Housekeeping, or, How To Obsessively Blow Up The Files Left Behind

I install, and then uninstall, lots of different software packages on Debian. I’m trying to learn how this thing works, so I’ll often install something, poke around, and then remove it. But, I get paranoid about the package manager leaving things behind on my system. Cron jobs, config files, libraries, all that jazz.

So, I do some housekeeping to make sure that everything, absolutely everything, gets blown up when I remove a piece of software. Is it necessary? Probably not. Does it satisfy my deeply rooted obsessive control issues? It does.

I’ll assume you’ve already removed the software using the package manager of your choice. For me, that’s aptitude. Throughout this little rundown, replace the word PACKAGE with the name of whatever you’re uninstalling.

sudo aptitude purge PACKAGE

Then, we need to hunt down and kill every remaining bread crumb that this thing left behind. We’ll be using the “locate” tool. It’s a fast search tool that refers to an existing database of files. Start by kicking into super user mode:

sudo su

Then, update the database that locate uses. This rebuilds an updated list of the files on your system.


Next, we want locate to find all of the files that were left behind.

locate PACKAGE

This will print them all to the screen. See them there, smiling back at you? You thought you were clean, you dirty bird, but there they all are. Filthy. Filthy files. Dirty. Dirty.

Well, looking at them on the screen isn’t all that useful for us. What we really need is some way to generate a list of these files that we can then process for deletion, one at a time. Go go command line, go!

locate PACKAGE > /tmp/PACKAGE_files.txt

head to your /tmp folder and take a look – there should be a .txt file there that lists each of the files left behind. Check it out:

cat /tmp/PACKAGE_files.txt

It should look identical to the output of the locate command we used earlier.

Now, we use a little Command Line MagicĀ©, and no, I’m not talking about cocaine. Sweet, sweet cocaine, gives us the go-go to make everything clean. Mmmm, clean. So clean.

We want a command that will pass each line of our new text file into the “rm” command, and give us the option to delete each one. Why, hello there xargs, so nice to see you.

cat /tmp/PACKAGE_files.txt | xargs -l1 -p rm -rf

What’s going on here? The “cat” command will output the content of our txt file. The pipe passes it along to the next command. “xargs” lets us input that data into a new command, in this case “rm”. The “-l1” switch on xargs (that’s the letter “L” and the number “one”) executes the command on one line at a time, instead of the whole batch. The “-p” switch will ask us for permission on each file, so that we have some control over what we want to delete. The “-rf” switch on the “rm” command will remove files recursively, and will force the issue if there are warnings or errors.

If we did everything right, it should start ripping through the files, asking you if you want to delete each one. Y for yes, N for no, and Tada! you have a system clean enough to avoid those awkward OCD freakouts at 2am.

If you want to double check the process, run the locate command again:

updatedb && locate PACKAGE

It should come back clean. Not dirty. Clean. Like pure white linen sheets on a bed of unicorn feathers. So clean. So nice and clean. And now, the sleeping.

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