In Unix, how do I remove files with names that contain strange characters, such as spaces, semicolons, and backslashes?

If you've transferred files to your Unix account from a PC or Macintosh with filenames containing what Unix considers to be meta-characters, they may cause problems. Meta-characters (including semicolons, spaces, backslashes, dollar signs, question marks, and asterisks) are characters that are interpreted under Unix as commands or instructions. Although these characters may not cause any trouble in other operating systems, their special Unix interpretations may cause problems when you try to delete them. Try the following suggestions for deleting these files:

  • Try the regular rm command and enclose your troublesome filename in quotes. This may solve the problem of deleting files with spaces in their name, for example:
     rm "File Name"

    You can also remove some other characters in this manner, for example:

     rm "filename;#"

    The quotes prevent the semicolon from being interpreted as a stacking command. (Since you can string commands together in Unix with semicolons, Unix will interpret a semicolon in a filename that way, unless you put it in quotes.)

  • You can also try renaming the problem file, using quotes around your original filename, by entering:
     mv "filename;#" new_filename

    If this command successfully renames the file, you can then use the rm command to delete the file using the new name.

  • If this doesn't work, insert a backslash ( \ ) before the meta-character in your filename. The backslash causes the character that follows to be interpreted literally. For example, to remove the file named my$project, enter:
     rm my\$project
  • To remove a file whose name begins with a dash (-) character, refer to the file with the following syntax:
     rm ./-filename

    Using the redundant ./ directory information prevents the dash from occurring at the beginning of the filename, and being interpreted as an option of the rm command.

  • There are some characters that you cannot remove using any of the above methods, such as forward slashes, interpreted by Unix as directory separators. To remove a file with such meta-characters, you may have to FTP into the account containing the file from a separate account and enter the command:
     mdel

    You will be asked if you really wish to delete each file in the directory. Be sure to answer n (for no) for each file except the file containing the difficult character that you wish to delete. Delete that file by typing y (for yes) when prompted. Once you've deleted the intended file, you may press Ctrl-c to discontinue the mdel process. Use this approach cautiously to avoid deleting other files by mistake.

    If you're using a graphical FTP client, remove these files as you would any other file.

  • Some Emacs editors allow you to directly edit a directory, and this provides yet another way to remove a file with a troublesome name. Consult Emacs documentation for more information.

This is document abao in the Knowledge Base.
Last modified on 2017-05-16 11:52:03.

  • Fill out this form to submit your issue to the UITS Support Center.
  • Please note that you must be affiliated with Indiana University to receive support.
  • All fields are required.

Please provide your IU email address. If you currently have a problem receiving email at your IU account, enter an alternate email address.

  • Fill out this form to submit your comment to the IU Knowledge Base.
  • If you are affiliated with Indiana University and need help with a computing problem, please use the I need help with a computing problem section above, or contact your campus Support Center.

Please provide your IU email address. If you currently have a problem receiving email at your IU account, enter an alternate email address.