Files associated with a course are not removed if the files are linked in another course.
If files are removed (from view), they are moved from the normal storage area (moodledata/filedir/) to moodledata/trashdir and remain there until the cron/task job runs to empty the trash - last I checked that was 4 days from the time of the deletion.
The file system itself ... no longer are files stored in humanly recognizable names, but rather, a contenthash value and the humanly recognizable filename is associated with the contenthash in a column of mdl_files in the DB.
So working with/finding deleted files might require a DB query:
select filearea,userid,filename,filesize,contenthash,timecreated,timemodified from mdl_files where filearea like '%recycle%';
From a bash-shell script I have to do the query above and dump to a text file, looks like:
[root@server cli]# ./getrecycle
filearea userid filename filesize contenthash timecreated timemodified
recyclebin_course 2 backup.mbz 1581308 65d80bf797a246d0d737214d460a6d9a6187c54c 1540932182 1540932182
recyclebin_course 2 . 0 da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709 1540932182 1540932182
recyclebin_course 2 backup.mbz 1603299 efd3b7750647f503fb65bca66f066321765b0b84 1540942382 1540942383
recyclebin_course 2 . 0 da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709 1540942383 1540942383
recyclebin_course 2 backup.mbz 1601119 85188b6b7fe42c490ea3cf0c90ecb85ede78a9f0 1540942982 1540942982
recyclebin_course 2 . 0 da39a3ee5e6b4b0d3255bfef95601890afd80709 1540942982 1540942982
The time columns are epoch time stamps.
Taking the 2nd to last line above and executing the following commands from moodledata/filedir:
[root@server filedir]# find ./ -name 85188b6b7fe42c490ea3cf0c90ecb85ede78a9f0
[root@server filedir]# ls -l ./85/18/85188b6b7fe42c490ea3cf0c90ecb85ede78a9f0
-rw-rw-rw- 1 root root 1601119 Oct 30 19:43 ./85/18/85188b6b7fe42c490ea3cf0c90ecb85ede78a9f0
[root@server filedir]# file -b ./85/18/85188b6b7fe42c490ea3cf0c90ecb85ede78a9f0
gzip compressed data, from Unix
Personally, I'd like to see a recyclebin directory in moodledata to deal with deleted files/courses/backups etc. by themselves rather than having to mess with filedir ... especially when server has a space crunch ... needing space *NOW* ... would know where to go and know that removing files manually (never advised but, we do what we must) would not have adverse affects. But also know that something that sounds simple, isn't ... when it comes to the core code. That's my 2 cents as a hacker ... ie, not a true programmer.
Also, not sure when this recyclebin stuff showed up in moodle code ... above from a 3.3.8+ version of Moodle and know same is present in a 3.4 and a 3.5. Below that?
A lot of this is automated via task which run when the main cron is run ... which should run every minute now. Check the task list for scheduling the clean ups. Is your cron running every minute?
Also, there is a command line utility for Moodle called 'moosh'. It has a few commands for files/filedir and meta data in DB. See: http://moosh-online.com/ and http://moosh-online.com/commands/
'spirit of sharing', Ken