18.4 mktemp: Create temporary file or directory

mktemp manages the creation of temporary files and directories. Synopsis:

mktemp [option]… [template]

Safely create a temporary file or directory based on template, and print its name. If given, template must include at least three consecutive ‘X’s in the last component. If omitted, the template ‘tmp.XXXXXXXXXX’ is used, and option --tmpdir is implied. The final run of ‘X’s in the template will be replaced by alpha-numeric characters; thus, on a case-sensitive file system, and with a template including a run of n instances of ‘X’, there are ‘62**n’ potential file names.

Older scripts used to create temporary files by simply joining the name of the program with the process id (‘$$’) as a suffix. However, that naming scheme is easily predictable, and suffers from a race condition where the attacker can create an appropriately named symbolic link, such that when the script then opens a handle to what it thought was an unused file, it is instead modifying an existing file. Using the same scheme to create a directory is slightly safer, since the mkdir will fail if the target already exists, but it is still inferior because it allows for denial of service attacks. Therefore, modern scripts should use the mktemp command to guarantee that the generated name will be unpredictable, and that knowledge of the temporary file name implies that the file was created by the current script and cannot be modified by other users.

When creating a file, the resulting file has read and write permissions for the current user, but no permissions for the group or others; these permissions are reduced if the current umask is more restrictive.

Here are some examples (although note that if you repeat them, you will most likely get different file names):

  • Create a temporary file in the current directory.
    $ mktemp file.XXXX
  • Create a temporary file with a known suffix.
    $ mktemp --suffix=.txt file-XXXX
    $ mktemp file-XXXX-XXXX.txt
  • Create a secure fifo relative to the user’s choice of TMPDIR, but falling back to the current directory rather than /tmp. Note that mktemp does not create fifos, but can create a secure directory in which the fifo can live. Exit the shell if the directory or fifo could not be created.
    $ dir=$(mktemp -p "${TMPDIR:-.}" -d dir-XXXX) || exit 1
    $ fifo=$dir/fifo
    $ mkfifo "$fifo" || { rmdir "$dir"; exit 1; }
  • Create and use a temporary file if possible, but ignore failure. The file will reside in the directory named by TMPDIR, if specified, or else in /tmp.
    $ file=$(mktemp -q) && {
    >   # Safe to use $file only within this block.  Use quotes,
    >   # since $TMPDIR, and thus $file, may contain whitespace.
    >   echo ... > "$file"
    >   rm "$file"
    > }
  • Act as a semi-random character generator (it is not fully random, since it is impacted by the contents of the current directory). To avoid security holes, do not use the resulting names to create a file.
    $ mktemp -u XXX
    $ mktemp -u XXX

The program accepts the following options. Also see Common options.


Create a directory rather than a file. The directory will have read, write, and search permissions for the current user, but no permissions for the group or others; these permissions are reduced if the current umask is more restrictive.


Suppress diagnostics about failure to create a file or directory. The exit status will still reflect whether a file was created.


Generate a temporary name that does not name an existing file, without changing the file system contents. Using the output of this command to create a new file is inherently unsafe, as there is a window of time between generating the name and using it where another process can create an object by the same name.

-p dir

Treat template relative to the directory dir. If dir is not specified (only possible with the long option --tmpdir) or is the empty string, use the value of TMPDIR if available, otherwise use ‘/tmp’. If this is specified, template must not be absolute. However, template can still contain slashes, although intermediate directories must already exist.


Append suffix to the template. suffix must not contain slash. If --suffix is specified, template must end in ‘X’; if it is not specified, then an appropriate --suffix is inferred by finding the last ‘X’ in template. This option exists for use with the default template and for the creation of a suffix that starts with ‘X’.


Treat template as a single file relative to the value of TMPDIR if available, or to the directory specified by -p, otherwise to ‘/tmp’. template must not contain slashes. This option is deprecated; the use of -p without -t offers better defaults (by favoring the command line over TMPDIR) and more flexibility (by allowing intermediate directories).

Exit status:

0 if the file was created,
1 otherwise.