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Deleting tons of files in Linux (Argument list too long)

Quick Linux Tip:

If you’re trying to delete a very large number of files at one time (I deleted a directory with 485,000+ today), you will probably run into this error:

/bin/rm: Argument list too long.

The problem is that when you type something like “rm -rf *”, the “*” is replaced with a list of every matching file, like “rm -rf file1 file2 file3 file4″ and so on. There is a reletively small buffer of memory allocated to storing this list of arguments and if it is filled up, the shell will not execute the program.

To get around this problem, a lot of people will use the find command to find every file and pass them one-by-one to the “rm” command like this:

find . -type f -exec rm -v {} \;

My problem is that I needed to delete 500,000 files and it was taking way too long.

I stumbled upon a much faster way of deleting files – the “find” command has a “-delete” flag built right in! Here’s what I ended up using:

find . -type f -delete

Using this method, I was deleting files at a rate of about 2000 files/second – much faster!

You can also show the filenames as you’re deleting them:

find . -type f -print -delete

…or even show how many files will be deleted, then time how long it takes to delete them:

root@devel# ls -1 | wc -l && time find . -type f -delete
real    0m3.660s
user    0m0.036s
sys     0m0.552s



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