Df command in Linux not updating actual diskspace, wrong data

Mattias Geniar, Friday, November 26, 2010 - last modified: Wednesday, March 29, 2017

This is an annoying problem on a lot of Linux distributions, and it can have several causes.

Caused by open file descriptors

If you delete files from the filesystem, the command "df -h" might not show the deleted space as being available. This is because the deleted files could still be held open by (defunct) processes, where the file descriptor handles still point to those files. As a result, the df command assumes the files are still there, and doesn't clear the space.

Here are some ways you can track which processes still refer to the deleted files.

# lsof | grep 'deleted'
# ls -ld /proc/* | grep '(deleted)'

The solution is to either stop the process (kill <PID>, or the more agressive kill -9 <PID>), or if that doesn't work to restart the server in general.

Reserved space for journaling

Alternativaly, if you're using a journaling filesystem (like EXT3), keep in mind that df will also count the space used for this journal log in the output.

Default block reservation for super-user

Also keep in mind that there will, by default, be a 5% block reservation for the super-user per blockdevice (in short: for every seperate partition on a hard disk in your system). You can check the amount of reserved space, by running the tune2fs -l command.

# tune2fs -l /dev/sda2 | grep -i reserved
Reserved block count:     208242
Reserved GDT blocks:      1016
Reserved blocks uid:      0 (user root)
Reserved blocks gid:      0 (group root)

As it's described in the mkfs.ext3 manual, for the -m parameter.

-m: Specify the percentage of the filesystem blocks reserved for the super-user.  This avoids fragmentation, and allows root-owned daemons, such as syslogd(8), to continue to function  correctly  after  non-privileged processes are prevented from writing to the filesystem.  The default percentage is 5%.

Hi! My name is Mattias Geniar. I'm a Support Manager at Nucleus Hosting in Belgium, a general web geek & public speaker. Currently working on DNS Spy & Oh Dear!. Follow me on Twitter as @mattiasgeniar.

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Matti Thursday, January 26, 2012 at 17:09 - Reply

Changing the default journalling reservation can be changed by:

tune2fs -r 0 /dev/partition

That effectively changes the number of reserved blocks to 0. You’ll loose the journalling aspect of ext3 (might as well go back to ext2), but for saving diskspace temporarily it may be useful.

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