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How is the /tmp directory cleaned up? Is it automatic? If so, how frequently is it cleaned up?

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My temporary files never get written to the disk. They get written to a RAM disk. I did put tmpfs /tmp tmpfs defaults,noatime,mode=1777 0 0 in /etc/fstab. –  Anonymous Nov 16 '11 at 23:43

5 Answers 5

up vote 84 down vote accepted

The directory is cleared by default at every boot, because TMPTIME is 0 by default.

Here you can change the time in the following file:


TMPTIME says how frequent the tmp dir sould be cleared in days

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Clearing at every boot is not ideal for a machine that is never rebooted, like a server. I've got over 500,000 files taking 5Gb space in my /tmp because my server has 378 days uptime. I'm reluctant to reboot it, simply because clearing those files on reboot make take hours. –  rjmunro Jan 25 '12 at 11:47
In your case you should give tmpreaper a chance. –  qbi Feb 24 '13 at 23:01
A CRON job could easily solve that. –  Ken Sharp Mar 8 '14 at 14:27

The cleaning of /tmp is done by the upstart script /etc/init/mounted-tmp.conf. The script is run by upstart everytime /tmp is mounted. Practically that means at every boot.

The script does roughly the following: if a file in /tmp is older than $TMPTIME days it will be deleted.

The default value of $TMPTIME is 0, which means every file and directory in /tmp gets deleted. $TMPTIME is an environment variable defined in /etc/default/rcS.

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This is the most precise and to the point answer. It should be accepted by the OP. –  Maxim Veksler Aug 7 '12 at 11:21
@MaximVeksler that's not your call. The OP can decide which answer they want to select. And given the age of this thread, its likely that will not change, there is a lockout unless answers get edited. –  Thomas W. Aug 7 '12 at 17:49
Perfect answer! –  Nitin Bansal Jun 11 '14 at 10:49

While the /tmp folder is not a place to store files long-term, occasionally you want to keep things a little longer than the next time you reboot, which is the default on Ubuntu systems. I know a time or two I’ve downloaded something to /tmp during testing, rebooted after making changes and then lost the original data again. This can be changed if you’d like to keep your /tmp files a little bit longer.

Changing the /tmp Cleanup Frequency

The default setting that tells your system to clear /tmp at reboot is held in the /etc/default/rcS file. The value we’ll look at is TMPTIME.

The current value of TMPTIME=0 says delete files at reboot despite the age of the file. Changing this value to a different (positive) number will change the number of days a file can survive in /tmp.


This setting would allow files to stay in /tmp until they are a week old, and then delete them on the next reboot. A negative number (TMPTIME=-1) tells the system to never delete anything in /tmp. This is probably not something you want, but is available.

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good explanation. But in which script is the cleanup command? I have seen /etc/init/mounted-temp.conf, but it has the line start on mounted MOUNTPOINT=/tmp that make me think it is non applicable. –  enzotib Jan 9 '11 at 19:56
If you don't want a file to be removed automatically, put it in /var/tmp instead of /tmp. –  Gilles Jan 10 '11 at 21:29
It's also handy to keep files you don't want to lose (rendered video frames) when your machine crashes, possibly due to OOM. A better solution would be to fix the problem, of course. :-) –  Ken Sharp Mar 8 '14 at 14:28
Can this be done inside Cygwin? –  CMCDragonkai May 14 '14 at 8:19

It is cleaned up every time you reboot.

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On one of our servers running Ubuntu, we have a script to remove files in /tmp and it runs nightly.

The script is:

# Clean file and dirs more than 3 days old in /tmp nightly

/usr/bin/find /tmp -type f -atime +2 -mtime +2  |xargs  /bin/rm -f &&

/usr/bin/find /tmp -type d -mtime +2 -exec /bin/rm -rf '{}' \; &&

/usr/bin/find /tmp -type l -ctime +2 |xargs /bin/rm -f &&

/usr/bin/find -L /tmp -mtime +2 -print -exec rm -f {} \;

Just save the contents above to a file chmod 775 the file and create a cron entry to run it. Since this is a web server we don't want to reboot it for obvious reasons.

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You might be better off using tmpwatch. –  poolie Sep 28 '11 at 4:59

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