Here's another variant. You can type:

rm -i *


rm --interactive *

So rm will ask you to confirm deleting of each file.



find . -type f ! -name 'u' ! -name 'p' ! -name '*.ext' -delete
find . -type d ! -name 'u' ! -name 'p' ! -name '*.ext' -delete

in order to delete all files including directories, except u, p and .ext files.


A simple way that is hard to mess up: let's say you want to delete everything except *.pdf:

mkdir tmp
mv *.pdf tmp
rm *
mv tmp/* .
rm -r tmp

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