Identifying Disk Space

Tuesday Aug 31st 2010 by Juliet Kemp

When disks fill up, strange errors occur. Determine if and where you have a disk space shortage, and learn how to resolve it.

Even the largest disks will eventually begin to fill up, and sometimes you notice this (or at least, I do!) only when strange errors start to occur. If you're seeing odd errors, however, it's always worth starting with df -h to quickly check out whether there's a disk space problem.

If you do have less space than you thought, the next stage is to work out where it's being used. The basic option is the command-line utility du:

du -sh /*

This shows you a summary of what's in each of your top-level directories. The -s option summarizes each directory, and -h gives the sizes in human-readable form (i.e., in KB, MB, and GB rather than in bytes). Once you've identified the particularly large directories, you can drill down to check them out further, for example:

du -sh /var/*

Use the -I option to exclude particular directories:

du -I ".svn" -sh *

This will ignore all files or directories that match the .svn pattern. You can also use wildcards, for example

du -I "pub*" -sh *

To limit your search to only directories that have at least a few gigabytes of data, use grep:

du -sh /* | grep G

However, drilling down with du can be a long, slow process. There are also graphical options available for different platforms, such as Filelight for Linux and DasiyDisk for Mac. I gave DaisyDisk a go on my rapidly-filling-up laptop, and found that the ease of clicking through the layers was particularly useful for the "deep" directory structures in my music/video directories. But du had already helped me get rid of 5 GB by showing me a surprising heap of stuff in my downloads directory; so the old-school console option does do the job too!

Juliet Kemp has been messing around with Linux systems, for financial reward and otherwise, for about a decade. She is also the author of "Linux System Administration Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach" (Apress, 2009).

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