What happens when the startup disc of a Mac is COMPLETELY full?

Here’s what I’m dealing with. I have a new Macbook Pro, running Snow Leopard, and a 320 gig hard drive. Right now, it’s a very pretty, albeit frustrating, paperweight.

I’m not a computer guy. I know how to turn them on and navigate around a bit, but when it comes to tech support-y things, my brain goes ‘‘pbbt’’.

Unfortunately, sometimes the ‘‘pbbt’’ happens anyway.

So when my mac started giving me messages saying that my startup disc was almost full (though still had about 250mb left), I didn’t really pay it much attention. I had loaded that baby to the max with my pics and music and I was planning a big cleaning up soon, so I figured as long as I didn’t download or save anything, I’d be ok until I could clean it out. Suddenly, I got a warning that my startup disc WAS full. When I checked, I had nothing. 0Kb. Not one scrap of memory left.

Now, I know that things get stored in temp files and such and when I restart my computer, my hd capacity usually increases by about 500mb. So, instead of being a smart computer guy and immediately dealing with the lack of space, I opted for the quick fix and restarted my computer. Hey, I had things to do and no time for a big hard drive cleaning at the moment.

Apparently, this was wrong. :smack:

Now, when I boot it up, it goes through the usual progression, (chime, spinny thing, apple logo and such) but then on the blue screen that usually comes just before my desktop appears, I get that same message ‘‘Your startup disc is full, please free space by deleting files, you wombly impossible moron etc, etc’’. And that is where it remains. It never actually takes me to my desktop. It just leaves me stranded on that deserted blue-screen island with naught but the stupid warning to keep me company. I can hit the power button and get the option to shut it down or put it to sleep, but that’s all I’m able to do.

I imagine the lack of space is preventing it from allowing Finder to launch, which prevents me from accessing my files, but because I can’t access them, I can’t free up any more space. I know I could boot from a disc, but I happen to be in London and my discs happen to be in the States. I’m also aware I can use my mac in ‘target mode’ wherein it becomes an external hard drive but for that, I need another mac computer and unfortunately, my girlfriend is of PC ilk.

Now, I’ve heard from someone who knows someone who’s heard that loading up a hard drive all the way to max capacity can cause ‘‘catastrophic data loss’’ (his exact words). This, obviously, frightens the bejeezus out of me. My last backup was a few months ago, but I have added much since then that is completely irreplaceable and quite important to me. Losing it would be a very very bad thing.

So, two-part question.

  1. Any mac experts know any way I can access my files so as to clear some room and restore my computer back to its glory days?


  1. Did I just royally and irreversably fuck up my hard drive?

I posted on Mac Forums and haven’t really gotten much useful advice, so once again, in Dope I trust.

Please… help.


Do you have access to any other Mac computer and a Firewire cable? Shut down your computer, connect it directly to another Mac via Firewire, and restart it while holding down the T key on the keyboard. After a while, a big floating Firewire symbol will appear on your screen, and your Mac will appear as an external hard drive on the other computer. Then you can go in there and do some clean-up.

This might also work with a PC with a Firewire port, but I’m not sure about that.

I appreciate the suggestion but unfortunately, I don’t have access to another Mac. The only computer I can use is my GF’s and she’s all about PC. I’ve used the Target mode in the past to transfer data from my old mac to my new one with oustanding success, but I don’t think I can do it from a PC. Moreover, hers is a little netbook and doesn’t have a firewire port anyway.

I may have to bite the bullet and take it to a Mac store. I hate doing that, partially because it’s a long way by tube, and partially because I spend most of the visit oscillating between the irrational excitement of wanting to buy everything there, and the seething anger towards the condesending fuck tacos who work the ‘Genius Bar’.

‘‘You mean you haven’t (insert some unintelligible computer-speak)? You do know what a ‘Hard drive’ is, yes? Great, well that’s a start’’.

Me: ‘‘I’m just gonna let you get to work. I’ll be over by the iphones, taking pictures of my genitals’’.

There’s a couple of Apple Stores in London. You might want to look up the closest one and call/go down and see if a Genius will help you (seeing as all you likely need is a Mac to plug into for five minutes). I’ve generally found the people who work at Apple stores to be pretty helpful and competent.

You can boot into single user mode by holding down the command and S keys when you restart.

From there, you can use the rm command to delete files.
Unfortunately , you need to know what you are doing.
If you want to try it, post back.

I’m down to give it a try. I can follow instructions pretty well, and I’m not a complete computer doofus.

How involved are we talking? And what is the potential risk of disaster?

Obsidian Maybe the Genius Bar folks out here are better behaved, but the few encounters I’ve had Stateside were less than outstanding. Still, it may be worth looking into.

The upside: you can delete files and get your Mac working without taking it anywhere.
The downside: you can WIPE YOUR ENTIRE MACHINE with a typo.

Are you ready?

First, do you know of a single large file that you can delete (a movie, for example)? Tell me where it is.

