Originally published January 7, 2018 @ 10:46 pm

I am not talking about hundreds or thousands of files. I am talking about hundreds of thousands. The usual “/bin/rm -rf *” may work but will take a while. Or it may fail with the “argument list too long” error. So here are a few examples showing you how to delete many files in a hurry.

First, we need something to work with, like maybe a million empty files dumped into a single folder:

dir=/home/tmp ; mkdir -p ${dir} ; cd ${dir}
for i in `seq 1 1000000` ; do printf "file_${i}\n" ; done | xargs touch

Method 1: find + xargs (40 seconds)

time find ${dir} -type f | xargs -L 100 -P 100 /bin/rm -f

Method 2: find + delete (51 seconds)

time find ${dir} -type f -delete

Method 3: rsync (22 seconds)

mkdir /tmp/empty ; time rsync -a --delete-before /tmp/empty/ ${dir}/

Method 4: Perl (23 seconds)

cd ${dir} ; time perl -e 'for(<*>){((stat)[9]<(unlink))}'

Method 5: rm (19 seconds)

time /bin/rm -f ${dir}

Moral of the story: if the number of files doesn’t exceed rm‘s argument size limit – don’t try to be clever and just use it. Otherwise, rsync seems a viable alternative.

A different approach should be taken when deleting files from NFS mounts. Each delete operation generates a lot of network overhead. The answer is to parallelize the deletion process. For example, imagine your NFS-mounted directory looks like so:


Now, also imagine that each bigfolder_## contains a large number of files. You can do something like this:

mkdir /tmp/empty
find /mnt/nas01/bigshare/ -maxdepth 1 -mindepth 1 -type d | while read line; do
rsync -a --delete-before /tmp/empty/ ${line}/ &

This would start ten rsync threads in parallel. This will work faster than a single thread, but there is a way of improving performance by mounting each bigfolder_## individually (if the NAS allows you this option):

for i in `seq -w 01 10`; do mount nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_${i} /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_${i}; done

df -hP | grep bigfolder

nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_01  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_01
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_02  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_02
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_03  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_03
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_04  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_04
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_05  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_05
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_06  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_06
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_07  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_07
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_08  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_08
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_09  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_09
nas01:/bigshare/bigfolder_10  763T  351T  405T  47% /mnt/nas01/bigshare/bigfolder_10