To prevent excessive consumption of disk space, Emacs can delete numbered backup versions automatically. Generally Emacs keeps the first few backups and the latest few backups, deleting any in between. This happens every time a new backup is made.
The two variables
kept-new-versions control this deletion. Their values are,
respectively, the number of oldest (lowest-numbered) backups to keep
and the number of newest (highest-numbered) ones to keep, each time a
new backup is made. The backups in the middle (excluding those oldest
and newest) are the excess middle versions—those backups are
deleted. These variables’ values are used when it is time to delete
excess versions, just after a new backup version is made; the newly
made backup is included in the count in
default, both variables are 2.
t, Emacs deletes the excess
backup files silently. If it is
nil, the default, Emacs asks
you whether it should delete the excess backup versions. If it has
any other value, then Emacs never automatically deletes backups.
Dired’s . (Period) command can also be used to delete old versions. See Flagging Many Files at Once.