Taming your Temporary Files

I don’t know about you, but there have been many times when I wanted to download something only temporarily with the intent to delete it later, like saving an image to upload elsewhere or saving email attachments that I didn’t need to keep to open in an external program. There have also been times when I wanted to test something out and had to temporarily create files with the intent to delete them later, whether it’s creating a test program, extracting a compressed archive, or even creating a named pipe (FIFO). I used to use my disk for that, using a ~/tmp directory, but it would slowly fill up when I neglected to delete these temporary files, thinking that they “might be useful later”; even to this day, I still have about 12GB of supposedly “temporary” files.

The largest files and folders in my tmp folder. Sorry, but I’m not going to show you my files!

How do you prevent these temporary files from filling up your disk? The obvious answer is to just delete them, and good for you if that works for you, but it evidently doesn’t work for me. You could stop downloading things or generating temporary files, but that’s unreasonable. One solution that I came up with when I used to run on Windows was to create a fixed-size container and put my temporary files there. I now had a maximum size for my temporary files so they wouldn’t overrun my disk. It worked for a while, but I made the mistake of making the container too small (only 256 MB), so in time, I was putting my larger temporary files in a tmp directory outside my container. I was also still not really deleting my temporary files, so in time, the container filled up.

So space-boxing the files is a good thing, but how do you make sure that your temporary files stay temporary and actually get deleted?

Let’s do this in Linux! →