Do anyone know some good way to delete files on remote server that are older than X days using just SCP/SFTP? Sure I can write some script on perl etc but I feel it's overkill.
Any UNIX way?
Separate utility?


P.S. The task is to delete some outdated backup files.

4 Answers 4


This question is very old but I still wanted to add my bash only solution as I was just searching for one when I came here. The grep tar in the listing command is just for my own purpose to list only tar files, can be adapted of course.

RESULT=`echo "ls -t path/to/old_backups/" | sftp -i ~/.ssh/your_ssh_key user@server.de | grep tar`

while read -r line; do
    (( i++ ))
    if (( i > max )); then
        echo "DELETE $i...$line"
        echo "rm $line" | sftp -i ~/.ssh/your_ssh_key user@server.de
done <<< "$RESULT"

This deletes all tar files in the given directory except the last 7 ones. It is not considering the date though but if you only have one backup per day it is good enough.

  • While this is interesting and all, doesn't it make more sense to make one connection which completes the entire task instead of a connection for each file to be deleted plus one more to get the list of files?
    – chicks
    Feb 15, 2017 at 22:14
  • I'm not sure it is possible to run a sequence of commands like this using one connection and I think it would it would be over-optimizing as well. For the use case of deleting old backup files of backups that run once a day it means you would effectively do 2 ssh connections per day, one for the list and one for the one file that is out of max now. I think that is quite an acceptable tradeoff.
    – dirkaholic
    Feb 16, 2017 at 9:10

Sure I can write some script on perl etc but it's overkill.

You don't need a script to achieve the intended effect - a one-liner will do if you have shell access to send a command:

ssh user@host 'find /path/to/old_backups/* -mtime +7 -exec rm {} \;'

-mtime +7 matches files created one week ago from midnight of the present day.

  • Sad but this is using SSH and remote oneliner. There is no shell access, just SCP/SFTP.
    – Mike
    Sep 27, 2010 at 10:09
  • @Mike - Well that one-liner can save you some time over writing a perl script, if that is the case - you could use atime instead of mtime to match the last access time (i.e. when your files were last downloaded) and run a daily cron job.
    – danlefree
    Sep 27, 2010 at 16:37
  • there is no shell access to remote machine.
    – Mike
    Oct 2, 2010 at 11:03
  • @Mike I was under the impression that you could negotiate adding a cron job with the administrator of the server hosting your backup files - my apologies if this is not possible.
    – danlefree
    Oct 3, 2010 at 3:43

If you insist on SCP/SFTP you can list files, parse them using a simple script and delete old backup files.

Batch mode "-b" switch should help you out. It reads sftp commands from file. http://linux.die.net/man/1/sftp

  • Sure it's possible, but I'm looking for more elegant UNIX way if it exists.
    – Mike
    Sep 25, 2010 at 10:12
  • Do you have any idea? maybe suggestion from your side would help? Then we can make the idea a bit better?
    – M_1
    Sep 25, 2010 at 12:08

Nothing worked for me from above answers.
Especially when you limited by password and cannot use private key for sftp utility.
I have found good script using lftp (gist).

You need to uncomment # STORE_DAYS=6 to specify count manually.

# Simple script to delete files older than specific number of days from FTP. Provided AS IS without any warranty.
# This script use 'lftp'. And 'date' with '-d' option which is not POSIX compatible.

# FTP credentials and path
# Full path to lftp executable
LFTP=`which lftp`

# Enquery days to store from 1-st passed argument or strictly hardcode it, uncomment one to use
STORE_DAYS=${1:? "Usage ${0##*/} X, where X - count of daily archives to store"}

function removeOlderThanDays() {

# Make some temp files to store intermediate data

# Connect to ftp get file list and store it into temp file
${LFTP} << EOF
cd ${FTP_PATH}
cache flush
cls -q -1 --date --time-style="+%Y%m%d" > ${LIST}

# Print obtained list, uncomment for debug
#    echo "File list"
#    cat ${LIST}
# Delete list header, uncomment for debug
#    echo "Delete list"

    # Let's find date to compare
    STORE_DATE=$(date -d "now - ${STORE_DAYS} days" '+%Y%m%d')
    while read LINE; do
        if [[ ${STORE_DATE} -ge ${LINE:0:8} && "${LINE}" != *\/ ]]; then
            echo "rm -f \"${LINE:9}\"" >> ${DELLIST}
            # Print files wich is subject to delete, uncomment for debug
            #echo "${LINE:9}"
    done < ${LIST}
    # More debug strings
    # echo "Delete list complete"
    # Print notify if list is empty and exit.
    if [ ! -f ${DELLIST}  ] || [ -z "$(cat ${DELLIST})" ]; then
        echo "Delete list doesn't exist or empty, nothing to delete. Exiting"
        exit 0;
# Connect to ftp and delete files by previously formed list
${LFTP} << EOF
cd ${FTP_PATH}
$(cat ${DELLIST})

# Remove temp files



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