Apple

How to find and delete pesky 'other' data in OS X and iOS

For users who suspect the vague category of "other" data is hogging space and resources on their OS X or iOS systems, here is how to investigate what it is and delete it.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been repeatedly asked about the infamous "other" space section found in OS X and iOS devices. While Apple OSs generally maintain a good balance between chewing up too much data for system resources and recycling it back when done, this "other" section really has a lot of people concerned. So, I did a little digging and this is what I found as far as what it's used for and how to delete it so the space gets freed up for use with other tasks. (Figure A)

Q: What is "other" space used for? (OSX/iOS)

A: In it's simplest terms, your data. Not just specifically the data a user creates or accesses regularly, like documents or music, but all forms of data. From Spotlight index searches to databases to collections of settings for applications and the subsets of data they access.

The problem with the Other category, aside from the vagueness of it, is that any and all forms of data that are included in that category add to the total number of GBs being utilized - and sometimes - it would appear that there are 10's (or 100's) of gigabytes being taken by it. Worse still is that due to the dynamic nature of data, things change, settings are updated and files overwritten, yet with some of the "other" data it becomes appended to instead of replaced. This adds a layer of garbage data which could be corrupt and essentially exists only to hog resources, and that's never good!

Q: How do I get rid of Other data? (OS X)

A: There's an answer for that too! Most of the time, general maintenance such as running File and Disk Permissions takes care of a lot of the overhead. Other times, one needs to "delete with an iron fist".

Meet Omni Disk Sweeper from Omni Group. This freeware app is exactly what is needed to find out what is occupying the space on your HDD and snuff it out just as easily.

A. Removing "other" data in OS X

  1. First, it's a safe practice to find out exactly what "other" is occupying on the hard drive. To find this information, click on Apple Menu | About This Mac.
  2. Click on More Info to expand the view, and then click on the Storage tab.
  3. Once we have an idea of the storage space in use, we can launch Omni Disk Sweeper, selecting the HDD we wish to scan, and clicking the "sweep Macintosh HD Drive..." button. (Figure B)
  4. A preview window will appear with the entire folder hierarchy and the related file and folder sizes for each item found. However, to truly unlock the potential for this application, it must be run with sudo permissions from the Terminal by typing the following command* (Figure C):

    sudo /Applications/OmniDiskSweeper.app/Contents/MacOS/OmniDiskSweeper

  5. Launching the app the traditional way as opposed to via the terminal yields similar results, but does not offer a complete outlook on just how much data is stored within the hierarchy of the drive. Compare the two screenshots below to see it in detail. Figure D

    Figure E
  6. As you navigate the structure identifying files/folders that should be deleted, simply click the file/folder you wish to delete and click the delete button. (Figure F)
  7. You'll be prompted to confirm your selection since items selected are removed permanently from the system, bypassing the Trash altogether. (Figure G)
  8. After all the desired items have been successfully removed, repeat steps 1-2 again to see how much space has been reclaimed from "other". (Figure H)

*Note: Running processes in sudo gives the task low-level, administrative access to perform any command. This is not for the squeamish as it can be the cause of undesired effects; in this case, from the removal of files or applications that should not be deleted. It may even cause the system to be rendered unusable and require OS X to be reinstalled. EXERCISE EXTREME CAUTION BEFORE PROCEEDING AND IF YOU'RE UNSURE OF ANYTHING, DO NOT DELETE IT!

Q: How do I get rid of "other" data? (iOS)

A: Much like its OS X relative, iOS too has a way to remove aggregate data from the "other" category; however, it's a lot simpler to manage. B. Removing "other" data in iOS

  1. Similar to step 1 above, we start out by checking how much "other" is actually utilizing. In OS X (or Windows), open iTunes and connect your iOS device.
  2. Click on the device in the top-right and scroll down to the bottom of the page on the following screen to inspect the graph. Clicking on the "other" space will reveal a pop-up bubble with the size in GBs. (Figure Z)
  3. With this information, disconnect your iOS device and navigate to Settings | General | Usage. A list of the available apps installed on your device will appear in descending order. Tap the Show all Apps button to reveal all the apps and their respective usage. (Figure Y)
  4. Start with any apps that seem "too big" for their indicated usage size and tap that app to select it. On the next screen, you'll see specific app information, including the actual size of the app itself and that of the data & documents associated with the app. Try to look for discrepancies in app vs. data sizes to weed out the largest violators. (Figure X)
  5. You'll notice in the figure above, the popular photography app "Instagram" has an app size of just 19MB - yet the data usage is in excess of 350MB! This is because even though Instagram is cloud-based app that uploads all photographs to their servers, each time a picture is uploaded from within the app, it retains a copy of it locally in its cache in the event that the Internet connection is weak for later uploading. The problem resides in that the copy is not purged after being uploaded successfully, hence using up valuable storage space with non-essential files. Continue to go through the apps one by one to identify which ones can be removed to free up the most amount of space.**

**Note: As with OS X above, be very careful in what app data you choose to delete. Some cloud-based apps are easy to deal with — deleting the app clears the old cache with it. Simply reinstall the app from the App Store and upon logging in, your data will be accessible from the cloud servers while the "garbage" data was effectively purged. Other apps store data locally on the device - if you delete the app, you delete the data. Only restoring from a recent backup may help recover the data (and the garbage along with it).

While Apple classifies "other" data as anything that does not fit the mold of Audio, Video, Photos, Books, Applications or Backups, very important files may reside alongside the corrupt, unused and/or old data in that category. Please be mindful of this when choosing files/folders to delete. Also, it is best practice to do so in waves. Perhaps target the barely-used apps first to see the affects on the system before proceeding with light-medium use apps, and then finally moving on to heavily or mission-critical apps. This not only staggers the workload into smaller, easier to manage tasks, but also provides a buffer in the event that something is adversely affected, but hopefully not breaking system resource or business-related application or function.

About

Jesus Vigo is a Network Administrator by day and owner of Mac|Jesus, LLC, specializing in Mac and Windows integration and providing solutions to small- and medium-size businesses. He brings 15 years of experience and multiple certifications from seve...

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