Which Files Can I Delete?
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.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- (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!
OMG! You’re the first one to give me the exact answers I needed. However, with the latest Lr updates I see some new logos in red: .lrcat-data. I’m assuming that is to keep as well ?
Thanks a million
Hi Anna, Yes, that is a new file since I wrote this article. Keep that one. It is where the masks are stored.
Hi Rob! Thank you for all of this! Quick question: How do you rename it? What the hell is ircat anyway lol. Also, sorry, second question: I have a “Lightroom catalog -v11 Previews.Irdata” and “Lightroom Library.Irlibrary.” What are these and are any deletable? Thank you!
[…] people inflict injury on themselves. Please do not just start deleting files without being sure of what they are AND that you have a good backup plan in place […]
I am petrified of deleting the wrong things, but my Lightroom Catalog-2-v10 Previews.lrdata is taking up over 100GB of hard drive space, and that’s a problem. How do I know which ones are safe to delete? Thank you so much for your information.
Hi, can anyone tell me….if I delete old files from my working disk & lightroom using lightroom delete system…do I lose previews. Is there a way I can keep previews so if I ever need to reload old files the previews can be automatic. I’ve heard alot that if you delete straight from the hard drive you encounter ligthroom issues.
My storage management system indicates that I have over 30GB of space taken up in ‘Other’, ‘Users’, ‘Pictures’ – I have searched this folder and cannot find anything like that amount of data. There are a couple of Lightroom Classic catalogs and some of the other usual associated files – but not 30GB! Any ideas?
Cloud it be one of the preview cache files (.lrdata) associated with the catalogs?
Why do I have many catalogs, which I did not think I created them: Catalog-2-2-v10-3, Catalog-2-2-v10-2, Catalog-2-2-v10, Catalog-2-2. What should I do with those catalogs?
Oh man! You have saved me so much space on my hard drive! Thank you!!!
Hi, I also see a file called Lightroom Catalog Sync.data. What is that file and can I delete it? Thanks.
It is for syncing your LrC catalog to the cloud. Are you syncing your LrC catalog to the Lightroom cloud? If so, then don’t delete that file.
I have a lot of file likes this with different dates. Some very old.
Is that also files that I can delete?
A catalog in a zip file suggests it is a backup copy. If that is true, and especially if it is old, then you can certainly delete it. You just want to make sure you know where your working catalog is located, and that you have a recent backup copy in a safe alternative location.
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.
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.
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
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.
Are you using a more recent version of Lightroom on that computer as well? Meaning, is there a catalog file with a current access date?
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??
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
Smart previews are useful if you keep your photos on an external drive that is not always connected. You can manage those smart previews using the tips here: https://lightroomkillertips.com/managing-smart-previews-lightroom-classic/
Very helpful. Thanks for all you do, Rob!
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
Good tips, thanks Eric!
Hi, how do you delete develop history? Some sQL script?
You can do it to single or multiple images by highlighting them on the filmstrip and executing “Develop – Clear History”. You won’t see a visible difference in the image, but you won’t see individual steps if you go looking in the History tab for said image(s).