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Unburden Your Home Directory

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.

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

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.

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 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 ~/.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 ~/.unburden-home-dir 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 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, uncomment


    in /etc/default/unburden-home-dir to enable unburden-home-dir for X sessions of all users or add it to ~/.unburden-home-dir to enable it just on a per-user base. (Create the file if it doesn't exist yet.)

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 works incrementally.

  • 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.

Configuration Files

There are five configuration files for unburden-home-dir:

  • /etc/unburden-home-dir -- Global configuration file
  • /etc/unburden-home-dir.list -- Global list of files to take care of
  • ~/.unburden-home-dir -- Per user configuration file
  • ~/.unburden-home-dir.list -- Per user list of files to take care of
  • /etc/default/unburden-home-dir -- Xsession hook configuration file

File Format of unburden-home-dir.list

  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

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

Enabling unburden-home-dir Globally

Edit /etc/default/unburden-home-dir if you want to enable unburden-home-dir for all users of a machine.on an Xsession based login. 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 ~/.unburden-home-dir which is sourced by the Xsession startup script in the same way as /etc/default/unburden-home-dir (while being a configuration file for unburden-home-dir itself at the same time, too).

Example Configuration Files

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

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, Gitorious gets pushed less often, but should get all major updates in time, too.


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

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