mkdir cannot create directory

New Linux users often get puzzled by the “mkdir: cannot create directory” errors when taking first steps and trying to learn basics of working with files and directories. In this short post I’ll show the two most common types of this mkdir error and also explain how to fix things so that you no longer get these errors.

mkdir: cannot create directory – File exists

This should be self explanatory after a few weeks of using commands like mkdir, but the first time you see this it can be confusing.

File exists? How can it be when you’re just trying to create a directory? And why does it say “File exists” when you’re trying to create a directory, not a file?

This error suggests that the directory name you’re using (/tmp/try in my example shown on the screenshot) is already taken – there is a file or a directory with the same name, so another one can’t be created. You can use the wonderful ls command to check what’s going on:

[email protected]:~$ ls -ald /tmp/try
drwxr-xr-x 2 greys root 4096 Nov 5 18:55 /tmp/try

Sure enough, we have a directory called /tmp/try already!

The reason it says “File exists” is because pretty much everything in Unix is a file. Even a directory!

Possible solutions to mkdir: cannot create directory – file exists scenario

Rename (move) existing directory

Use the mv command to move /tmp/try into some new location (or giving it new name). Here’s how to rename /tmp/try into /tmp/oldtry:

[email protected]:~$ mv /tmp/try /tmp/oldtry

Let’s rerun the mkdir command now:

[email protected]:~$ mkdir /tmp/try

…and since there are no errors this time, we probably have just created the /tmp/try directory, as desired. Let’s check both /tmp/try and the /tmp/oldtry with ls:

[email protected]:~$ ls -ald /tmp/try /tmp/oldtry
drwxr-xr-x 2 greys root 4096 Nov 5 18:55 /tmp/oldtry
drwxrwxr-x 2 greys greys 4096 Nov 5 19:08 /tmp/try

Remove existing file

Another option you always have is to simply remove the file that’s blocking your mkdir command.

First, let’s create an empty file called /tmp/newtry and confirm it’s a file and not a directory usng ls command:

[email protected]:~$ touch /tmp/newtry
[email protected]:~$ ls -lad /tmp/newtry
-rw-rw-r-- 1 greys greys 0 Nov 5 20:50 /tmp/newtry

Now, if we try mkdir with the same name, it will fail:

[email protected]:~$ mkdir /tmp/newtry
mkdir: cannot create directory '/tmp/newtry': File exists

So, to fix the issue, we remove the file and try mkdir again:

[email protected]:~$ rm /tmp/newtry
[email protected]:~$ mkdir /tmp/newtry

This time there were no errors, and ls command can show you that indeed you have a directory called /tmp/newtry now:

[email protected]:~$ ls -lad /tmp/newtry
drwxrwxr-x 2 greys greys 4096 Nov 5 20:50 /tmp/newtry

mkdir: cannot create directory – Permission denied

This is another very common error when creating directories using mkdir command.

The reason for this error is that the user you’re running the mkdir as, doesn’t have permissions to create new directory in the location you specified.

You should use ls command on the higher level directory to confirm permissions.

Let’s proceed with an example:

[email protected]:/tmp$ mkdir try2018
[email protected]:/tmp$ mkdir try2018/anotherone
[email protected]:/tmp$ ls -ald try2018
drwxrwxr-x 3 greys greys 4096 Nov 5 21:04 try2018

All of these commands succeeded because I first created new directory called try2018, then another subdirectory inside of it. ls command confirmed that I have 775 permissions on the try2018 directory, meaning I have read, write and execture permissions.

Now, let’s remove the write permissions for everyone for directory try2018:

[email protected]:/tmp$ chmod a-w try2018
[email protected]:/tmp$ ls -ald try2018
dr-xr-xr-x 3 greys greys 4096 Nov 5 21:04 try2018

If I try creating a subdirectory now, I will get the mkdir: cannot create directory – permissions denied error:

[email protected]:/tmp$ mkdir try2018/yetanotherone
mkdir: cannot create directory 'try2018/yetanotherone': Permission denied

To fix the issue, let’s add write permissions again:

[email protected]:/tmp$ chmod a+w try2018
[email protected]:/tmp$ mkdir try2018/yetanotherone

As you can see, try2018/yetanotherone directory was successfully created:

[email protected]:/tmp$ ls -ald try2018/yetanotherone
drwxrwxr-x 2 greys greys 4096 Nov 5 21:05 try2018/yetanotherone

That’s it for today! Hope you liked this tutorial, be sure to explore more basic Unix tutorials on my blog.

See Also Basic Unix commands mkdir command in Unix File types in Unix chmod and chown Unix commands tutorial

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