PHP File handling Deleting files and directories


Deleting files

The unlink function deletes a single file and returns whether the operation was successful.

$filename = '/path/to/file.txt';

if (file_exists($filename)) {
    $success = unlink($filename);
    if (!$success) {
         throw new Exception("Cannot delete $filename");

Deleting directories, with recursive deletion

On the other hand, directories should be deleted with rmdir. However, this function only deletes empty directories. To delete a directory with files, delete the files in the directories first. If the directory contains subdirectories, recursion may be needed.

The following example scans files in a directory, deletes member files/directories recursively, and returns the number of files (not directories) deleted.

function recurse_delete_dir(string $dir) : int {
    $count = 0;

    // ensure that $dir ends with a slash so that we can concatenate it with the filenames directly
    $dir = rtrim($dir, "/\\") . "/";

    // use dir() to list files
    $list = dir($dir);

    // store the next file name to $file. if $file is false, that's all -- end the loop.
    while(($file = $list->read()) !== false) {
        if($file === "." || $file === "..") continue;
        if(is_file($dir . $file)) {
            unlink($dir . $file);
        } elseif(is_dir($dir . $file)) {
            $count += recurse_delete_dir($dir . $file);

    // finally, safe to delete directory!

    return $count;