var Filesystem Full Help

Matthew Seaman m.seaman at
Tue Apr 3 17:01:26 UTC 2007

Sean Murphy wrote:
> I am getting these errors on my var filesystem but df -h shows there is
> plenty of space available.
> I am running FreeBSD 5.4
> muse2# df -h
> Filesystem       Size    Used   Avail Capacity  Mounted on
> /dev/amrd0s1a    989M     56M    854M     6%    /
> devfs            1.0K    1.0K      0B   100%    /dev
> /dev/amrd0s1e    989M     32M    878M     4%    /tmp
> /dev/amrd0s1f    9.5G    4.2G    4.6G    48%    /usr
> /dev/amrd0s1g    245G    9.4G    216G     4%    /usr/home
> /dev/amrd0s1d    1.9G    526M    1.3G    29%    /var
> muse2# tail /var/log/messages
> Apr  3 09:00:44 muse2 kernel: pid 537 (mimedefang), uid 26 inumber
> 126291 on /var: filesystem full
> Apr  3 09:09:55 muse2 kernel: pid 52000 (httpd), uid 80 inumber 170037
> on /var: filesystem full
> Apr  3 09:12:59 muse2 kernel: pid 34758 (mimedefang), uid 26 inumber
> 127701 on /var: filesystem full
> I have restarted the mimdefang process but I get the same messages.
> What can I do?

There are two reasons why a filesystem may give 'out of space' errors
when df(1) still shows plenty of space available.

i) Out of inodes.

You can tell this by running 'df -i'.  You're unlikely to run into
this unless either you used non-standard settings when you newfs'd the
partition or else the partition is full of a very large number of very
files.  If this is the case, then apart from rampantly deleting lots of
stuff the only solution is to backup the filesystem somewhere, recreate
the filesystem by running newfs with a more realistic set of parameters
(bytes-per-inode should be smaller) and then recover the data from

ii) Open file descriptor on an unlinked file.

This is much more likely to be the problem with the /var partition,
seeing as it's a favourite place for log files.  What can happen is
this: a process has a file open (ie. it has an open file descriptor on
the data) but a second process comes along and unlinks the original file.
That means that the file name and other meta data are removed from the 
directory contents, but since another process has the file open, the space
taken up by the files' data is not returned to the generally available
pool.  Sounds daft at first, but that's the way Unix has worked since the
epoch and if you think about it, it makes sense really.  Doing that
deliberately can be exceedingly useful -- a program can reserve itself
some scratch space that can't be accessed or altered by anything else[*]

What tends to happen in /var is a side effect of not rotating log files
correctly.  newsyslog(8) and pals will move aside and compress an existing
log file very happily, then they will send a signal to the program generating
the log file (by default assumed to be syslogd) to tell it to close and
reopen any files it is logging to -- it's a common behaviour for Unix
daemons to understand a SIGHUP to mean 'reinitialise yourself and reopen
any files you're using'

If newsyslog(8) signals the wrong process, or doesn't signal any process
at all, or the process doesn't grok the SIGHUP, then you'll find you get
exactly the sort of orphaned file with an open descriptor on it as described

The way to debug this is to list all of the processes that have open descriptors
on the partition:

    # fstat -f /var

then it's a case of doing some detective work to try and identify which out
of the many processes listed is the culprit.  Unfortunately fstat(1) doesn't
tell you file names -- instead you get the files inode number as column 6 of
the output.  There is no generic method of mapping from inode number to
filename (indeed, orphaned files like we've been discussing have an inode
number, but *no* filename); other than by doing exhaustive searches using
eg. find(1):

    # find /var -inum nnnnn -print

In this case you're looking for the ones that don't return an answer.



[*] Well, not without rootly powers, ample clue and a reasonable expenditure
of effort.

Dr Matthew J Seaman MA, D.Phil.                       7 Priory Courtyard
                                                      Flat 3
PGP:         Ramsgate
                                                      Kent, CT11 9PW

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 250 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
Url :

More information about the freebsd-questions mailing list