Feb 14, 2022 5 min read

How to Delete Files with Specific Extension in Linux Command Line

Here are a few methods to remove files based on their extension in the Linux command line. Also learn a few tips to be careful in the process.
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You might have a situation where you want to remove multiple files that have a particular extension. This tutorial will help you do exactly that.

You use the rm command to delete files and folders in the following fashion:

rm [option] filename

It may look like that you need to know the exact file names here but that's not true.

Let me show you a couple of methods to remove multiple files based on their file extension.

Method 1: Remove files by extension using rm command

In my example, I have a bunch of gif files that end with .gif extensions.

To remove them, I can use the rm command like this:

rm *.gif

Removing files blindly like that could be risky. It's always good to first see what files will be deleted using the ls command:

ls *.gif

Here's how I delete the files with extension .gif:

$ ls
1.gif  2.gif  3.gif  4.gif  a.jpg  b.png  c.webp

$ ls *.gif
1.gif  2.gif  3.gif  4.gif


$ rm -v *.gif
removed '1.gif'
removed '2.gif'
removed '3.gif'
removed '4.gif'

$ ls
a.jpg  b.png  c.webp

This can be done for any file extension, not just .gif. You may even combine multiple extensions.

$ ls
f1.txt  f2.txt  f3.txt  f4.txt  not-txt-file.pdf random.txt


$ rm -v *.txt *.pdf
removed 'f1.txt'
removed 'f2.txt'
removed 'f3.txt'
removed 'f4.txt'
removed 'not-txt-file.pdf'

$ ls
random.txt
💡
You may use the interactive -i option with rm command that asks to confirm before deleting each file. However, this may not be convenient if you have numerous files to delete.

Wondering how does it work? Wildcards!

In a nutshell, a wildcard is a special character that you use to match a particular pattern. Below are a few wildcards that are frequently used:

Wilcard Use
* Match one or more occurrence
? Match a single occurrence
[]      (Square brackets) Specify a range for matching
^ Exclude from match

You have used the * wildcard here which means it can match one or more occurrence of any character.

When you say *.gif, it means any combination of letters that leads upto .gif. In other words, it gives you all the files with the extension .gif.

Each wildcard can be used in addition to one more wildcards. But let's not go into those details right now.

That dot between * and extension is important!

Many people commit the mistake of confusing the *.gif with *gif. This is not right. The dot (.) between * and extension name is crucial.

Take the scenario with the following files and look what happens when I use the regex *gif instead of *.gif:

$ ls

1.gif  2.gif  3.gif  4.gif  definately-not-a-gif  jpg-not-gif  not-a-gif


$ rm -v *gif

removed '1.gif'
removed '2.gif'
removed '3.gif'
removed '4.gif'
removed 'definately-not-a-gif'
removed 'jpg-not-gif'
removed 'not-a-gif'

It also deleted files with the string gif in it, even though it was not the file's extension, it just had gif at the end of the filename without the preceding dot.

When you remove files with wildcards or regex, please ensure that you are as precise as possible.

Method 2: Recursively delete files with a particular extension using find command

The rm command deletes only the files in the current directory. It does not delete files from the subdirectories, even with the recursive option.

To recursively delete files with a particular extension, you can combine the find command and rm command:

Here's an example where I have .gif files in the subdirectories as well.

$ ls *
file_0.gif  file_z.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir1:
file_1.gif  file_a.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir2:
file_2.gif  file_b.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir3:
file_3.gif  file_c.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir4:
file_4.gif  file_d.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

To delete the files, you can use the find command like this:

find . -type f -name "*.gif" -exec rm -v {} \;

Here's the output when I ran the command:

$ find . -type f -name "*.gif" -exec rm -v {} \;
removed './dir1/file_1.gif'
removed './dir3/file_3.gif'
removed './dir2/file_2.gif'
removed './file_0.gif'
removed './dir4/file_4.gif

Let's break it down.

  • The period after "find" means to search in current directory
  • The "-name" flag specifies the name of the file, where we can use regex
  • The "-exec" flag is used to execute a bash command on the result of the find command
  • The "{}" braces acts as the placeholder for the result of matched file(s), so "rm -v {}" will delete the files that find command found.
  • Finally, the semicolon ends the command executed by your shell (the command after exec) and the backslash '\' is used so that the semicolon is escaped properly. You shouldn't worry about this.

You can learn more examples of the find command in the tutorial below.

15 Super Useful Examples of Find Command in Linux
Learn the super powerful and super useful find command with these practical examples.

Advanced Bonus Tip: Use find command to work on files with multiple extensions

The command shown above doesn't cover finding files with multiple extensions, something like "rm *.gif *.txt"

To achieve that, you can use the -o argument that means 'logical OR operator'. But we also have to use the backslash '\' to escape the parentheses

$ ls *
file_0.gif  file_z.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir1:
file_1.gif  file_a.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir2:
file_2.gif  file_b.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir3:
file_3.gif  file_c.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

dir4:
file_4.gif  file_d.txt  not-a-gif  not-a-txt

$ find . \( -name "*.gif" -o -name "*.txt" \) -exec rm -v {} \;
removed './dir1/file_1.gif'
removed './dir1/file_a.txt'
removed './dir3/file_3.gif'
removed './dir3/file_c.txt'
removed './dir2/file_2.gif'
removed './dir2/file_b.txt'
removed './file_0.gif'
removed './file_z.txt'
removed './dir4/file_d.txt'
removed './dir4/file_4.gif'

Here, you can see that all the files with a 'txt' extension and files with a 'gif' extension are removed, recursively.

I know that you will feel like using the find command separately for each file extension type would be easier and you are not wrong there.

Conclusion

This article covered removing files with a particular extension. We also looked at recursively finding and removing these files.

"With great power, comes great responsibility", remember this when you use wildcards and regex. One mistype and important files might get deleted unintentionally.

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