Python offers many standard utility modules which enable several functions in the applications we build. In this article, we'll learn about the modules for deleting files and directories.

One of the most popular modules exposed in Python is the os module. This is one of the standard utility modules. This module offers various functions for interacting with the operating system of a device. It allows us to work with files and directories.

Another module is shutil which is used for high-level file operations.

In this article, I'll be showing you how to use these modules in Python to delete files and remove directories. I'll be testing the examples here on my Mac device, but you can also test them on any other type of device you have with Python installed.

Overview of the os Module

The os module allows us to execute operating system tasks on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

To use this module, you first have to import it:

import os

This module has different properties and functions that we can use to access different information about the OS and to also run some file-related tasks.

For example, there's the name property which returns the name of the operating system module imported for the device you use the module on. On my Mac device, after running python (where is the file with my code) here's the result I get:

import os

# posix

There's also the environ object which contains all the environment variables and their values:

import os

# {
#   ...
#   'SHELL': '/bin/zsh',
#   'HOMEBREW_REPOSITORY': '/opt/homebrew',
#   ...
#   'ZSH': '/Users/dillion/.oh-my-zsh',
#   'NVM_DIR': '/Users/dillion/.nvm',
#   'USER': 'dillion'
#   ...
# }

After running this on my device, I get a bunch of environment variables. I've listed a few above, and you can see the SHELL,ZSH, and USER variables.

To get the value of a specific variable, you can use the get() method. Here are some examples:

import os

homeEnv = os.environ.get('HOME')
# /Users/dillion

shellEnv = os.environ.get('SHELL')
# /bin/zsh

zshEnv = os.environ.get('ZSH')
# /Users/dillion/.oh-my-zsh

userEnv = os.environ.get('USER')
# dillion

Overview of the shutil Module

While the os module is more focused on operating system tasks (depending on the operating system in use), the shutil module is for high-level file operations from Python such as copying and removing files.

To use this module, you also have to import it first:

import shutil

This module also has methods that you can use for file and directory operations. Let's see some examples.

There's the move directory, which allows you to move a file from one location to a destination. Here's a example:

import shutil

shutil.move("./", "temp/")

When I run python, the file is moved to the temp directory. If the file or the directory does not exist, you get an error.

Another method of this module is copytree, which copies a directory's contents to a destination. Let's say we have a folder called directory1/ with the following files:

└── test

This directory has a file named and a directory called test which in turn contains a file named

Now let's see how to move these files from directory1 to a new directory called directory2:

import shutil

shutil.copytree("directory1/", "directory2/")

When you run the code above, directory2 is created, and the contents of directory1 are copied to directory2.

Now that we've seen some examples, let's see how to delete a file and remove a directory.

How to Delete a File in Python

The os module has a remove() method which allows you to remove (delete) a file. Such files are deleted permanently – not in the recycle bin. Here's an example:

import os


This method accepts the file path argument, where you specify the location of the file you want to remove. If such a file does not exist, running the command above produces an error like this:

FileNotFoundError: [Errno 2] No such file or directory: './temporary.txt'

So let me first create the file. I'll do this on my command line like this:

touch temporary.txt
echo "new file" > temporary.txt

Now I have the temporary.txt file with the "new file" text. When I run my Python above, this file will be removed:

#  file now deleted

Another way to improve your code is to first check if the file exists, before calling the remove method. You can do this using the path.isfile() method. Here's how:

import os

fileExists = os.path.isfile('./temporary.txt')

if fileExists:

First, we check if temporary.txt exists by calling the isfile() method on the path property of the os module. This method returns True or False depending on the existence of that file. You can then use an if statement to test the returned boolean before calling the remove method.

How to Delete a Directory in Python

The os module also has the rmdir method which you can use to delete a folder. But, the folder has to be empty. Here's an example:

import os


If directory1 exists and is empty, it will be deleted. If it does not exist, you get a No such file or directory error. If it exists but is not empty, you get a Directory not empty error. So how do you delete non-empty directories?

Remember I said shutil is for high-level file operations? Well, this is where it's also useful – for deleting empty and non-empty directories.

shutil has the rmtree method which is used for removing a directory (and all its contents such as files, sub-files, sub-directories, and so on).

Here's an example:

import shutil


If directory2 does not exist, you get a No such file or directory error. But if the directory exists and is non-empty, it will be deleted. Even if it's empty, it will also be deleted.

Wrapping Up

When building applications, sometimes you want to create, delete, modify, copy or perform other file operations. Thanks to some standard modules exposed from Python, these operations are possible.

In this article, I've shown you how to use the os and shutil standard modules from Python to delete files and directories on a device.