On my system df -h reports that the root file system is full (100% Available 0) and also btrfs fi usage / tells me that all of the space is allocated. After a restart it could not even bring up the necessary services, so I'm now in recovery mode.

I tried to balance the system as shown here btrfs ERROR: error during balancing - No space left on device. For btrfs balance start -dusage=27 / I get:

Done, had to relocate 0 out of 56 chunks`

For btrfs balance start -dusage=28 / I get:

ERROR: error during balancing '/': No space left on device

So I started deleting files in /var/log/ but even after removing several 100 MB df -h reports that no single bit is available.

I suspect, that there is some service filling up the space the moment it gets free. But since I'm in recovery mode, there should not be so many services.

How can I find out, what is filling the space immediately after removing the files?

How can I ensure to free space, that can be used by btrfs to rebalance?

My system is debian 10.3 (buster), filesystem btrfs and I have docker installed, which I suspect being part of the problem but which is not running in recovery mode, so …

  • 3
    Have you checked if snapshots are filling up your filesystem? That's a common btrfs issue.
    – eblock
    Apr 24 '20 at 12:51
  • Yes, there are tons of docker snapshots in /var/lib/docker/subvolumes . Can I just delete them, aren't they needed by docker, and will this solve the issue? Apr 24 '20 at 13:02
  • 1
    As eblock said, you need to look for snapshots and delete as many as you can. You can list subvolumes AND snapshots with this: btrfs subvol list / Don't bother using df for this; it won't help. If you have files which are heavy fragmented (virtual disk images, databases, systemd journal, etc) they can eat up your metadata chunks. I recommend adding the output of btrfs fi usage / to you question. Apr 24 '20 at 13:03
  • As for docker snapshots, you should consult it's documentation about how it handles images. Apr 24 '20 at 13:04

Historically, some out-of-space situations on btrfs required temporarily adding an additional disk to the volume, as the COW nature of btrfs may require some temporary space to save a modified version of blocks before being able to free the old version. Though, I understand that many of these situations have been fixed by the btrfs developers.

For emergency disk usage profiling on btrfs volumes, I would like to recommend btdu, a tool I've written:


As it only needs to collect 100 samples to gain 1% resolution, it is able to identify large space hogs in seconds.

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