What Happens When You Run “rm -rf /”

I’ve known for a long time to stay away from the short, sweet and simple “rm -rf /” command.  It deletes every file on any writable filesystem mounted by a *nix system, but what exactly happens if you do run it?  

Do green leprechauns jump off the screen to warn you that you shouldn’t do it?  Not quite.

Here’s a video with the verbose option set to make it a little bit more interesting.  I’m running it in a virtual machine so I can capture video of all the “action” – it was a bit slow to complete, but I’ve gone ahead and increased how quickly it runs to not be nearly so boring.


At the very end you can see that X crashes on the VM when I click where the trash icon would be. Rebooting results in a GRUB error 15.

If you’d like to hear a horror story about someone running rm recursively, check it out here: http://www.ee.ryerson.ca/~elf/hack/recovery.html

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    That’s a lot of spam :/

    FYI, Ubuntu 8.04 warns you if your run “sudo rm -rf /”:
    “rm: cannot remove root directory `/’”
    … but says nothing to “sudo rm -rf /*” ^^

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  • Steve

    I just experienced this. I copied the command from a blog (can’t remember where.)
    Anyways, not only did it delete almost everything, it also traversed down the network, into my file server and also deleted a huge amount of file before I noticed it and stopped it.

    What happened was it also deleted the .gvfs folder. Since the .gvfs folder also has pointers to any network folder that you’ve accessed, it also traversed those files. Problem is I generally access my network files using admin rights, so it just went to my .gvfs folder, to my network shares (with admin rights) and just started deleted everything. Luckily I have backups on a seperate pc.

    It was really scary. Taught me a good lesson..

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