Mac OS X contains a “temporary” folder. Programs use this folder to temporarily store data. You won’t be able to find the temporary folder, which is called “tmp,” because it is hidden. However, there is a simple method to get to the folder and look at its contents.
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Programs frequently use the tmp folder. They choose to write to this folder if they do not intend the data or program to be used long term. For example, if you choose a file on the Web, your browser it will prompt you whether you want to save it to your computer or open it from its current location. If you choose “Open” or “Run” rather than “Save,” the browser will download the file anyway, it just won’t ask you where you want to save it or what you want to call it. Instead, the browser downloads the file to the tmp folder, intending to delete it at the end of the session. Program installers also use the tmp folder as a temporary store of files as it unpacks and compiles programs. The operating system will automatically delete everything from this folder when it shuts down.
There are two locations for the TMP folder on your Mac. The most commonly used tmp folder is at /tmp. This means it is a directory stored in the top level “root” directory (“/”). This naming convention stems from the Unix operating system. Some applications are programmed to use a different temporary directory, which is located at /var/tmp.
One peculiarity about the tmp folder is that it is not really where it is supposed to be. Programs access the folder as /tmp by convention. In reality, the folder is located at /private/tmp. The tmp folder in the root directory is really a “symbolic link.” This means that any access to the /tmp folder is interpreted by the operating system as /private/tmp. Although you will never see it on the screen, if you type /tmp on the command line, Mac OS X forwards you to /private/tmp.
Although you cannot see the tmp directory in the standard Mac user interface, you can access it from the command line. Double click on “Terminal” in the Utilities folder, which is off “Applications” to open a Terminal session and type “cd /” to get to the root directory. Enter “ls” to list the contents of root and you will see tmp in the list. Type “cd tmp” to enter the folder and “ls” to list its contents. Some files will not be shown in a regular directory listing. These files start with a dot (“.”). To see those files, use “ls –al” to list the directory contents.
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