Does systemd-tmpfiles --clean remove open files?

Solution Verified - Updated -


  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7


  • Will systemd-tmpfiles-clean.service or manual execution of systemd-tmpfiles --clean remove open files?

  • In earlier versions of RHEL, when using tmpwatch to clean up files, the --fuser option could be used to ensure open files wouldn't be used. Does systemd-tmpfiles have something like this?

  • I'm planning to use tmpwatch's --fuser feature. Does systemd-tmpfiles support running fuser so that it won't delete any files which have an open file descriptor?


  • When using systemd-tmpfiles to clean files based on age,1 each of the 3 traditional timestamps (atime, mtime, & ctime) are taken into account

  • systemd-tmpfiles does not provide a feature analogous to tmpwatch --fuser
    systemd-tmpfiles does not check to see if a file is opened by a process
    systemd-tmpfiles only looks at the file timestamps2

  • Simply put, if an application reads from a file3 or writes to a file more often than the tmpfiles.d(5) age parameter, the file will not be removed by systemd-tmpfiles --clean

  • Note also that the tmpwatch package (and thus tmpwatch --fuser) is still available in RHEL 7

  1. That is, with d, D, v, or x (see man tmpfiles.d

  2. See this [systemd-devel] tmpfiles versus tmpwatch mailing list thread, in particular, the following quote from Lennart Poettering: "Nope, we do not support this, and it's unlikely we ever will. fuser is relatively expensive, since it iterates manually through all subdirectories of /proc to find open files. If the kernel had a better interface for this, that makes this less expensive, we might consider supporting that, but the iterating through /proc is simply too bad." Another user response: "tmpwatch's fuser feature is IMHO just a countermeasure for filesystems mounted with noatime in combination with wrongly behaving software which has long living processes opening files in /tmp. That's wrong by design." 

  3. Assuming the relevant filesystem is mounted without the noatime option 

Diagnostic Steps

  • Example:

    [root]# cat /etc/tmpfiles.d/rsaw.conf
    #Type  Path    Mode  UID   GID   Age   Arg
    d      /rsaw   0770  rsaw  rsaw  10s
    [root]# ping localhost >/rsaw/openfile &
    [1] 4731
    [root]# sleep 10
    [root]# systemd-tmpfiles --clean
    [root]# ll /rsaw
    total 4
    -rw-r--r--. 1 root root 3610 Dec  4 12:53 openfile

    In the above, the /rsaw dir is meant to be cleaned when files have gone more than 10 seconds without being accessed -- /rsaw/openfile doesn't get deleted by systemd-tmpfiles --clean because the ping command is running in the background constantly writing

  • Continuing the above example:

    [root]# fg
    ping localhost > /rsaw/openfile
    [root]# less /rsaw/openfile 
    [1]+  Stopped                 less /rsaw/openfile
    [root]# lsof +D /rsaw
    less    4770 root    4r   REG  253,3     7692 2033468 /rsaw/openfile
    [root]# sleep 10
    [root]# systemd-tmpfiles --clean
    [root]# ll /rsaw
    total 0

    So the ping command is killed and then less opens the output file -- after waiting 10 seconds, systemd-tmpfiles --clean deletes the file, despite it still being open by less

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