"What does 'Insufficient Disk Space' mean?"

Somehow I’m having to do customer support in my current job, and I get an email with an error attached, saying ‘Insufficient Disk Space’, asking “What does this error mean?”.

It is literally the most clear and concise unambiguous error message in the entire history of computer science; past, present and future. When they make quantum computers that beam error messages into our cerebral cortexes, they will not be more clear.

How do I muster the willpower to answer this without diving into deep and insulting sarcasm? How do I not turn into that Jimmy Fallon IT character in SNL? Dammit Jim, I’m a software engineer, not a customer service representative!

Thank god somebody else who got the email answered it, and thus saved my job.

Well, I imagine there are more than a few poor souls who don’t know what a “disk” is. Have mercy and cut them some slack. At least they didn’t ask why the computer wouldn’t come on only to find out it wasn’t plugged in or something. :slight_smile:

It’s only clear, concise and unambiguous if you know what “insufficient” and “disk” and “space” mean.


What it is supposed to mean is one thing, what’s actually going on and how to solve it can be a very different one.

I recently had a drive with 1/4 Tb free giving that message. I could move files in and out of it manually, but if I tried to install anything, no matter how small, up popped the “insufficient disk space” message. Once I figured out that the issue was a bad uninstall and manually deleted the corresponding folder, the drive got back to normal.

“You’re trying to jam 10 lbs of shit into a 5 lb bag.”

After all, a disk is something that’s circular and flat. When I look at my computer, I don’t see anything that looks like that.

Ah, the Chicken Littles. One time I got a complaint from a PM that all the photos in our PDFs were mirror images. I looked through and found none. I asked the PM “Is it all images or is it some?” It was some. “Is it some images or just one?” It was just one. “Is it all our clients who got mirror images or just one?” Just one, who was probably using an old version of Reader and never got around to updating it.

I wonder if IT departments still get complaints about the coffee cup holders not working?

I might wonder if they’re talking about RAM or hard drive.

Most likely, instead of “what does it mean?” they were wondering “How can I fix this so I can do what I need to do? Is there a workaround?”

One of the common things people would call me about back in the day was an error that would pop up while trying to save their file. This happened far more often than it should have. They’d call me and tell me they had an error. I’d ask them what it said and, without fail, they say “I don’t know, I just hit okay”. Alright…I’d ask them to hit the save button again, and then ask them what the error message was. Again, they’d dismiss it without reading it. Eventually, I’d get them to slow down and read the error message and, every single time, it said “No disk in drive a:, insert disk” and then the normal “ok/cancel/retry” buttons. I’d ask them if there was a disk in the drive, they’d say no, I’d have them put on in and everything would be fine.
After that, in the nicest way I could explain it, I’d tell them that when errors pop up, they need to read them since the error will likely tell them what the problem is or whoever they need to call is going to need to know what it says.

At least it was easier than “can you come fix my computer?” and not being able to get info out of them other than “I don’t know, can you just come over and fix it”.

I’ve never seen an error like that for RAM. Assuming there’s no jump drives connected, it’s likely to be the hard drive.
On modern computers with hundreds of gigs of HD space, in my experience, if you haven’t filled it with something like video files, you either have something corrupt or a virus that’s rapidly eating your hard drive space.

Sure, you know that. But the average user?

Right, so they’re wondering “what do I do about this since I probably have ‘sufficient disk space.’” In other words, “what does this mean? I have plenty of disk space but my computer is telling me I don’t.”


I think you are more likely to find an answer to your question if you post it in GQ. :smiley:

I used to hang out with people who repaired mainframes. One of the funnier stories was from an IBM FE who worked in Vietnam during the 1960’s. He went out on a service call (“Machine won’t IPL”) thinking that that symptom wasn’t too specific. As he approached the customer site he noticed a big artillery shell hole in the side of the building, with computer parts spread around outside! (Yeah, probably had trouble IPL’ing.)

He called up his big boss, recommending a complete mechanical replacement. “Is it a lease or a rental?” — Rental. He spent the rest of his Vietnam tour repairing that one machine. :eek:

There’s also this:
Brand new 64 gigabyte jump drive. Person tries to copy a 5 gigabyte video file to it.

Error: Insufficient space.

Real problem: 4 gigabyte filesize limit on fat32 filesystem.

For a while I was a Field Service Engineer for medical equipment. Often before I hit the road for a call I’d attempt a phone fix. For some problems, I’d ask the customer to try plugging a lamp into the outlet the device was plugged into to check if the outlet was working. I thought that was nicer than asking them to see if it was plugged in.

How long have you been in support? Prepare yourself for lots of similar questions.

There is a case where that kind of error has nothing to do with disk space. I can’t remember the exact error, but Excel says something about insufficient space when the file isn’t r/w, in open by another program, or something like that. I can’t remember exactly. I get it sometimes when I try to open a downloaded spreadsheet from the browser. The error says there isn’t enough disk space to complete the action, but it has nothing to do with disk space.

My MacBook doesn’t have a disk, so even if I looked inside and starting taking thing apart I wouldn’t see anything circular and flat. :slight_smile:

Almost the opposite potential situation: a linux system with an ext4 filesystem, which automatically reserves 5% of blocks on the filesystem for the superuser. What do you mean no space? I’ve got 50 GiBs!

I probably should have mentioned that the software I work on and support is not for the general public, it’s for a very specific group of engineers who are supposed to be computer literate.

I can certainly sympathize with you, but often the case is bad design of messages.

One case of bad error message design is when it doesn’t tell you the specific path which has insufficient space. It may say “insufficient space”, but the cause of that message is because the internal scratch directory ‘/var/tmp/myprog’ is on a full filesystem rather than the filesystem of the user’s data file. If the only message is “insufficient space”, the user may have no clue it’s the scratch dir that is full.

I hate the messages that leave off critical details, like “can’t contact server” (which server?!?), “can’t connect to port” (which port?!? On which IP?!?!), “command not found” (which command?!?) and so on. With programs often being built from many layers of framework, when the error message bubbles up to the top, often the context of the message is totally lost and the user is clueless about what needs to be fixed.