How to Use the rmdir Command in Linux

The rmdir command in Linux is a fundamental tool for removing empty directories from the filesystem. It is a straightforward utility that helps maintain a clean and organized directory structure by allowing you to delete directories that are no longer needed. Understanding how to use rmdir effectively ensures efficient directory management without risking data loss, as it only removes directories that do not contain files.

The following guide will demonstrate how to use the rmdir command in Linux using the command-line terminal. We will cover essential options, practical examples, and advanced use cases to help you efficiently remove empty directories while maintaining a well-organized filesystem.

Understanding the rmdir Command

What is the rmdir Command?

The rmdir command is a standard utility in Linux that removes empty directories. It’s an essential tool for filesystem maintenance, ensuring that directories no longer in use can be safely and effectively removed.

Why Use the rmdir Command?

There are several reasons to use the rmdir command:

  • Clean Filesystem: By removing unnecessary empty directories, users can maintain a tidy and organized filesystem.
  • Resource Management: Though empty directories don’t consume significant space, cleaning them up reduces filesystem clutter, making directory searches faster.
  • Automation: The rmdir command can be combined with other commands to automate script cleanup tasks.

Basic Syntax of the rmdir Command

The basic syntax for the rmdir command is as follows:

rmdir [OPTION]... DIRECTORY...

The command works by specifying options (if any) followed by one or more directory names.

Practical Examples of Using the rmdir Command

Removing a Single Directory

To remove an empty directory named “sampleDir“:

rmdir sampleDir

This command will only work if “sampleDir” is empty. If there are any files or sub-directories inside it, the command will throw an error.

Removing Multiple Directories

To delete multiple empty directories at once, you can specify all their names:

rmdir dir1 dir2 dir3

Again, all specified directories must be empty for the command to execute successfully.

Removing Directories Recursively

While rmdir itself doesn’t support recursive removal you can combine it with the find command to achieve this:

find . -type d -empty -delete

This finds and removes all empty directories recursively from the current directory.

Displaying Verbose Output

To receive a confirmation message for every directory removed:

rmdir -v dirName

This command will display a message such as “rmdir: removing directory, ‘dirName’” once the directory is deleted.

Ignoring Non-Empty Directories

If you’re unsure whether a directory is empty and don’t want to see an error message, use the --ignore-fail-on-non-empty option:

rmdir --ignore-fail-on-non-empty dirName

This command will silently fail if the directory isn’t empty.

Removing Parent Directories

To remove parent directories, you can utilize the -p option:

rmdir -p sampleDir/subDir/

This will remove “subDir" and then its parent “sampleDir” if both are empty.

Advanced Uses of the rmdir Command

Combining with Other Commands

To find all empty directories and then remove them:

find /path/to/search/ -type d -empty | xargs rmdir

This utilizes the power of find and xargs to streamline directory cleanup.

Handling Spaces in Directory Names

If a directory name has spaces, enclose it in quotes:

rmdir "Directory Name With Spaces"

This ensures the command recognizes the entire directory name.

Using Wildcards with rmdir

To remove directories that match a specific pattern, you can use wildcards:

rmdir DirNamePrefix*

This command will remove all directories that start with “DirNamePrefix” and are empty.

Removing Empty Directories in a List

If you have a list of directories in a file and want to remove all that are empty:

xargs rmdir < list.txt

This reads directory names from “list.txt” and tries to remove them using rmdir.

Integrating with Scripts

The rmdir command can be integrated into shell scripts to automate directory cleanup. For instance, a script might first move specific files, then attempt to remove the directories they were in.

mv /path/to/files/* /new/path/
rmdir /path/to/files/

This script moves all files from one directory to another and then attempts to remove the original directory.


The rmdir command in Linux is essential for managing and maintaining a clean filesystem. Its flexibility allows for basic directory removals and advanced automated tasks. By mastering the rmdir command and its various options, users can ensure efficient directory management in their Linux environments.

Joshua James
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