rm fails to delete files by wildcard from a script, but works from a shell prompt


I've run into a really silly problem with a Linux shell script. I want to delete all files with the extension ".bz2" in a directory. In the script I call

rm "$archivedir/*.bz2"

where $archivedir is a directory path. Should be pretty simple, shouldn't it? Somehow, it manages to fail with this error:

rm: cannot remove `/var/archives/monthly/April/*.bz2': No such file or directory

But there is a file in that directory called test.bz2 and if I change my script to

echo rm "$archivedir/*.bz2"

and copy/paste the output of that line into a terminal window the file is removed successfully. What am I doing wrong?

4/26/2009 2:05:34 PM

Accepted Answer


Quote only the variable, not the whole expected path with the wildcard

rm "$archivedir"/*.bz2


  • In Unix, programs generally do not interpret wildcards themselves. The shell interprets unquoted wildcards, and replaces each wildcard argument with a list of matching file names. if $archivedir might contain spaces, then rm $archivedir/*.bz2 might not do what you

  • You can disable this process by quoting the wildcard character, using double or single quotes, or a backslash before it. However, that's not what you want here - you do want the wildcard expanded to the list of files that it matches.

  • Be careful about writing rm $archivedir/*.bz2 (without quotes). The word splitting (i.e., breaking the command line up into arguments) happens after $archivedir is substituted. So if $archivedir contains spaces, then you'll get extra arguments that you weren't intending. Say archivedir is /var/archives/monthly/April to June. Then you'll get the equivalent of writing rm /var/archives/monthly/April to June/*.bz2, which tries to delete the files "/var/archives/monthly/April", "to", and all files matching "June/*.bz2", which isn't what you want.

The correct solution is to write:

rm "$archivedir"/*.bz2
12/16/2016 7:19:07 AM

Your original line

rm "$archivedir/*.bz2"

Can be re-written as

rm "$archivedir"/*.bz2

to achieve the same effect. The wildcard expansion is not taking place properly in your existing setup. By shifting the double-quote to the "front" of the file path (which is legitimate) you avoid this.

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