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May 25, 2016

Throwaway Filenames

Filed under: Main — Tags: — admin @ 12:01 am

The most common filename on my computer’s mass storage device is . . . killme. That’s not a very inspiring name, but it does showcase a common computer file management phenomena: The names of unwanted or temporary files.

For temporary files, I use the name killme. And despite using such an obvious name, I apparently refuse to remove such files. I should go on a killme hunt and eliminate them while avoiding the temptation to peek inside.

Another common throwaway filename name is temp. I suppose that’s short for temporary and not temperature.

In the Unix realm, the name foo has been given to throwaway files since the 1970s. In fact, foo and bar are the two sample files you’ll read about in most Unix manuals. It’s as if creativity has fled the field and these Unix authors can only use (or are required to only use) the names foo and bar. Either that, or they feel they’ll be more accepted as “cool” by the grizzled Unix community if they succumb to the precedent.

The filenames foo and bar come from the old military term fubar, which was spelled fu and not foo.

I just did a quick filename search of my Unix system to check for files named foo. I have none, but the Android SDK features a few foo files. That figures.

In my C folder tree, I have lots of files name test.c and a couple kill.c files.

Perhaps my adoration for the word kill comes from my first exposure to a computer operating system, TRS-DOS on the Radio Shack Model III. The command to remove a file was KILL. TRS-DOS was written by Microsoft and I’ve not seen KILL used as any other text-mode command. (kill is a command in both Unix and the Windows Powershell to halt a process.)

My interest here is in what other people use for temporary filenames. I assume that asdf is a popular name (and a popular, but regrettable password). Maybe 1 is also a common temporary filename. Who knows? I assume somewhere a Federal grant is eagerly awaiting some researcher’s application to unravel the mystery of which temporary filenames are the most popular.


  1. The KILL command in TRSDOS was surprisingly controversial. Some people developed patches to change the violent command name to something else.

    I’ve always thought that Randy Cook used Datapoint DOS as inspiration for commands when he developed TRSDOS for Radio Shack in 1978. Datapoint DOS also used KILL to delete files.

    Model 4 TRSDOS in 1983 avoided the issue by replacing KILL with REMOVE.

    Comment by Matthew Reed — May 25, 2016 @ 4:05 pm

  2. Thank you Matthew for the update to history. I confess that you know a lot of the juicy details about the TRS-80 and the early days. I suppose that running doesn’t hurt! 🙂

    I only remember from debugging and decompiling TRSDOS that I saw in there somewhere a Microsoft copyright. I confirmed that when the publisher I was working at did work with Tandy.

    Comment by admin — May 27, 2016 @ 7:59 am

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