I'm taking to putting various files in /tmp, and I wondered about the rules on deleting them?

I'm imagining it's different for different distributions, and I'm particularly interested in Ubuntu and Fedora desktop versions.

But a nice general way of finding out would be a great thing.

Even better would be a nice general way of controlling it! (Something like 'every day at 3 in the morning, delete any /tmp files older than 60 days, but don't clear the directory on reboot')

up vote 124 down vote accepted

That depends on your distribution. On some system, it's deleted only when booted, others have cronjobs running deleting items older than n hours.

  • On Debian-like systems: on boot (the rules are defined in /etc/default/rcS).
  • On RedHat-like systems: by age (RHEL6 it was /etc/cron.daily/tmpwatch ; RHEL7 and RedHat-like with systemd it's configured in /usr/lib/tmpfiles.d/tmp.conf, called by systemd-tmpfiles-clean.service).
  • On Gentoo /etc/conf.d/bootmisc.
  • 17
    And regardless of when this happens, the only safe moment is generally on boot, right after mounting it, since running processes may have files locked there, and these should not be deleted. – adaptr Apr 6 '12 at 15:14
  • There are also packages available that can remove them periodically. – Samuel Edwin Ward Apr 6 '12 at 20:15
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    On RedHat-like systems with systemd (centos7/rhel7), it's configured in /usr/lib/tmpfiles.d/tmp.conf. It's called by systemd's target systemd-tmpfiles-clean.service. – Franklin Piat Mar 13 '15 at 12:06
  • On legacy Debian, you can consider tmpreaper package, it's forked version of tmpwatch. – Věroš K. Oct 12 '17 at 9:37

On CentOS (and I assume Fedora), there's a job in /etc/cron.daily called tmpwatch. This runs /usr/sbin/tmpwatch, which will delete files that haven't been accessed in the specified number of hours, i.e., the default behavior is to examine the atime for the file to evaluate if it's been used recently.


Other distros (and installations) may have /tmp mounted as tmpfs, which is an in-memory filesystem. This will get cleared on boot.

On Ubuntu 11.10 which I'm using, there's an upstart script in /etc/init/mounted-tmp.conf. The start of it says this:

# mounted-tmp - Clean /tmp directory
# Cleans up the /tmp directory when it does not exist as a temporary
# filesystem.

description "Clean /tmp directory"

start on (mounted MOUNTPOINT=/tmp) or (mounted MOUNTPOINT=/usr)

You can read in more details, however in general /tmp is cleaned when it's either mounted or /usr is mounted. This regularly happens on boot, so this /tmp cleaning runs on every boot.

In /etc/default/rcS you have TMPTIME set, which is used in the above init script to feed the two find commands at its end - basically controlling file deletion based on their times (modified, changed, accessed).

On RHEL 6.2 the files in /tmp are deleted by tmpwatch if they have not been accessed in 10 days.

The file /etc/cron.daily/tmpwatch defines the way tmpwatch is called.

#! /bin/sh
/usr/sbin/tmpwatch "$flags" -x /tmp/.X11-unix -x /tmp/.XIM-unix \
    -x /tmp/.font-unix -x /tmp/.ICE-unix -x /tmp/.Test-unix \
    -X '/tmp/hsperfdata_*' 10d /tmp

The -x arguments are files to be excluded. The 2nd to last argument is the time to wait after the last accessed time. The last argument is the directory to examine.

From Fedora 18 on, /tmp is mounted on tmpfs (i.e. RAM) by default, and thus erased on power off.

This behaviour can be disabled by issuing systemctl mask tmp.mount and reboot (and reenabled by issuing systemctl unmask tmp.mount and reboot), and then /tmp will be mounted on the / filesystem and can be controlled by /usr/lib/tmpfiles.d/tmp.conf settings.

See http://fedoraproject.org/wiki/Features/tmp-on-tmpfs and man tmpfiles.d for more details on each case.

On openSUSE 13.2, the clearing behaviour could be controlled with the following variable in sysconfig.


You could modified these variables by (each variable's usage could also be found there)

  1. Edit the /etc/sysconfig/cron file manually in command line.
  2. Open Yast and navigate into System -> /etc/sysconfig Editor -> System -> Cron

Even better would be a nice general way of controlling it! (Something like 'every day at 3 in the morning, delete any /tmp files older than 60 days, but don't clear the directory on reboot')

Sorta-tempy files that you do not want cleared on boot go in /var/tmp

That's what it's for :-)

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