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tmpwatch - removes files which haven’t been accessed for a period of time


tmpwatch [-u|-m|-c] [-MUadfqstvx] [--verbose] [--force] [--all] [--nodirs] [--test] [--fuser] [--quiet] [--atime|--mtime|--ctime] [--dirmtime] [--exclude <path>]
[--exclude-user <user>] <hours> <dirs>


tmpwatch recursively removes files which haven’t been accessed for a given number of hours. Normally, it’s used to clean up directories which are used for temporary holding space such as /tmp.

When changing directories, tmpwatch is very sensitive to possible race conditions and will exit with an error if one is detected. It does not follow symbolic links in the directories it’s cleaning (even if a symbolic link is given as its argument), will not switch filesystems, skips lost+found directories owned by the root user, and only removes empty directories and regular files.

By default, tmpwatch dates files by their atime (access time), not their mtime (modification time). If files aren’t being removed when ls -l implies they should be, use ls -u to examine their atime to see if that explains the problem.

If the --atime, --ctime or --mtime options are used in combination, the decision about deleting a file will be based on the maximum of these times. The --dirmtime option implies ignoring atime of directories, even if the --atime option is used.

The hours parameter defines the threshold for removing files. If the file has not been accessed for hours hours, the file is removed. Following this, one or more directories may be given for tmpwatch to clean up.


-u, --atime
Make the decision about deleting a file based on the file’s atime (access time). This is the default.

Note that the periodic updatedb file system scans keep the atime of directories recent.

-m, --mtime
Make the decision about deleting a file based on the file’s mtime (modification time) instead of the atime.

-c, --ctime
Make the decision about deleting a file based on the file’s ctime (inode change time) instead of the atime; for directories, make the decision based on the mtime.

-M, --dirmtime
Make the decision about deleting a directory based on the directory’s mtime (modification time) instead of the atime; completely ignore atime for directories.

-a, --all
Remove all file types, not just regular files and directories.

-d, --nodirs
Do not attempt to remove directories, even if they are empty.

-f, --force
Remove files even if root doesn’t have write access (akin to rm -f).

-q, --quiet
Report only fatal errors.

-s, --fuser
Attempt to use the “fuser” command to see if a file is already open before removing it. Not enabled by default. Does help in some circumstances, but not all. Dependent on fuser being installed in /sbin. Not supported on HP-UX or Solaris.

-t, --test
Don’t remove files, but go through the motions of removing them. This implies -v.

-U, --exclude-user=user
Don’t remove files owned by user, which can be an user name or numeric user ID.

-v, --verbose
Print a verbose display. Two levels of verboseness are available -- use this option twice to get the most verbose output.

-x, --exclude=path
Skip absolute path; if path is a directory, all files contained in it are skipped too. The directories to clean up must also be absolute paths.

See Also

cron(1) , ls(1) , rm(1) , fuser(1)


GNU-style long options are not supported on HP-UX.


Erik Troan <>
Preston Brown <>
Nalin Dahyabhai <>
Miloslav Trmac <>

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