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How not to rm yourself

The rm command is inherently dangerous and should not be used directly. It can at worst let you accidentally remove everything. Here's how you can protect you from yourself.

Use trash-cli

The trash-cli command-line app will move stuff to the trash instead of permanently deleting it:

$ npm install --global trash-cli
$ trash unicorn.png rainbow.png

Works on macOS, Linux, Windows. Requires Node.js.

Safeguard rm

Even though you don't use rm directly, external scripts most likely will. There are some things you can do to safeguard this:

  • Alias rm to its interactive mode rm -i. Just doing this step is not enough as -f overrides -i.

    If you only want to alias rm in your interactive shell (and not in scripts), just add alias rm='rm -i' to your .bashrc or .zshrc.

    If you want to force scripts to use rm -i as well, follow these steps depending on which shell you're using:


    • Add alias rm='rm -i' to your .bashrc.
    • Create a file called .bashenv in your home directory with shopt -s expand_aliases and source .bashrc.
    • In your .bashrc, add export BASH_ENV='~/.bashenv'.

    zsh: If you use zsh and want rm to be aliased in bash scripts, zsh scripts and your own interactive z shell, we have to jump through some more hoops:

    • Create a file called .common_profile in your home directory with alias rm='rm -i'
    • Create a file called .bashenv in your home directory with source ~/.common_profile and shopt -s expand_aliases.
    • Create a file called .zshenv in your home directory alongside .bashenv and add source ~/.common_profile.
    • Finally, in your .zshrc add source ~/.common_profile and export BASH_ENV='~/.bashenv'. Your .common_profile, .bashenv, .zshenv and .zshrc should end up looking like this.
  • Install coreutils which includes a newer version of rm with the flag --preserve-root which is enabled by default and will prevent you from removing root. macOS: brew install coreutils Linux: Included by default.

    With this version of rm you can also choose to switch from alias rm='rm -i' to alias rm='rm -I' which is similar:

    -I prompt once before removing more than three files, or when removing recursively. Less intrusive than -i, while still giving protection against most mistakes.

  • Install safe-rm which will let you set off-limits directories.

  • ZSH users can also do the following:

    • Put unsetopt RM_STAR_SILENT in your .zshrc, which will make it ask you before executing rm with a star rm folder/*.

    • Put setopt RM_STAR_WAIT in your .zshrc, which will make it wait 10 seconds until executing rm with a star rm folder/*.

  • Always backup your system.