How to Delete a Directory in Terminal on a Mac

Deleting directories using the Terminal on a Mac can be a powerful and efficient way to manage your files. However, it’s crucial to understand that this action is irreversible. Once a directory is deleted, it cannot be easily recovered. Deleting in Terminal is not the same as moving a file or folder to the trash. Therefore, it’s essential to proceed with caution and ensure you’re deleting the correct directory. In this step-by-step guide, we’ll walk you through the process of deleting a directory using Terminal on your Mac.

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Prerequisites For Deleting A Folder in Terminal

Before we begin, ensure you have the following:

  • A Mac with a modern version of MacOS
  • Basic familiarity with using the Terminal application.

Opening Terminal

One of the fastest ways to launch the Terminal app on your Mac is through Spotlight through the steps below:

  1. Spotlight Search: Click on the Spotlight icon in the top-right corner of your Mac’s menu bar. It resembles a magnifying glass.
  2. Type “Terminal”: As you start typing, you’ll see “Terminal” appear in the search results.
  3. Press Enter: This action will open the Terminal application.

Another way to open the Terminal App is through Launchpad.  Here are the steps to do so:

  1. Click on Launchpad from the Dock at the bottom of your screen
  2. Click the “Other” Folder
  3. Click on Terminal

Navigating to the Target Directory You Want To Delete

Now that you’ve launched the Terminal app, to delete a directory, you first need to navigate to its location using Terminal:

  1. Use the ‘cd’ Command: In the Terminal window, type cd’ (with a space after cd’).
  2. Locate the Directory: Open Finder and find the directory you want to delete. Then, drag and drop it into the Terminal window. This action will automatically input the directory’s path.
  3. Press Enter: After inputting the directory path, press Enter. You should now be inside the directory you want to delete.

Deleting the Directory

Once you’ve found the target directory, you can proceed with the deletion process.  You need to make sure you’re at the parent level for the folder as you can’t delete it from within that Directory.  Please exercise caution as this action is irreversible:

1. Enter the Deletion Command: Type the following command to delete the directory and its contents:

2. Replace ‘directory_name’ with the actual name of the directory you wish to delete.

3. Press Enter: After entering the command, press Enter. Terminal will initiate the deletion process, removing the directory and its contents.

Caution: Irreversible Action

It’s essential to understand that the ‘rm -r’ command is irreversible. Once you confirm the deletion, the directory and all its contents will be permanently removed from your Mac. Make absolutely sure that you’re deleting the correct directory before proceeding.

The ‘-r‘ flag stands for “recursive,” which means the command will descend into directories and remove all files and subdirectories in the directory you’re deleting.

Adding a Safety Net with the “-i” Flag

For an extra layer of protection against accidental deletions, you can use the -i (interactive) flag. This flag prompts Terminal to ask for confirmation before deleting each file or sub-directory within the target directory:

1. Use the “-i” Flag: Type the following command to delete the directory interactively:

2. Replace ‘directory_name’ with the name of the directory you intend to delete.

3. Press Enter: Terminal will now request confirmation before deleting each file or sub-directory.

Special Cases: Deleting Non-Empty Directories

While the rm -r’ command can delete directories, including non-empty ones, use it with caution. Deleting a non-empty directory with this command will result in the permanent removal of all its contents.

Practical Examples

Here are some real-world scenarios where using Terminal to delete directories can be particularly useful:

  • Freeing Up Disk Space: Deleting old project folders to free up valuable disk space.
  • Improving Performance: Removing cache directories to enhance your Mac’s performance.
  • Cleaning Up Temporary Files: Clearing out temporary files and folders that are no longer needed.


Deleting a directory using Terminal on your Mac provides you with a powerful tool for efficient file and folder management. However, always remember the irreversible nature of this action. Proceed with caution, double-check directory paths, and use the -i’ flag if you’re concerned about accidental deletions. By following this guide, you can confidently navigate Terminal and delete directories as needed while mastering your Mac’s capabilities.