Many programs misbehave when running out of disk space / can't login to fix

Bug #22842 reported by Kristian Rasmussen on 2005-09-29
This bug affects 10 people
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone

Bug Description

A few hours ago, I installed some packages on my Ubuntu. That seemed to go fine,
I didn't notice anything unusual. What i didn't notice was, that this
installation had filled up my / . The first sign came from OOo, in which I was
writing a document. It refused to save any of my documents, and claimed that all
my other documents were corrupt. After messing around a bit, trying to save my
files, it crashed. My experience tells me that OOo sometimes acts strangely and
unreliable, so I tried logging out and back in. Of course, GDM wouldn't let me
log back in, since it couldn't "write my authentication file". I then noticed
that my / was filled, so I deleted some files via the terminal, hoping I then
could login. I could, but, strangely enough, only after a reboot.

Now, if I had been a regular user, I would have had no idea whatsoever about
what to do. At least, there should be some kind of warning system, and
preferrably some kind of system that ensures that system-critical resources is
preserved disk space (and for regular users, Gnome and OOo are system-critical,

Matt Zimmerman (mdz) wrote :

*** Bug 23302 has been marked as a duplicate of this bug. ***

Mantas Kriaučiūnas (mantas) wrote :

Free space issue is critical to lots of users, because gdm doesn't work when there are no free space on /tmp and don't offer a usable solution for regular user how to free some space in volume.

I've found a good solution for this gdm problem in gnome bugzilla and described it in bug #41170 - gdm should create place-holder file of needed size (for example ~200 kb) in /tmp after gdm starts (and display a warning message if there are no enough space for creating such file) and erase this file in /tmp before gdm starts.

Also there will be similar problems, if user fills up /home partition - this problem also could be solved by creating placeholder file:
gnome-session should check for free space during login and create place-holder file (for example ~0.5 Mb) if there are enough space and display a warning message if there are less than ~1 Mb free space (gdm could erase place-holder file in user's home, created by gnome-session
when user starts to login)

If gnome-session detects, that there are not enough free space in /home for normal work, then it should not also display a warning, but also to offer solution, how to free some space, in this case *baobab* utility (included in gnome-utils 2.16) could be usefull.

Maybe I should report a bug against gnome-session package?

Mantas Kriaučiūnas (mantas) wrote :

At least baobab disk space cleaning utility (from gnome-utils 2.16, separate package in ubuntu dapper) should be included into Baltix ASAP

Paul Dufresne (paulduf) wrote :

For me, this is clearly a candidate for a new specification.
But it sure won't be deal in feisty.
GDM and thundirbird (duplicates bugs) may well get some solution earlier, so if I decide myself to sketch a specification (that would be my first), I would unduplicates those from this one, to give them a chance to be treated before, independantly of the result of specifications discussions.

Richard Johnson (nixternal) wrote :

Bug duplication (Bug 23302) confirms this.

Paul Dufresne (paulduf) wrote :

I just wrote some an initial spec draft at:
But because I don't have much experience in writing specs, and to make it better known, I intend to write an email to ubuntu-devel mailing list, offering any person with time and knowledge to become official registrant of it for Lauchpad.

Paul Dufresne (paulduf) wrote :

I have removed bug 23302 as a duplicate because thunderbird may wish to handle this problem before spec in previous comment be implemented.

Also removed on bug 47145 and bug 62638, because I believe gdm is a critical program that need special measure to handle lack of disk space.

Asraniel (asraniel) wrote :

i can confirm this, my girlfriend told me that i broke her laptop after i installed a few applications. i told her that this couldnt be, and i was shocked when i took a look at her computer. booting went fine, but after KDM, there was a X error, telling me some obscure things. i then googled with my laptop that error and found out that the disc is full. i then cleared the apt-get cache, and all was back to normal. But if i wasnt around, she would have been forced to use windows again(dualboot)

Is it possible to install diskquota from the kernel on a normal ubuntu installation. Restrict the /home folder to 80% of diskspace to let the rest for root and /tmp ?

