Disappearing storage on MacBook Air!
November 11, 2016 10:40 AM   Subscribe

We have a Macbook Air running Sierra 10.12, upgraded within the last 10 weeks or so. Since then we can't keep free space on the hard drive. It just continually disappears, to the point where the drive is almost full and the computer stops functioning properly. I can't find the source of the problem, except that the space used by "System" files is just growing and growing -- today it's at 150GB! Are there any serious Mac experts out there who can help me?

So, more background:

When we first started getting the "your start up drive is almost full" message, I didn't think anything of it, except that we needed to jettison some superfluous files. For example, in the process, I found about 20GB in orphaned podcast files that were copied over from older iterations of itunes but never reconnected to itunes. So I deleted all of that, and afterward the computer had 37GB of free space on it. Since then (a period of maximum 8 weeks) we have not downloaded anything bigger than your standard Word doc or PDF, but the available storage is now often in the neighborhood of 1-3GB, and sometimes even going down into the 200-300MB range

What the heck is going on? Why does this storage keep getting used up? I get that the storage amount is never totally stable and some variations as applications write data should be expected, but going from 37GB to 0 without deliberately adding anything is crazy. I've stripped down the user-saved files as much as possible, but whatever new space I make, it just gets filled up. At the same time, the amount of space used up by "System" files has been steadily climbing up. 2 weeks ago it was in the 130GB range, and today it's up to 150GB. Where is that all that data coming from???

Before anyone asks if I've tried the obvious stuff, here's what I've done so far:
-- emptied trash
-- stripped down the downloads folder
-- deleted duplicate documents
-- searched for files larger than 1GB and moved to external drive
-- deleted all cache and offline website data from Firefox
-- disabled local backups in Time Machine
-- rebuilt the Spotlight index

After much research and troubleshooting, I have gotten nowhere. I spent some time on an Apple help chat today, which was less than helpful -- taking me through the standard script of steps I'd already tried, then jumping to, "delete everything and reinstall".

Here's an image of my storage info window from around Oct 30, and here's one from today, Nov 11. You can see we deleted a ton of stuff, and still the storage grows.

The only other thing I could think of is that we use this laptop for watching programs from our DVR via Xfinity TV (and Firefox). Could some of this data be old video cache or temporary files that is piling up?

I wanted to try and look into this cache question, and my online research led me to discover that there is a folder called fsCachedData connected to Firefox that is about 65GB in size. I'm not techie enough to fool around with that without guidance, but could this be the problem? if so, can I safely delete those files?

If this isn't the problem, does anyone have an idea what is? And how I could not only solve it, but prevent it from happening in the future??
posted by leticia to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Kind of a longshot, but I just saw this news about Spotify today.
posted by brentajones at 10:50 AM on November 11, 2016 [3 favorites]

I wonder if using something like Grand Perspective, a free program that shows you what's taking up space on your hard drive, would help?
posted by tapir-whorf at 10:53 AM on November 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

You can use Activity Monitor's Disk tab and sort by Bytes Written to see which process or processes are continually eating your storage.

Do you have Adobe Creative Cloud installed by any chance? It was the culprit for me -- I went from 2TB of free space to 200mb in 48 hours because the Adobe CC updater was failing!!!!
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:57 AM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks brentajones and Hermione, but I don't have either Spotify or Adobe Creative Cloud on this mac. :/
posted by leticia at 11:12 AM on November 11, 2016

There's a good tool for this called Onyx for disk space viewing which will also let you clear out caches safely.
posted by jessamyn at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2016

How confident are you with the Terminal? Finding the culprit directory is a 2 minute job with du in the shell if it’s a single place that’s filling up with data.
posted by pharm at 11:13 AM on November 11, 2016

Long shot, but are you syncing any iOS devices to it? Maybe it's creating full device backups. Check in iTunes / Preferences.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: pharm, not super confident, but willing to fiddle around in Terminal with guidance.
posted by leticia at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2016

Best answer: Poking about online suggets that that fsCachedData directory usually has something to do with Flash. You could uninstall the Flash plugin, delete that directory and then install the flash plugin from scratch & see if that helps.
posted by pharm at 11:16 AM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: Will try uninstalling flash and see what happens
posted by leticia at 11:24 AM on November 11, 2016

In the Finder, Go > Go To Folder... type /private/var/vm

That will take you to the virtual memory folder. If there's more than 1 or 2 swapfiles in there, restart your computer. That's where the OS swaps out active memory when you run out of RAM. Rebooting clears it out.

There's a way to disable the sleepimage, but I forget what it is, & it's probably not necessary.
posted by Devils Rancher at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2016

Are you running Adobe CS6 + OSX El Capitan by any chance? I had this exact problem with that combo. It's a known issue Adobe won't fix, the fix is to download and install an older version of Java here. Since I did that, no more issues.
posted by 100kb at 11:34 AM on November 11, 2016

Seconding Grand Perspective, but take the extra steps to run it from an Administrator-enabled account on the root of your hard disk to really see where all the space is allocated:
1: open Terminal
2: change to applications folder on your user account
3: type
sudo GrandPerspective.app/Contents/MacOS/GrandPerspective
4: Enter your admin password when prompted.
5: Choose the root (/) of your hard disk to scan.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2016

Honestly, if that directory really is 65Gb my first guess would be that a Flash update is failing to install over and over and over again & a new copy is being downloaded every time.

Since it’s a cache directory it won’t hurt anything if you delete it & you already know it’s something to do with Firefox.
posted by pharm at 11:55 AM on November 11, 2016

Best answer: I use DaisyDisk (https://daisydiskapp.com/) to diagnose missing space. It works. There's a trial version.
I also use Dr. Cleaner (http://appletuner.trendmicro.com/), it's free and has a button to automatically clean junk files which I regularly use to clean up gigs of unnecessary crap.
posted by signal at 12:06 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Best answer: everyone is saying delete fsCachedData, but to my eyes it looks like it may hold data that is indexed by the files Cache.db etc. personally, i would delete all contents of org.mozilla.plugincontainer.
posted by andrewcooke at 12:41 PM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: so, andrewcooke, are you thinking that org.mozilla.plugincontainer is all flash-related files?
posted by leticia at 2:13 PM on November 11, 2016

i don't know if it's flash related, but it's all firefox cache and could probably (heh) be safely deleted.
posted by andrewcooke at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: Well, I just uninstalled flash and I still have around 65GB in that org.mozilla.plugincontainer, but I'll admit, I'm nervous to delete it without knowing exactly what I'm doing. :/
posted by leticia at 2:37 PM on November 11, 2016

before you try deleting it by hand, have you tried clearing the cache from within firefox? follow the instructions here if not (i'd tick all the boxes, too).
posted by andrewcooke at 2:42 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No, you know, I'd only used the Firefox function ticking the cache and offline website data boxes. I can try that first (with all the tickboxes). Thanks.
posted by leticia at 3:00 PM on November 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a great thread.
I just paid $2.00 for Grand Perspective, and I like it. It reminds me of SequoiaView for the PC.

I think Omni Disk Sweeper, which is completely free, is a little easier to use to tunnel down to the big chunks that are floating around in your hard drive.

My Adobe folder in my Apps directory has 3gb of cache files. Can it be nuked?
posted by mecran01 at 3:53 PM on November 11, 2016

removing the sleep image.
posted by mecran01 at 10:55 PM on November 11, 2016

Response by poster: Sorry, I meant to post this comment last night, but my internet caught a case of the vapors and went down.

Anyway, I wanted to share, with a tip of the hat to pharm, signal, and andrewcooke, I've managed to address the problem, at least for the moment. This is what I've accomplished:

-- I uninstalled Flash.
-- I then installed Dr. Cleaner and used it to identify and clear unnecessary files -- it identified ~65GB of unnecessary files, which was suspiciously close to the ~65GB of org.mozilla.plugincontainer, and sure enough, when it was done, I checked back and those files were gone.
-- Finally I went back and reinstalled Flash (following these instructions for a clean install, though it turned out I didn't need to delete anything because it was already gone). Unfortunately I have to reinstall Flash if I want to keep watching video on the xfinity app. :/

The whole process left me with about 72GB of free space on my hard drive, as opposed to the 7GB I started the night with, so I'm very happy about that!

Fingers crossed to see what happens moving forward -- i.e., I'm curious to see if this 72gig of free space starts filling up again. If it does, at least I know how to reclaim it now...

Gonna leave this question open for a few days in case i need to come back for more help. But thanks to all who helped so far!
posted by leticia at 7:46 AM on November 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Follow up: 6 weeks later we're still chugging along. Had only one storage-fill-up issue since. Hopefully Flash updates have eliminated whatever was causing the problem, but in the meantime, we've still got Dr. Cleaner installed and it's really easy to do a quick clean of these files that are uselessly bulking up the hard drive.

Thanks all for the help.
posted by leticia at 4:30 AM on December 27, 2016

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