Hmmm… well, now that’s actually part of the problem. The reason I just tried to restart my computer rather than go through and delete things was that I don’t have any single file that is that large. All my movies are on my 1TB external drive. It’s more the great collective of music and picture files (I shoot a lot in RAW format and have a deleting phobia, thus leaving an embarassing amount of pictures in the 40mb range) that has clogged up my HD. If I could see the files, I can easily determine which ones to get rid of, but I can’t think of any single specific file that is particularly large, nor could I tell you the exact location.

I guess I could delete some free applicaitons like VLC, and then re-download them once I’ve cleaned up a bit, but IIRC, that’s only about 150Mb, maybe less. I could also get rid of Quicktime for another maybe 100MB. Both are located in my ‘application’ folder. Maybe I can ditch Firefox as well. Same place.

Although that would take a pretty big typo, something like accidentally typing “rm -r /*” instead of “rm bigfile.mpg”.

I presume that the external drive still has plenty of space? In that case, things get simpler, since you can just move files instead of deleting them, so you can deal with a lot of files at once and still be able to get them back if you want.

Are your photos all in your Pictures directory? We could just move the entire contents of your Pictures directory onto the external drive-- That should free up a lot.

Well, VLC it is, although it’s pretty puny at 50 MB or so.

Here goes:
Boot into SIngle User mode: Restart your machine, and hold the command and ‘S’ keys down at the same time. The machine should boot into a “terminal” screen.

In the following instructions, all commands in quotes are to be typed without the quotes, and then the return key pressed, unless I specify something else.

Type “/sbin/mount -uw /” (watch the spaces).
This makes the file system writeable.
Type “cd Ap[then hit the tab key]” This should result in the computer filling in Applications so the command will be “cd Applications”
Type “ls”
You should see a list of your applications scroll by
Assuming that VLC is there
Type “rm -r VLC.app”
Type “ls”
VLC should be gone.
Type “shutdown -r now”
Machine should reboot, with a whole 50 MB of free space. Use it wisely.

Yeah, I’ve been known to throw out a type or two, but I can’t see myself making a gaffe like that one.

But still, even if I don’t wipe out my entire system, I’d very much prefer to leave everything else (other than what I delete, of course) intact.

Sounds pretty straightforward. I’m assuming I can repeat the process for Quicktime and Firefox and any other app I can remember offhand.

This sounds a bit more efficient. So how would I go about moving files onto my external drive? I’m much more attached to my pics than my music and I’d be devestated if something went wrong, so I’d probably just move my music folder instead which would give me about 60 gigs. Then I could re-organize as needed.

By the way, thank you both for your help with this! :slight_smile:

Yes, you can use the same commands to nuke anything you like, but 50MB should be enough to boot into the Finder, and then use the easier and safer GUI to do your cleanup.

Ok, having a few issues with this. I made it through the step to make it writable (though I got a message that said ''removed 1 orphaned / unlinked files and 0 directories… normal?)

Then I did the ‘‘cd Ap’’ (tab) and it filled it the cd applications command. All good.

But when I typed in ls (that is lower-case l not capital I, yes?), it didn’t scroll a list of applications. Instead if just gave me the command ‘’:Applications root #’’ and a cursor waiting for further instructions.

Did I do something wrong?

Somewhere in my research I came accross something dealing with the fsck option. On my terminal screen, just before the instructions to make it writable, it says ‘‘Singleuser boot – fsck not done.’’ Under that, it says ‘‘Root device is mounted read-only’’.

Then it says that

‘‘If you want to make modications to files:
/sbin/fsck -fy
/sbin/mount -uw /’’

I only did the sbin/mount command that you said. Should I also have done the fsck thing?

Nevermind, I just had to hit ‘‘ls’’ again. Now I got the scrolling aps. On to the next step…

The fsck is just a file system check/repair. It shouldn’t be necessary.
I don’t know about the ls (yes, it’s ell ess) issue.
Maybe I’ll boot into Single user mode and try it, but I don’t see why it shouldn’t work.
Try just deleting the file without listing the directory first.

Is there any way to list the apps by file size? I’d like to get a little bit of wiggle room, as for some reason, the HD space will suddenly drop unexpectedly and I don’t want to run into the same problem while I’m searching through things to delete/move. But I don’t want to bother deleting 10kb files either.

Ok, nuked VLC like it ain’t no thang. I like this, I feel all computer tech-y now. If only the folks at the Genius Bar could see me now!

One last question: I’m trying to nuke Quicktime, but it keeps saying it doesn’t exist. I typed it in just as it’s listed in the apps directory (QuickTime Player.app), but it’s not happening. Is there something special I need to indicate a space? Like %20 or something?

First of all ls -la (ell ess -ell a) will give you a detailed listing, including file sizes.
Secondly, to delete a file name containing a space, put the whole thing in quotes (“Quicktime Player.app”).