Rename a file that starts with a hyphen/dash

While working on your *nix based system you may run into this issue from time to time. The file may have a hyphen (-) at the start of the filename because of user error. Or it may have been added by a malicious bit of software. However the hyphen got there it can be a pain to deal with. In this post we will answer how to rename a file that starts with a hyphen.

The first time I encountered a filename like this was while searching the files of a compromised website. The offending malware had created several different new files on the site. And one had been created with a starting hyphen in the filename. This causes issues when you run ‘rm’ to remove the file.

rm -filename.php

The hyphen typically tells a command line utility to anticipate an execution option. So in this case the ‘rm’ command attempts to interpret -filename.php as an option. This would just cause ‘rm’ to return the following on a linux based machine.

rm: invalid option -- 'l'
Try `rm --help' for more information.

Both -f and -i are options for the command so when it gets to ‘l’ it assumes it is just an invalid option. So this becomes an issue when you try to remove or otherwise edit/manipulate a file with a hyphen in the name.

Dealing with the hyphenated filename

Fortunately there is a relatively easy method to deal with a file that starts with a hyphen/dash. Adding a double dash (–) before the filename will fix it.

 rm -- -filename.php

This behavior should be universal for GNU/Linux commands. The double dash/double hyphen tells the command that no more command line options will be given. As a result your favorite command will ignore any further dashes and allow you to mv/cp/rm the file.

So now you know how to rename a file that starts with a hyphen on the command line. Hopefully that makes your life a little better.

I originally learned of this technique from this helpful post on superuser.com.

Want to learn how to recursively delete specific files, check out this post to find out how.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *