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Temporary Files

Temporary files are used by applications and operating systems to store information which is needed only for a certain period of time and could be removed in the future. Depending on the functionality of a temporary file it can be stored only while application using it is running or for a longer period of time. Sometimes an application may crush, and temporary files will be left sitting on the disk. In this case it may be required to remove them manually. Typically, temporary files are stored in a folder named TMP or TEMP, but certain application may create temporary files in other folders. Below are most common types of temporary files:

  • Files which store information which cannot fit into the computer memory. For example, audio, video or photo editing applications frequently produce very large amounts of information which could not fit into memory even on most powerful workstations. In this case temporary file is created where chunks of data are stored while user is working on the file. Once editing is complete data from the memory and disk is merged and final file is written out.
  • Operating systems also can write out information which doesn’t fit to computer memory to a temporary file. Such temporary file is called swap file. Swap file will contain all chunks of data which didn’t fit into computer memory. Swap file is created when computer is booting up and used until computer shuts down or crashes. Information in the swap file or files is constantly updated as different applications are loaded and unloaded. It is possible to modify how large swap file can get and if operating system should use it at all but changing swap file settings is only recommended for advanced computer users or computer professionals.
  • Temporary files could be used to store auto-save information while application is running. When user opens the file and starts editing it in application all data is located in computer memory. If application crashes, then all edits performed by user will be lost. That is why many applications create a temporary autosave file which stores most recent state of the file edits. This file is kept until user saves recent edits to a file. At that moment auto-save file is deleted until the app receives new edits from the user.
  • Temporary files are used by web browsers to store partial download data. These files are created by a browser when download of a file starts. Downloaded information is accumulated in such files until the moment when download is complete. At that time partial download file is renamed and presented to a user as ready to use.