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Linux Shell Tip: Remove files with names that contains spaces, and special characters such as -, --

In Linux or Unix-like system you may come across file names with special characters such as:

  • -
  • --
  • ;
  • &
  • $
  • ?
  • *
  • White spaces, backslashes and more.

In this quick tip I am going to show you to delete or copy files with names that contain strange characters on Linux.

Sample file list

Here is a sample list of file names:

file-1

The problem and solution

Your default bash shell considers many of these special characters (also known as meta-characters) as commands. If you try to delete or move/copy such files you may end up with errors. In this example, I am trying to delete a file named '>file':

$ rm >file

Sample outputs:

rm: missing operand
Try `rm --help' for more information.

The rm command failed to delete the file due to strange character in filename.

Tip #1: Put filenames in quotes

The following command is required to copy or delete files with spaces in their name, for example:

$ cp "my resume.doc" /secure/location/
$ rm "my resume.doc"

The quotes also prevent the many special characters interpreted by your shell, for example:

$ rm -v ">file"
removed `>file'

The double quotes preserve the value of all characters enclosed, except for the dollar sign, the backticks and the backslash. You can also try single quotes as follows:

$ rm -v 'a long file   name  here'
$ cp 'my mp3 file.mp3' /backup/disk/

Tip #2: Try a backslash

You can always insert a backslash (\) before the special character in your filename:

$ cp "my\ resume.doc" /secure/location/
$ rm "\*file"

Tip #3: Try a ./ at the beginning of the filename

The syntax is as follows to delete a file called '-file':

$ rm -v ./-file
removed `./-file'

The ./ at the beginning of the filename forces rm not to interpret - as option to the rm command.

Tip #4: Try a -- at the beginning of the filename

A -- signals the end of options and disables further option processing by shell. Any arguments after the -- are treated as filenames and arguments. An argument of - is equivalent to --. The syntax is:

$ rm -v -- -file
$ rm -v -- --file
$ rm -v -- "@#$%^&file"
$ rmdir -v -- "--dirnameHere"

Tip #5: Remove file by an inode number

The -i option to ls displays the index number (inode) of each file:

ls -li

Use find command as follows to delete the file if the file has inode number 4063242:

$ find . -inum 4063242 -delete

OR

$ find . -inum 4063242 -exec rm -i {} \;

Sample session:file-2

For more information and options about the find, rm, and bash command featured in this tip, type the following command at the Linux prompt, to read man pages:

$ man find
$ man rm
$ man bash
 

Comments

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  • Hari. Said:

    The one that worked for me is tip#4 on linux. >> Tip #4: Try a -- at the beginning of the filename


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