I was trying to delete files inside the current directory with rm -r /./* command. When executed it warned me about removing "...Siri..Application". I kind of panicked, thinking it's trying to delete all files from system and immediately terminated the terminal process. I want to know if this command deleted any other files. I see most files there and am able to restart iMac so all seems good but just to be sure.

PS: sorry for lack of full warning message. I quickly closed the terminal and not going to try command again to get it.

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    That command will indeed try to delete all files from your entire computer. Recent versions of macOS protect many things, leading to errors like the ones you saw. But the errors won't tell you which files it did succeed in deleting, or which ones it hadn't gotten around to trying before you killed it. It's going to be hard to tell what did get deleted until/unless you notice something missing. Check for any 3rd party apps you've installed -- are they all still there? – Gordon Davisson Aug 12 '19 at 21:07
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    Looks to be so. I remember few of apps I installed and they are there. Is there any way to output/echo the results of the command to the terminal? Or should I just factory reset? TIA – User 10482 Aug 12 '19 at 21:50

The path you gave rm to delete was /./*. Let’s break this down:

  1. / The root mount point, such as Macintosh HD. This is the root of the disk, therefore an absolute path was given rather than a relative path operating on the current directory.
  2. ./ The current directory, which is now / by the path given so far. /. is equivalent to /, so // is the path so far, except duplicate directory delimiters are combined to a single delimiter, so / so far, the same as step 1.
  3. * Glob all files and folders at this level.

Therefore, the command given was to delete all files and folders starting at the root mount point, i.e. delete all files and folders on the entire volume.

macOS System Integrity Protection will prevent this mischief from causing much damage to the system’s core components, but your own files won’t be protected if you have given full disk access to the Terminal app. I hope you have a backup of the files you need, especially from the beginning of the disk depending when you stopped the command.

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  • Unfortunate for me I did not have latest backup. Nevermind though I can start over. The hard part is figuring out what went away. If I may ask, what was the correct command to delete all files recursively in the current folder. (I tried ./* as path which did not work) – User 10482 Aug 12 '19 at 22:15
  • @User10482 just reinstall the system from recovery hd or internet recovery. That archives the old system, drops a fully functioning one with all built in apps and then migrates all users, settings, data and third party apps. Unless you will pay for professional recovery software or services, getting back the deleted files is somewhat lengthy and not guaranteed if you’ve kept using the system and started overwriting the space where the deleted files were stored. – bmike Aug 12 '19 at 22:30
  • @user All you want is step 3, so rm -r * from the correct directory. – grg Aug 13 '19 at 0:10
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    @user10482 rm ./* should work. If it doesn’t please post a new question with details (error messages, files not deleted etc) so we can help. – nohillside Aug 13 '19 at 4:33
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    Using rm [-r] ./* is safer than simply rm [-r] *, in case that there are entries in the current directory whose names start with a hyphen and would otherwise be interpreted as options to rm (e.g., a file named -f). – wchargin Aug 13 '19 at 4:42

A few recalls, of course everything is in man pages.

  • / is the "path separator", i.e. the character to separate folder (and optional terminal file) names.
  • paths can be either relative (to current working directory) or absolute (i.e. from the root folder) and a path beginning with / is absolute. Other are relative.
  • folders have "entries" which can be of various types, usually folders and files (but not only)
  • the rm command takes a list of files to delete, and has option "-r" which means : recursive, in that case, it can take a folder as argument.
    • folders always have special entries: "." and ".." which are special folder names corresponding to "current" and "parent" folders.
    • commands in terminal are executed by a shell, there are many shells, usually you can find your shell using "echo $SHELL", a popular one is "BASH". In most shells "*" is a "glob character", for instance, open bash manual (example: execute: "man bash" in a terminal) and then look for "Pathname Expansion", e.g. by typing "/Pathname Expansion", you can also look for "GLOBIGNORE". The behaviour of expansion can be controlled by some env vars and shell settings, but we can assume you use the default, which is "replace by all entries matching the glob, but not starting by '.' "

So, the shell will execute the command like this: rm -r /./*

  1. split command line in items, separated by "white spaces" : "rm" , "-r" and "/./*"
  2. apply a series or transformations, here only pathname expansion of the "" (example of other transformations: variable expansion) a. with "" it considers the item is a path b. The path is split into items separated by "/" : "" , "." and "" c. as the first element is empty, it is an absolute path starting at / (or you could consider that "/./" begins with "/" so it is absolute, and then remove from the list..) d. ok, in root folder look for entry "." : it is there, and in fact it reports back to the same folder it is in, i.e. "/" e. in this folder (/), look for all entries (folders and files) not string with "." f. replace the item that was globbed in step 1 with the list found, i.e. it will give something like: rm -r /./folder1 /./folder2 /./file1 ...
  3. execute the resulting command, by creating a new process whose executable is specified by the first item of list in 1. a. if the first argument starts with / it is an absolute path, else the executable is search in folders specified by variable PATH b. other items in list are provided as argument to the new process : "-r" , "/./folder1", "/./folder2", "/./file1" etc...
  4. the rm command will recursively delete folders and files as specified by the list of folders and files now expanded.

The real key here is that commands in terminal are executed by the shell, and a trick to know what is actually done is simply to add "echo" at the beginning of the command. In general it has no other effect than displaying the result of shell expansions. (unless you have backticks `` or $() command substitutions)

example here:

$ echo rm -r /./*
rm -r /./Applications /./Library /./Network /./System /./Users /./Volumes /./bin /./cores /./dev /./etc /./home /./installer.failurerequests /./net /./opt /./private /./sbin /./tmp /./usr /./var

My last advice: never do things like "rm -r *" or equivalent, for the following reasons: 1- usually it does not do what you want which is : delete everything in current folder. No, it deletes everything which do not start with "." (i.e. hidden files and folders) 2- it is dangerous !!! something the current working directory is not what you thing it is . 3- I find it much more efficient and safe to do the following, lets say you are in folder: /Users/laurent/folder_to_cleanup

$ cd ..
$ rm -fr folder_to_cleanup
$ mkdir folder_to_cleanup

This effectively safely deletes everything from the folder, including the folder, and then re-creates one if you need it.

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