Is this a problem on Linux like it is one Windows? Installing and uninstalling things that end up leaving behind little bits and pieces that accumulate and have a negative effect?
If so, what can I do to prevent this?
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Yes and no. *nix has a huge advantage over Windows in package management. Unlike in Windows where you must rely on third-party packages to have sane (un)installers, *nix distributions offer package managers that take care of installation and uninstallation in a unified manner. As a result, when you remove a package, all the system-level files for that package will be removed; you do not need to worry about this clutter.
However, there is one place that programs might create files which won't be removed with the package: your
$HOME directory. Many files keep configuration, save-games, etc. in
$HOME, but package managers should never touch anything in
$HOME. As a result, when you remove a package, any files it created in your home directory will persist.
There is a silver lining; if you really want to clean out all left-over files from a package that you've uninstalled, the nuclear option isn't a reinstallation, it'd be wiping your
$HOME. Now, this would typically still be an over-reaction because most programs tend to store their files in a single directory under
The ideal spring cleaning of these files would just be to remove the per-program directory—that, coupled with the standard uninstallation of the package, should be enough to rid your system of any files created/owned by the package.
Uninstalling packages in Linux may leave behind configuration files. This shouldn't be observable normal usage, unless you reinstall the same package you removed: the configuration files are usually small and not used by any other package than the ones you installed. There is usually an option in the package manager to remove configuration files when removing a package. In debian/ubuntu you can use the
--purge switch to
apt-get remove, in Fedora/red hat/centos you don't need a special switch - the configuration is removed automatically when the package is uninstalled.
The most visible effect of installing and uninstalling package is probably just a little disk wearing.
This does not apply to software installed from other methods than the official package manager, such as binary proprietary packages and manually compiled ones.