What is the progress on this bug?

Detection of sufficient disk space should be handled by the kernel. If any program attempts to write a file that there isn't enough space for, the kernel should pass an error code back to the program, and the program should react accordingly.

Since this effects virtually every program running in Linux, perhaps the details should be fleshed out more precisely in a blueprint. A quick search found one of relevance that needs some guidance:

seoras (bhaltair) wrote :

I can also confirm this bug and it affects many many programs. I recently upgraded to Hardy (Ubuntu 8.04) after a bit of messing about I was fairly happy with the result. Unfortunately my external hard drive failed to mount and I didn't notice but my backup system was configured to do regular backups to this drive so instead it backed up to a folder in /media. To cut a long story short my partition soon filled up but with absolutely no disk full warnings. Then the problems started, FF3 beta failed to load it's bookmark toolbar, which I thought was a problem with FF3 so I messed about with that uninstalling/reinstalling I tried FF2, it wouldn't run, I tried Amaya, it wouldn't run, Evolution failed to display messages in open emails, OOo took forever to load a doc then failed to save.

Initially I put all this down to the recent upgrade to 8.04 and FF3 beta but it was all due to the disk partition being full and at no time were there any warnings, which I think is quite a fundamental bug.

Michael Nagel (nailor) wrote :

i had firefox 3 dump core ... took my quite some time to find it was because i accidently overflowed my filesystem...

for one programs should not fail that badly
you should not run into that situation without some proper warning

is there currently any work ongoing concerning this problem?

rhill (rhill-fr-ca) wrote :

I experienced a similar problem of out-of-space disk with no warning. This was filed as Bug 381901 (

A fresh install of Ubuntu 9.04 with the option of transferring my documents/settings from a resident Windows XP installation caused my /home mount to completely fill silently (I didn't expect to have so much data on my XP install), and the installation was unable to create the "Desktop" directory in my user account -- without any warning. The symptom was that when I tried to login after the installation, I was presented with a blank desktop, with no warning as to what was wrong. There was also no warning during installation about the out-of-space condition of my /home mount.

The absence of warning made it difficult to identify the problem, and I persisted in trying to figure out the problem only because booting from the CD showed me that Ubuntu was working fine on my laptop. I am new to Linux and wanted to give it a try, and I almost gave up trying to find out what was not working. A simple warning about the out-of-space condition would have saved hours in figuring the problem (and thus the solution). The absence of warnings about out-of-space conditions could turn newcomers experiencing the same problem away from Linux.

Also, at install time, maybe it would be best to import the user documents/settings from Windows *after* Ubuntu install itself completely? It seems the Desktop folder used by GNOME is created after the import at install time. (Sorry if I don't make sense in part or whole, I am new to Linux.)

summary: - Many programs misbehave when running out of disk space
+ Many programs misbehave when running out of disk space / can't login to
+ fix
Julian Held (julian-held) wrote :

The problem still exists...nobody working on it...?

Michael Nagel (nailor) wrote :

in fact the situation has improved with karmic as there is this popup window telling you that you are running low on disk space now. i think it kicks in as soon as free disk space drops below 2 gb but it might be a percentage, too.

it offers you to empty the trash and warns you that you are running in serious trouble (even though the wording could be still more dramatic, because i witnessed quite some data loss due to this bug).

so the problem is not really fixed, but something changed for the better.

toddq (toddq) wrote :

I would argue the situation is worse because now in Karmic you have encrypted file systems so the solution of deleting files to free space doesn't work because your .trash file is encrypted.

Thank you for posting this bug.

Does this occur in Lucid?

Changed in ubuntu:
status: Confirmed → Incomplete
Changed in baltix:
status: Confirmed → Incomplete

Actually, can this be tested in Maverick please, that will be our latest release in under a month (currently beta). Thank you.

shankao (shankao) wrote :

Confirmed in maverick (almost release - 2 days left)

Changed in ubuntu:
status: Incomplete → New
status: New → Confirmed
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