I ran a process that was writing stderr log messages to a file and didn't realize how fast the log file would grow. The result is that the log file filled up the entire rest of my hard drive and now when I try to remove the file using rm, the computer freezes. I'm running OS X Mountain Lion and my primary hard drive is 2TB. The log file is consuming over 1TB of disk space.

Do I need to just let rm run for a long time to remove a 1TB file? Should I just restore from a time machine backup?

2 Answers 2


You want to zero the log file from the command line.

Something like : > /path/to/file.log

See: Is there a way to delete 100GB file on Linux without thrashing IO / load?

  • Any explanation for why this would be faster? Sep 20, 2012 at 17:38
  • When there's no (other) write access to the file, truncate vs. unlink shouldn't make much of a difference. Sep 20, 2012 at 20:36
  • I assumed the app was still writing.
    – ewwhite
    Sep 20, 2012 at 20:41
  • This worked, although there was nothing still writing to the file (because the disk had completely filled up as a result of writing to it). It's not clear to me why this worked and rm did not.
    – RyanH
    Sep 20, 2012 at 20:44
  • 1
    I'm not sure if this is what was happening in this case, but in general a file's space isn't freed until its last link is removed (e.g. with rm) AND the last process that had it open closes it. If the process writing to it still had it open, rm won't have recovered the space -- but truncating it (e.g. with : >) will, even if it's still open in some other process. Sep 21, 2012 at 6:40

Do I need to just let rm run for a long time to remove a 1TB file?

Yes. It's very likely that a file which filled up the disk is spread into fragments everywhere and the filesystem needs to adjust the free list entries for every single fragment. This takes a while.

Should I just restore from a time machine backup?

This is an option. It's debatable whether it would take longer. If you think you might lose anything, just wait for rm.

  • I tried letting rm run for more than a day and it didn't finish and the computer was completely unresponsive. The : > file approach finished within a few minutes.
    – RyanH
    Sep 20, 2012 at 20:46

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