Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

The peril of /tmp

19th July 2008

By default, I think that Windows plants its temporary files in c:\windows\temp. In Linux or in Ubuntu at least, the equivalent area is /tmp. However,  not realising that /tmp when you shut down and start your PC could cause the silly blunder that I made today. I was doing a spot of reorganisation on my spare PC when I dumped some files in /tmp from a hard drive that I had added. I was reformatting the drive as ext3 following its NTFS former life. As part of this, I was editing fstab to automount the thing and a system restart ensued. I ended up losing whatever I put into /tmp, a very silly blunder. Luckily, I had the good sense not to put anything critical in there so nothing of consequence has been lost. Nevertheless, a lesson has been learnt: Windows allows its temporary area to pick up all kinds of clutter until you clear it while Linux clears the thing regularly. It’s amazing how Windows thinking can cause a howler when you have a lapse of concentration using a *NIX operating system, even for someone who uses the latter every day.


  • Fitzcarraldo says:

    I’m not sure of the file to edit in the case of Ubuntu, which you’re using, but for Gentoo it is possible to specify whether or not /tmp/ is emptied automatically by assigning the environment variable WIPE_TMP in the file /etc/conf.d/bootmisc. I made WIPE_TMP=”yes” so that the /tmp/ directory is cleared on each boot, otherwise the contents of this directory can build up over time as with Windows.

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