Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Recycle bins - why so many and how to clear them

Each user has a separate recycle bin for each partition on a computer.  This is great as it means is Bob empties his recycle bin then Alice still has her files in her recycle bin.  However it can be a pain if you are trying to clear space on a hard drive as you can empty the recycle bin on a multi user machine and there are still files taking up space in the recycle bin...

You can control the space available to the recycle bin by right clicking on it and choosing properties.  Sometimes you want to keep a big recycle bin (working with large files) but also try to reduce space used by the bin where possible (Virtual servers with backups of whole VM's, obsessive compulsive sysadmin...).  Each user has their own recycle bin which is great for accountability but the name of each bin is not easy to decipher.

For NTFS partitions the recycle bin is stored in c:\recycler (Note: you have a recycler folder on every partition - for simplicity I'm just going to use c:\recycler in my examples but if you have a D drive you will also have d:\recycler etc...).  This is a system folder so to view it you need to make system files visible (Tools -> System folders -> view -> untick "Hide protected operating system files").  In this folder there will be several folders with long complex names (eg "S-1-8-13-2457591-767657898-480356960-2981" )  This long string of characters is the SID (Security Identifier) which uniquely identifies each user on a computer/domain for security.  You can right click and choose properties on these folders and see the size but if you try to go into a folder that is not yours it appears empty even if full of files.

To determine the user name associated with a SID you can type the following at a command prompt (Replace this sample SID with the one you have of course...):
wmic path win32_useraccount where sid="S-1-8-13-2457591-767657898-480356960-2981" get name
Or if you know the name of a user you can find their SID with this command:
wmic path win32_useraccount where name="bsmith" get sid
Now we can track down who has the big recycle bin so if you have ongoing problems at least you know who to chase.

If you are sure you want to delete a users recycle bin then as long as they are logged out you can just delete their folder under c:\recycler - if they are logged in this file is in use in which case you will have to ask them to do it.

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