launchd and Growl for a Cleaner Desktop

I am one of those people that lets things accumulate on their desktop until there is literally no space left, before resigning to a clean up. (This applies equally to my physical desktop as my virtual one.) I finally decided I needed to do something about it, and resolved to leverage two technologies that are relatively new to me: launchd and Growl.

I have known about launchd since its introduction in Tiger, but haven’t had an excuse to use it yet. My plan was to use launchd in its cron-like mode to run a cleanup script once a day. The cleanup script would search for old files and directories on the desktop, and simply move them to the Trash. As a nice touch, I decided to use Growl to notify me when the script had run, with a message detailing how many files and directories had been moved. If you aren’t familiar with Growl, I have just one piece of advice: get familiar. It is a very cool user notification system.

I began with the script, which I called cleandesktop, and added to my ~/bin directory. This is what it looks like:

numFiles=`find ~/Desktop -fstype local -type f -maxdepth 1 \
  -ctime +3 | wc | awk '{print $1}' 2>&1`
find ~/Desktop -fstype local -type f -maxdepth 1 \
  -ctime +3 -exec mv -- {} ~/.Trash \; >/dev/null 2>&1
numDirs=`find ~/Desktop -fstype local ! -name . -type d -maxdepth 1 \
  -mtime +3 | wc | awk '{print $1}' 2>&1`
find ~/Desktop -fstype local ! -name . -type d -maxdepth 1 -mtime +3 \
  -exec mv -- {} ~/.Trash \;  >/dev/null 2>&1
/usr/local/bin/growlnotify "Desktop Cleanup" <<eor
$numFiles files and $numDirs directories were moved to the trash.

This script is basically a number of find commands. Each command has many options, which I based on commands in Apple’s /etc/daily script that is used to clean the /tmp directory. Two of the commands are there just to count files and directories, and the other two do the actual moving. Files and directories are moved to trash after not being accessed for three days; I figure this gives me enough time to move anything I want to keep to a safe place.

Growl comes into it in the last few lines. The growlnotify command allows you to produce notifications from the command line. The title of the notification is given as an argument, and standard input gives a detailed description. In this case, I have reported the number of files and directories moved in the description.

To make the picture complete, I added the following content to the file~/Library/LaunchAgents/DesktopCleanup:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN"
<plist version="1.0">

This causes the cleandesktop script to be invoked a 20.15 each day. To load it the first time, without logging out, I used this command:

launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/DesktopCleanup
launchctl start net.macanics.desktopcleanup

And with that, I may finally be able to make out the Tiger on my desktop … or is it a Panther? Puma? It’s been a while…


After more testing of this approach, it seems that using the -atime option in the find commands leaves a lot of files on the desktop that should be removed. I have now removed these above and in my own scripts, leaving only the -ctime option. This seems to work a lot better.

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