OK, so I've been doing different levels of sysadmin for almost a decade and yet I fell victim to an age old mistake; though I do not understand why it happened.

I was in my server sorting through almost 15 years worth of .tar.gz files uncompressing them and then sorting through the data. I even always used a new folder as a sandbox. I was in a folder (/DATA/RAID1/ROOT/SORTME/BACKOPEN) containing an uncompressed archive of a previous Ubuntu installation when I decided to remove the more obvious system folders I knew I wouldn't need. When I ran my rm it ran to completion but when it was done I had no /bin, /sbin, or any of the other root associated folders named like the ones I tried to remove.


root@dev1:/DATA/RAID1/ROOT/SORTME/BACKOPEN# rm -rfv cdrom/ boot/ bin/ calpp/ dev/ etc/ ldconfig icd-registration.tgz lib/ lib32/ lib64/ opt/ sbin/ selinux/ share/ srv/ usr/ var/

Now, I certainly realize in retrospect that I SHOULD have had ./ before those directories to account for relative path but I am still confused as to why /bin or /sbin would get removed when i specifically designated bin/ sbin/ and was NOT in / at the time.

It seems to me like if I was operating in my pwd and didn't have a preceding forward slash to specify root it should have only deleted the dirs in the directory i was in.

Thank god I didn't have a lone / or any of the names of my ZFS pools in the rm and so I'm fine but I would very much prefer to never make this mistake again.

The idea of botching an OS like this is embarrassing and I can't help but think something other than ./ would be the answer.

What am I failing to notice here?

Thank you in advance for your efforts.


OK, so I got home and reinstalled 14.04 from the exact same ISO ive been using since release. I re imported my ZFS pools (/DATA/RAID1|/DATA/RAID2) and checked /DATA/RAID1/ROOT/SORTME/BACKOPEN only to find ALL of the dirs/files I specified in the offending command still existed. Not wanting to screw myself all over i copy and pasted the offending command in my post BUT in prepended ./ to each path/file argument. IT WORKED and DID NOT botch my OS. I also redirected the output of the rm -rfv to a file for later examination. No part of my OS got removed, all was well. I am guessing that if hard or symbolic links were the issue I would have had the same issue but did not this time. The plot thickens. I'm getting the feeling I may never get an answer but it seems like maybe this is just one of those things that happened as a freak accident. I can certainly say I will be much more careful in the future...

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    My first guess was that rm -r removes symlink targets, but after some research it looks like it doesn't. – wjandrea Mar 21 '18 at 4:18
  • Yea, Iv'e been asking other much more experienced men than myself in the field and all I'm getting are question marks above heads and jokes at my expense... :) – user809476 Mar 21 '18 at 4:48
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    Since you used -v, the output would include the files deleted. Examine those. – muru Mar 21 '18 at 6:06
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    Sorry, my explanation was wrong. When you remove a hardlink to /bin, the link counter of its inode its decreased by one, /bin itself is not removed. – muclux Mar 21 '18 at 15:13
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    @user809476 I don't expect to see /bin in the output either. What you should look for is unexpected paths that may indicate it is following through to the root directory (via a bind mount or something) for example a srv directory showing up deeper in the directory hierarchy – muru Mar 22 '18 at 3:49

This is by design.

while rm doesn't remove directories by default, when you specify the -r switch it does. Here's an excerpt from the man page.

-r, -R, --recursive
              remove directories and their contents recursively

Neither the -f force nor the -v verbose switch changes this behavior.

Since --preserve-root is the default you shouldn't need to worry about a lone /

It would appear that you weren't in the pwd you thought you were. Based on the results you must have been in /. Note that if you launch something with sudo your environment changes and the pwd along with it by default to /root. You can avoid this by specifying it on the command line like sudo -i PWD=/target/dir command as described in the accepted answer here.


man rm on Ubuntu 16.04.6 LTS


Run sudo command within directory

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