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Automatically unburden $HOME from caches, etc. Useful for $HOME on SSDs, small disks or slow NFS homes. Can be triggered via a hook in /etc/X11/Xsession.d/.
Perl Makefile

Unburden Your Home Directory

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unburden-home-dir allows users to move cache files from browsers, etc. off their home directory, i.e. on a local harddisk or tmpfs and replace them with a symbolic link to the new location (e.g. on /tmp/ or /scratch/) upon login. Optionally the contents of the directories and files can be removed instead of moved.

This is helpful at least in the following cases:

  • The idea-giving case are big workstation setups where $HOME is on NFS and all those caches put an unnecessary burden (hence the name) on the file server since caching over NFS doesn't have the best performance and may clog the NFS server, too.

  • A similar case, but with different purpose is reducing I/O on mobile devices like laptops or netbooks to extend the battery life: Moving browser caches etc. off the real disk into a tmpfs filesystem reduces the amount of disk I/O which reduces the power consumption of the disk.

  • The other type of use cases for unburden-home-dir is to reduce disk space usage, e.g. on devices with small disk space but a lot of RAM as seen often on boxes with flash disks or early netbooks, especially the EeePC, where configurations with 4GB disk space and 2GB RAM are not seldom. In this case you want to move off as many cache files, etc. as possible to some tmpfs filesystem, e.g. /tmp/.

  • It may also help to reduce the amount of needed backup disk space by keeping those files in places where they don't get backed up. In that case it's an alternative to keeping the blacklist in your backup software up-to-date.

  • Another pragmatic use case may be to stay — as an user — within a given disk quota. :-)

This project initially started as an Xsession hook. It now consists of a perl script which optionally can also be called from a provided Xsession hook.

While the default configuration includes no logout hook as Debian's Xsession script, you can run unburden-home-dir -u to reverse the effect of unburden-home-dir and to move all (moved) directories back to your home directory.

Nevertheless unburden-home-dir was written with non-valuable data (cache files, pid files, thumbnails, temporary data, etc.) in mind and not for preservation of the handled data. So it is likely less suitable for cases where the handled data should be preserved on logout or shutdown.

See this wiki page about application cache files for the detailed reasoning behind this project.

How To

The best way to introduce unburden-home-dir in your setup is the following:

  • Look through /etc/unburden-home-dir.list and either uncomment what you need globally and/or copy it to either ~/.unburden-home-dir.list or ~/.config/unburden-home-dir/list and then edit it there for per-user settings.

  • Check in /etc/unburden-home-dir if the target and file name template suite your needs. If not either edit the file for global settings and/or copy it to either ~/.unburden-home-dir or ~/.config/unburden-home-dir/config and then edit it there for per-user settings.

  • Make a dry run with

    unburden-home-dir -n

    to see what unburden-home-dir would do. If you have lsof installed it should warn you if any of the files are currently in use.

    Check the above steps until you're satisfied.

  • Exit all affected applications (guess them if no lsof is available, fuser may help if available) as opened files which should be moved can cause unburden-home-dir to fail. (May not be necessary if the target is on the same file system, but that's usually not the case.)

    Also exit shells or file browser windows (Nautilus, Konqueror, Caja, etc.) which have any of the to-be-unburdened directories open.

    If you use a full featured desktop (GNOME, KDE, Unity, Enlightenment/E17) including desktop search or similar tools which have some files in ~/.cache permanently opened (Zeitgeist, gvfs, etc.) it's likely the best to logout from your X session and do the remaining steps in a failsafe session, on the text console or remotely via SSH.

  • Run


  • Start your applications again.

If everything works fine, enable unburden-home-dir permanently, either per user or globally for all users. See below.

Enabling unburden-home-dir Globally

If you want to enable unburden-home-dir for all users of a machine.on an Xsession based login, edit /etc/default/unburden-home-dir and either uncomment or add a line that looks like this:


This will also set $XDG_CACHE_HOME to a subdirectory of unburden-home-dir's target directory.

But please be aware that if you do that on a machine with NFS homes, you should do that on all (Unix) machines which have those NFS homes mounted.

Enabling unburden-home-dir Per User

For installations where each user should be able to decide on his own if unburden-home-dir should be run on X session start, add a line saying


to either ~/.unburden-home-dir or ~/.config/unburden-home-dir/config (create the file if it doesn't exist yet) which are sourced by the Xsession startup script in the same way as /etc/default/unburden-home-dir (while beingq configuration files for unburden-home-dir itself at the same time, too).

Common Issues / Troubleshooting

  • If you get error messages like

    cannot remove directory for ~/.something/Cache: Directory not empty at /usr/bin/unburden-home-dir line 203

    there is likely a process running which still has files open in that directory or a subdirectory thereof.

