How to rm -rf in Python to Delete a Directory?

Problem Formulation: How to Remove a Directory in Python?

The rm command in Linux removes a specific directory. You can also add the options

  • -r remove the directory recursively
  • -f ignore nonexistent files and arguments and don’t prompt the user to ask for confirmation

So, if you run rm -rf my_directory, it’ll forcefully remove my_directory and all its child directories.

$ rm -rf my_directory

What is the best way to do the equivalent of rm -rf in Python?

Method 1: shutil.rmtree()

shutil.rmtree() to remove directories in Python

The most Pythonic way to rm -rf is to use the function shutil.rmtree() defined in the shutil package. It takes one argument, the folder to be removed, and removes the folder recursively.

import shutil
shutil.rmtree('my_directory')

Note that rmtree isn’t semantically identical to rm -rf because it raises an error if you try to remove a single file.

If you generally want to suppress error messages, you can use the following command instead:

shutil.rmtree('my_directory', ignore_errors=True)

Method 2: os.unlink() and shutil.rmtree()

The following method resolves this problem of Python raising an error if you try to remove a single file.

import os, shutil

def remove(path):
    if os.path.exists(path):  
        if os.path.isfile(path) or os.path.islink(path):
            os.unlink(path)
        else:
            shutil.rmtree(path)

remove('my_directory')

As pointed out here, this method works on symbolic links to directories in the directory to be removed.

Method 3: os.walk()

You can also remove a directory with all its content by using the os.walk() method that goes over all files and folders in a given directory.

# CAUTION: top == '/' could delete all files on your disk!
import os
my_dir = '/my_directory'
for root, dirs, files in os.walk(my_dir, topdown=False):
    for name in files:
        os.remove(os.path.join(root, name))
    for name in dirs:
        os.rmdir(os.path.join(root, name))

Method 4: Remove Read Only Files in Windows

You can also remove a directory in Windows if files are in a read only mode by using the following code from the Python docs:

import os, stat, shutil

def remove_readonly(func, path):
    os.chmod(path, stat.S_IWRITE)
    func(path)

directory = 'my_dir'
shutil.rmtree(directory, onerror=remove_readonly)

This example shows how to remove a directory tree named 'my_dir' on Windows where some of the files are read-only. The function is used as a callback to clear the readonly bit and reattempt the removal process. If there’s still an error, it’ll be propagated up to the main program.

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