I recently needed to clean up a directory on my Linux box that included hundreds of files. I wanted to get rid of all the files that hadn’t been updated in over a year. At first I decided just to list the files by date:
This will list the files in long format by time (newest files list before old file). This shows me all the details with the oldest files scrolling to the bottom of the window so the last few files above my command prompt are the oldest.
There are hundreds of files more than a year old.
Find is one of the tools I keep in my Linux tool belt. I don’t need it often, but when I do it saves me quite a bit of time. Find is the Swiss Army Knife of Linux search tools. It is complete, thorough, and comes with just about every “doo-dad” (a technical term) for finding files. It does real-time system searches, so unlike locate it does not rely on a secondary database which may become outdated and not give complete results.
The downside of find is that there are so many options. It is easy to choose the wrong option or, more likely, to string together the options in a manner that the search takes forever and you get no results.
The upside, thanks to how the command shells work, is that you can use the output of find to drive other applications. Like
rm. The later two are how we’ll employ find.
Find Files Not Touched In A Year
First we can find all the files in our current directory that are ‘stale’ like this:
find ./ ctime +365
In English “find stuff in this directory (./) where the creation time (ctime) is at least 365 days ago”.
The sister option is
mtime, which is “modification time”, and may be more appropriate depending on whether you are truly looking for “modified since” (touched at all) or “created since” (date it was first brought into existence).
Now we can combine this with
ls to list the results. It may seem redundant, but I like to test the parameter passing of find to another shell command using something innocuous such as ls. So we test like this:
ls -l `find ./ ctime +365`
The back-ticks take the output of find, which is a simple relative-path based list of the files it located, and uses that as the second parameter to
If all looks good we can now force a remove of those files. Be careful with
rm -f. You can do irreparable harm with this. There are other options and if you are not comfortable with power tools that can take a limb off with one keystroke, then drop the -f or us one of the myriad of linux admin tools to help you out. I’ll roll the dice and hope all my limbs remain intact:
rm -f `find ./ ctime +365`
Other Find Options
There are a lot of ways to find files by other attributes such as “delete all files larger than ? MB” or “delete all files older than <this file>”. This is a good resource that explains some of the options and how to perform different types of find operations:
Good luck & keep your limbs on!