Retaining Old Catalogs


Today’s Question: I was wondering if there is any reason to keep all the past Lightroom Classic catalog files. I’ve never deleted any of my catalog files but if the most recent one has all prior history, then I wouldn’t need to keep them.

Tim’s Quick Answer: As long as the old catalogs are predecessors to your current catalog, you can most certainly delete those catalogs without losing any information. I do recommend, of course, that you make sure Lightroom Classic is behaving normally and that you have a backup of your current catalog before deleting the older catalogs.

More Detail: One of the common sources of confusion and frustration among the photographers I consult with is the presence of numerous catalogs alongside their current catalog. For example, photographers often don’t understand why they have multiple catalogs when they only ever created a single catalog the first time they started using Lightroom Classic.

The issue here is that with some of the major updates to Lightroom Classic the catalog format needs to be updated to support new features. When the catalog is updated, the existing catalog is left unmodified, with a new catalog being created as part of the upgrade process. With more recent updates the new catalog has text added to the filename to indicate the version number, such as “-v13” for the current version 13 of Lightroom Classic. With earlier versions the text “-2” would be appended, which led many photographers to end up with a catalog filename such as “Lightroom Classic Catalog-2-2-2.lrcat” after several updates over time.

As long as the older catalog copies are based on new catalog files being created with some of the major updates to Lightroom Classic, the older catalog files can be deleted. I recommend that instead of deleting the files right away, you move them into a “Backup” folder so you can recover them if needed. This will enable you to make sure you didn’t accidentally delete a file related to the current catalog, for example.

Note that you want to preserve the “helper” files for your catalog when moving or deleting older catalog files. For example, if you have a catalog called “Lightroom Classic Catalog-v13.lrcat”, the helper files will have either the exact same base filename with a different filename extension, or the same base filename with additional words. For example, the “Lightroom Classic Catalog-v13 Previews.lrdata” file contains the image previews associated with the photos being managed by the catalog. Be sure to retain those helper files when moving or deleting older catalog files.

And if you aren’t confident that the files were predecessors to your current catalog, but were instead other catalogs you created at some point, you will want to review those catalogs to make sure they don’t contain any photos that aren’t being managed by your current catalog.