This is fairly common question on the KelbyOne Lightroom Help Desk. Over time, it is easy for files to build up in the folder where your catalog is stored, and it can be overwhelming for a lot of people to sort through them all to separate the wheat from chaff. I got a good example of what this can look like, so I thought it would be helpful to others if we took a closer look. (Names and places have been changed to protect the innocent)

Under Normal Circumstances

Before we get into that, I wanted to share what files are typically found in the folder where your Lightroom Classic catalog is located. Now, this screen capture shows what it looks like when the catalog is open.

Here’s that same folder after Lightroom Classic has been shut down.

When Lightroom Classic is closed the .lock and -wal files are removed under normal operation. However, if Lightroom crashed or the computer crashed, those files can be left behind, which can get in the way of opening the catalog again. If that ever happens to you, you can simply delete the .lock file and Lightroom Classic should open normally.

The .lrcat file is your catalog, and the .lrdata files are preview caches that contain the previews used by Lightroom to represent your photos. If you’ve never created smart previews then you would only have one preview cache. The Helper.lrdata serves as a cache for the Folder panel search. If you’ve synced your Lightroom Classic catalog to Lightroom cloud and you have not configured a custom destination for photos downloaded from the cloud then you might also see a Mobile Downloads.lrdata file, which is where those photos are stored.

What Can Happen

Now, if you have not been as diligent as I have in keeping that folder under control over the years, you might end up with a situation that looks something like this.

Now, not meaning any judgement here as we all have our own messes to clean up from time to time. And to be fair, no one should just start deleting files unless you are sure about what you are deleting, so it is easy to see how this kind of thing can build up. Let’s try to sort out what is important to keep. I’ve highlighted the keepers in red.

By the presence of the .lock and -wal files we can tell that the Lightroom catalog in question was open when this screen capture was made. That also helped me to determine that was the keeper catalog. The second clue was the modified dates on that catalog file was recent compared to the much older dates on all the others.

So, here’s what you’d want to do to clean up a similar situation.

  1. Quit Lightroom Classic (make sure you have a good backup in place for good measure). Closing Lightroom will remove the .lock and -wal files automatically. We’d also want to see if that cleared out any of the temp files too.
  2. Delete all of the other .lrcat (and associated .lrdata) files you no longer want. Based on the file names of the catalogs it looks as though those are older catalogs from earlier versions of Lightroom Classic where a copy was upgraded and the old one was left behind. This is the normal process when you upgrade a copy of the catalog, so it’s a good bet that there are a lot of us with old unused catalog files just hanging around. Just make sure you are 100% sure about which catalog file is which before you delete (and you have a good backup too).
  3. Delete all of the files with the word “Temporary” in them. Those are intended to be removed under normal operations, but if there was a problem or a crash they can get left behind. Looking at the modified dates there aren’t any very recent, so I think it is safe to nix them all.
  4. (Optional) For good measure, you might consider renaming your catalog file to something more meaningful.

When all of that is done your Lightroom Classic catalog folder should be pared down to just the essential bits you need and nothing else. Hope that helps!

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16 comments

  1. Carl 17 July, 2020 at 12:04 Reply

    Hi Rob,
    Thanks for the question. The most current date is the 7/7/2020 file. We did not access Lightroom in the last ten days.

    Is there a way to double check? I want to be sure I provide a full answer to your question.

    • Rob Sylvan 17 July, 2020 at 12:39 Reply

      Hi Carl,

      Ok, so I’m just trying to find out if you have upgraded to the latest version of Lightroom Classic, which assumes you upgraded a copy of the catalog at the time you upgraded the software. If that is true, meaning if all of your old work/data/photos are in your current 2020 catalog file, then you may not need either of your old Lightroom 5 catalog files. You would have to be the one to determine that, but in my experience, everything from the old (lightroom 5) catalog is in the new Lightroom Classic catalog. I don’t keep the old catalog files from old versions of the software once I have successfully upgraded and moved on with the new version.

  2. Carl 17 July, 2020 at 10:01 Reply

    On our MacBook Air we have these files (with last accessed date)

    Lightroom 5 Catalog Previews.lrdata 2/2/19 6.45 GB
    Lightroom 5 Catalog Previews.lrdata 12/9/17 69.8 MB

    And

    Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat 2/2/19 1.87 GB
    Lightroom 5 Catalog.lrcat 7/7/20 1.77 GB

    In each pair, is it safe to delete the older file?

    Thank you for your tips and for answering questions here.

  3. Tamara 16 April, 2020 at 07:32 Reply

    I have deleted my mobile downloads based on this article… not so smart because now it’s a big mess and all of the files are ?
    Can I restore or undo this? If so, how??

    • Rob Sylvan 16 April, 2020 at 11:51 Reply

      At no point does this article say to just delete the mobile downloads.lrdata file. I specifically say, “If you’ve synced your Lightroom Classic catalog to Lightroom cloud and you have not configured a custom destination for photos downloaded from the cloud then you might also see a Mobile Downloads.lrdata file, which is where those photos are stored.” I even say, “no one should just start deleting files unless you are sure about what you are deleting” so no, you did not delete it based on this article. That said, mistakes do happen. Have you tried restoring the Mobile Downloads.lrdata file from the trash/recycle bin?

  4. Nina 29 October, 2019 at 07:45 Reply

    I have 2 copies of my LR catalog: LR catalog-2.lrcat containing 710.9MB of data and LR catalog.lrcat containing 1.24GB of data. The -2 catalog is the current catalog but I’m wondering, if I delete the other catalog what data will be lost since it is much larger than the current catalog. Thanks.

    • Rob Sylvan 30 October, 2019 at 16:42 Reply

      If you delete the LR Catalog.lrcat catalog all of the data in that catalog will be lost, but it won’t have any affect on your current catalog. I would guess that the -2 catalog is the upgraded copy of the LR Catalog.lrcat. Check the file accessed date, and if it hasn’t been opened since you started using the current version of Lightroom, then it is probably old and I would assume everything that was in it was in your current catalog when you upgraded.

      • Nina 30 October, 2019 at 20:44 Reply

        Thanks, Rob. I checked the dates on the catalogs and the old catalog hasn’t been opened since the new catalog was created. I will free up some disc space and delete the old catalog.Appreciate your help. Thanks.

  5. Leslie 23 October, 2019 at 17:45 Reply

    Thanks for the helpful article.

    I have two files on my hard drive: each taking up 44 GB

    Lightroom Catalog – previews.lrdata – accessed today

    Lightroom Catalog – smart previews.lrdata – accessed last 10/27/17

    What’s the difference – and can I comfortably delete the smart previews file to free up the 44 GB?

  6. Eric Vaandering 23 October, 2019 at 08:37 Reply

    The preview and smart preview caches are actually directories full of individual preivew files. You can see this from the terminal or by selecting Show Package Contents on the Mac.

    Deleting previews doesn’t hurt anything so I’ve used file utiities to delete everything older than a year at times. Now as part of my New Years cleanup, I just delete the entire preview catalog and regenerate what I’m working on. I have very strong suspicions that unneeded previews get left laying around given the way I work.

    I also, once a year, delete the Develop History of every photo that I am “done’ with. This keeps the catalog size to a minimum. I have no interest in seeing every brush stroke and its order a year after I last edited a photo

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