Disk Cleanup Utility

In the course of daily use, Windows XP generates thousands of temporary files to aid in system operation. These files are critical to the operation of the programs that use them when the programs are being used. As most people are well aware, though, temporary files have a habit of being much more persistent than their name implies. And over the course of time, these files add up in a hurry and consume large amounts of valuable disk space. The Disk Cleanup utility provides you with a safe and reliable way to delete these temporary files from all their various hiding spots and thus free up disk space on your hard drive.

To access this utility, do the following:


Choose Start, All Programs, Accessories, System Tools, Disk Cleanup. In the resulting dialog, choose the drive to analyze. Alternatively, you can right-click a drive in the Explorer, and then choose Properties, General, Disk Cleanup.


The program then searches this drive for files that can be safely deleted or compressed. The details of this analysis are then displayed in a dialog similar to the one shown in Figure 29.11.

Figure 29.11. Report of a disk cleanup analysis.

Near the top of the dialog box is the total amount of disk space you can free on this drive by accepting the selected recommendations listed below. You can exclude or include file groups from the cleanup process by placing a check mark in front of the types listed. When you select an entry, you see a description of which files that group contains and what their purpose is. By selecting a group and then the View Files button, you can see exactly which files are slated for death in the resulting folder window. Use this option if you have any doubts about a group of files, where they reside, or what they do.

The following file groupings might be listed:

  • Downloaded Program Files These files are ActiveX controls and Java applets used by Web pages you have visited. If you delete them, they will simply be reloaded the next time you visit the pages.

  • Temporary Internet Files This one is a biggie. Every time you access a Web page, your browser stores or caches the various elements of that page on the hard disk. When you revisit a page, any elements that have not changed since your last visit are reloaded from the hard disk, rather than the site itself, to speed the rendering process. Deleting these temporary Internet files frees the largest amount of disk space of any of the group lists. If you use a modem to access the Internet, however, you will notice longer rendering times the next time you return to one of your favorite sites.


    Agreeing to delete temporary Internet files does not delete your cookies (personalized settings for Web sites), so don't worry about having to reenter user ID information or other such information for sites you visit a lot. Cookies are stored in x:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Cookies. Temporary Internet files are stored by default in x:\Documents and Settings\<username>\Local Settings\Temporary Internet Files (where x: is the volume the system is installed on).

  • Recycle Bin Clearing this folder is the same as manually clearing your Recycle Bin. It is a good idea to have a quick look at the files stored there before choosing this option. Select this option, and click the View Files button under the group description; a folder window then opens, listing the contents.

  • Temporary Offline Files Similar to cached Web pages, when you connect to a network location and access a read-only file, a temporary copy is sometimes stored on your hard drive. Clearing these temporary copies does not erase the files you explicitly marked as available for offline use, so this is a safe choice.

  • Offline Files If you use the Synchronization features of Windows XP (see Chapter 18, "Windows Unplugged: Remote and Mobile Networking"), selected files and folders from a network connection are stored locally for access while you are disconnected. Do not delete these files unless you're sure you can work without the local copies. You'll lose any changes you made to offline files if you delete them here, so don't make this choice without synchronizing first.

  • Compress Old Files Windows can compress files not accessed within a specified period. To configure this period, select this group and click the More Options button.

  • Catalog File for the Content Indexer The Windows Indexing Service (see the description earlier in this chapter) speeds file searches by building and maintaining indexes on your hard disk. Selecting this option removes any old index files not in use but does not delete any current indexes.

On the Disk Cleanup dialog, also notice the second tab marked More Options. The Windows Components option provides a quick access shortcut to the Windows Components Wizard. From this wizard, you can select major system components (such as IIS and Indexing Services) to add or remove. Also on this tab is a shortcut to Add/Remove Programs under the section labeled Installed Programs. The System Restore Clean up button is used to delete all but the most recent restore points. This may free up a significant amount of drive space, but it will eliminate your ability to rollback to previous states of the system. (See Chapter 33, "Troubleshooting and Repairing Windows XP," for information in System Restore.)


Running Disk Cleanup weekly does wonders to improve a system's performance. The first time you run it, the program might take quite awhile to run, but with regular exercise, this program speeds up because the disk stays cleaner. Once a monthafter you check the contents of the individual folder groups carefullyyou should empty all folders of all temporary files. Then follow up by running a defragmentation utility.

Using Internet Explorer's Cache Cleanup

If you would prefer not to use the Disk Cleanup utility, you can choose a second option for clearing out those disk-hogging cached Internet files.

To access it, open the Control Panel, and select the Internet Options icon. On the Internet Properties dialog, you will find a section titled Temporary Internet Files. The Delete Files button works exactly as advertised. The Settings button allows you to configure options for how often cached files are checked against their original counterparts, how much disk space these cached files are allowed to take up, and in which folder they are stored.

When the disk space setting is exceeded, files are removed on a "First In, First Out" basis; that is, the oldest files are deleted to create space for newer ones.

The Move Folder option lets you specify a location where these temporary files will be stored. I think it's a great idea to change this path to a temporary folder or a drive with lots of free space. I usually redirect Internet Explorer to deposit its temporary Internet files into a \temp folder I've created on one of my drives. If you do a lot of Web surfing, you'll want to map this temp location to a fast volume that is not on the same hard drive as your main Windows partition.


Changing the location for the storage of temporary Internet files is especially a good idea if the system is a client on a domain network and roaming profiles are in use. By storing the temporary files outside of your profile, it will take less time to log in and log out, plus your profile will consume less space on the network server.

Special Edition Using Microsoft Windows XP Professional
Special Edition Using Microsoft Windows XP Professional (3rd Edition)
ISBN: 0789732807
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 450

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