    Exit that program and try again. unburden-home-dir is idempotent, i.e. it can be called several times without doing different things.

  • In case unburden-home-dir moved something it wasn't expected to, you can try to undo all of unburden-home-dir's doing by running

    unburden-home-dir -u

    Nevertheless this functionality is less well tested as unburden-home-dir's normal operation mode, so it may not be able to undo everything.

    unburden-home-dir's undo mode (of course) can't undo modifications where it has been told to remove all files and create an empty directory instead. See the r action in the Configuration Files section below.

  • See also the current TODO list for known deficiencies, planned features and various ideas.

Configuration Files

There are three types of configuration files for unburden-home-dir:

Global Xsession Hook Configuration File

  • /etc/default/unburden-home-dir

It is sourced by unburden-home-dir's Xsession hook and configures the global on-login behaviour.

Recognized Settings

  • UNBURDEN_HOME: If set to yes, unburden-home-dir will run for all users upon X login.
  • UNBURDEN_BASENAME: Sets the basename of the configuration files to use. Defaults to unburden-home-dir. Equivalent to the -b commandline option.

General Configuration File

  • /etc/unburden-home-dir (Global configuration file)
  • ~/.unburden-home-dir (Per user configuration file)
  • ~/.config/unburden-home-dir/config (XDG style per user configuration file)

All three file are parsed by Config::File in the above given order.

Recognized Settings

The files may contain one or more of the following settings:

  • TARGETDIR: To where the files should be unburdened, e.g. TARGETDIR=/tmp orTARGETDIR=/scratch
  • FILELAYOUT: File name template for the target locations. %u is replaced by the user name, %s by the target identifier defined in the list file. Examples: FILELAYOUT='.unburden-%u/%s', FILELAYOUT='unburden/%u/%s'

For per user activation of unburden-home-dir upon X login, UNBURDEN_HOME=yes (see above) may be used in the per-user configuration files, too.

List Files

unburden-home-dir looks at the following places for list of files to take care of:

  • /etc/unburden-home-dir.list (Global list of files to take care of)
  • ~/.unburden-home-dir.list (Per user list of files to take care of)
  • ~/.config/unburden-home-dir/list (XDG style per user list of files to take care of)

File Format of unburden-home-dir.list

unburden-home-dir.list lists files and directories to take care of and how to take care of them.

Each lines contains space separated values. The columns are interpreted as follows:

  1. column: Action (d/r or m: delete/remove or move; the first two are equivalent)
  2. column: Type (d, D, f or F: directory or file, capital letter means "create it if it doesn't exist")
  3. column: Path relative to $HOME to move off to some other location.
  4. column: Identifier for file or directory in the other location.

The (partial) path names given in the third and fourth column initially must be of the type declared in the second column, i.e. you can't list a file's name in the third column but then only give the path to the subdirectory to where it should be unburden in the fourth column. The fourth column must contain the path to the symlink target itself, too.

What To Unburden?

The Debian package comes with a lot of commented examples in /etc/unburden-home-dir.list. See etc/unburden-home-dir.list in the Git repository or source tar ball.

A good start for checking what kind of caches you have in your own home directory is running

find ~ -type d -iname 'cache' -not -path '/.git/' -not -path '/.hg/' -print0 | xargs -0 du -sh | sort -h

Older versions of the sort utility (e.g. GNU Coreutils versions before 7.5, i.e. before Debian 6.0 Squeeze) don't have the -h option. In that case drop the -h from the du call as well and use sort -n instead:

find ~ -type d -iname 'cache' -not -path '/.git/' -not -path '/.hg/' -print0 | xargs -0 du -s | sort -n

Or check Mundus Project's modules which cache files they would clean up.

Example Configuration Files

See /usr/share/doc/unburden-home-dir/examples/ on debianoid installations or etc/ in the source tar ball for example files.

User Contributed Examples and Setups

Getting Unburden-Home-Dir

Besides installing from source code, several Linux distributions ship unburden-home-dir as package:

Source Code

You should always find the newest code via git at either

GitHub is used as primary hub, is usually up-to-date, too, Gitlab and Gitorious (will be shut down in June 2015) gets pushed less often, but should get all major updates in time, too.

Testing, Continuous Integration and Code Coverage


There are some, I'm sure. ;-)

A few known deficiencies are listed in the TODO list.

Browsing Bug Reports

Reporting Bugs

If you use unburden-home-dir as packaged by your distribution, please report bugs there. If you use unburden-home-dir elsewhere, please use GitHub's issue tracker for now.


Axel Beckert

unburden-home-dir initially has been developed for usage at Dept. of Physics, ETH Zurich.


