Why does Ubuntu, and any other unix system for that matter what you to use "remove recursively" for folders or copy recursively. I can only imagine it's a security thing but the name recursive doesn't imply such a thing.

1 Answer 1


It is mostly for historical reasons. The following is a slightly modified extract from an excellent article named A Brief History of the 'rm' and 'rmdir' commands.

A new version of rm, dated January 20, 1973, included these options:

  • rm -f: don't ask before removing read-only files
  • rm -r: recursively remove subdirectories

The way the rm -r option was implemented at that time, when rm encountered a directory among the files it was removing, it would cd (then called chdir) to that directory and start another instance of rm -r * to remove its contents.

A version which did the recursion within a single rm process appeared in the Seventh Edition of Unix in 1979.

More about the history of rm can be found by following the link above.

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