All stuff in here is free software: you can redistribute it and/or modify it under the terms of the GNU General Public License as published by the Free Software Foundation, either version 2 of the License, or (at your option) any later version.

This program is distributed in the hope that it will be useful, but WITHOUT ANY WARRANTY; without even the implied warranty of MERCHANTABILITY or FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE. See the GNU General Public License for more details.

You should have received a copy of the GNU General Public License along with this program in the file COPYING. If not, see GNU's license web page.


Quite some people contributed to unburden-home-dir in one way or the other, e.g. by being my guinea pigs, finding bugs, sending patches, contributing to the list of files to move off, etc. or just by writing motivating blog postings. :-)

  • Pietro Abate
  • Johan van den Dorpe
  • Klaus Ethgen
  • Elmar Heeb
  • Christian Herzog
  • Carsten Hey
  • Daniel Koch
  • Touko Korpela
  • Marcus Möller
  • Mika Pflüger
  • Patrick Schmid
  • Klaus Umbach

See Also

Reducing Sync Calls


Another possible solution for saving non-crucial I/O is using eatmydata to ignore a software's fsync calls.

Be careful. This may cause data loss in case of a power loss or an operating system crash. It's called "eat my data" for a reason.


One notorious case of an annoyingly amount of fsync calls is Firefox and other Mozilla/Gecko/XULRunner based programs, because they use SQLite databases as backend for many features (history, bookmarks, cookies, etc.).

Instead of calling eatmydata firefox you can use about:config to set to 0. This specifies the SQLite disk sync mode used by the Mozilla rendering engine.

Nevertheless unburden-home-dir usually doesn't help here, because it's used for volatile data like caches while those SQLite databases usually contain stuff you don't want to loose. But then again, setting to 0 may cause database corruption if the OS crashes or the computer loses power.


Not related to the home directory and hence not solvable at all with unburden-home-dir but nevertheless similar is the amount of sync calls in dpkg and APT.

Package list Diffs

If there's too much I/O and CPU usage during apt-get update due to downloading and merging a lots of diffs, you may want to set Acquire::PDiffs to false to always download the whole package list instead of just diffs. Of couse this only makes sense if you have a decent network connection.

I/O during upgrading packages

dpkg cares about a consistent state of files when unpacking packages, so it instructs the kernel to sync stuff to disk quite often, too. It hough has an option named --force-unsafe-io to turn this safety off.

From dpkg's man-page about --force-unsafe-io:

Do not perform safe I/O operations when unpacking. Currently this implies not performing file system syncs before file renames, which is known to cause substantial performance degradation on some file systems, unfortunately the ones that require the safe I/O on the first place due to their unreliable behaviour causing zero-length files on abrupt system crashes.

Note: For ext4, the main offender, consider using instead the mount option nodelalloc, which will fix both the performance degradation and the data safety issues, the latter by making the file system not produce zero-length files on abrupt system crashes with any software not doing syncs before atomic renames.

Warning: Using this option might improve performance at the cost of losing data, use with care.

Core dumps

If you want core dumps for debugging purposes, but don't want to clutter your home directory with them, Corekeeper offers saving core dumps to /var/crash and also automatically cleans them up after a week by just installing one Debian package.

Cleaning Up Your Home Directory Half-Automatically


Autotrash is a simple Python script which will purge files from your trash based on their age or the amount of free space left on the device. Using autotrash -d 30 will delete files which have been in the trash for more then 30 days.


BleachBit is a GUI program which …

[…] quickly frees disk space and tirelessly guards your privacy. Free cache, delete cookies, clear Internet history, shred temporary files, delete logs, and discard junk you didn't know was there. Designed for Linux and Windows systems, it wipes clean 90 applications including Firefox, Internet Explorer, Adobe Flash, Google Chrome, Opera, Safari,and more. Beyond simply deleting files, BleachBit includes advanced features such as shredding files to prevent recovery, wiping free disk space to hide traces of files deleted by other applications, and vacuuming Firefox to make it faster.


Mundus is GUI program which …

[…] can help you keep your /home folder clean. It keeps an internal database of known applications and folders, and automagically detects those apps that where uninstalled but left configuration files. Each supported application is also called a module, and each folder it describes is called a submodule.

Computer Janitor

Computer Janitor was a command-line and GUI program to …

… clean up a system so it's more like a freshly installed one.

Over time, a computer system tends to get cluttered. For example, software packages that are no longer needed can be uninstalled. When the system is upgraded from release to release, it may miss out on configuration tweaks that freshly installed systems get.

Computer Janitor is an application to fix these kinds of problems. It attempts to find software packages that can be removed, and tweak the system configuration in useful ways.

Unfortunately its development has stalled, it doesn't work together with current APT versions and it has been removed from Debian and recent Ubuntu releases.

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