My PHP sessions on my Debian webserver using Apache2 with mod_php seem to be failing randomly, saying that there’s no space to write them:

sudo tail -60 /var/log/apache2/error.log
[Fri Jan 30 15:55:35 2015] [error] [client xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx] PHP Warning:  session_start() [<a href='function.session-start'>function.session-start</a>]: open(/tmp/sess_555555555555555555, O_RDWR) failed: No space left on device (28) in /path/to-first-session-use/core/bootstrap.php on line 18

When I try to:

ls /tmp

It just hangs forever, so that’s bad.

But when I check free space, and check that inode usage is reasonable...

$ df -h

Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1             150G  121G   22G  85% /
tmpfs                 2.0G     0  2.0G   0% /lib/init/rw
udev                   10M   16K   10M   1% /dev
tmpfs                 2.0G  4.0K  2.0G   1% /dev/shm

$ df -i

Filesystem            Inodes   IUsed   IFree IUse% Mounted on
/dev/sda1            19922944 11143605 8779339   56% /
tmpfs                 513524       4  513520    1% /lib/init/rw
udev                  513524     135  513389    1% /dev
tmpfs                 513524       3  513521    1% /dev/shm

The numbers seem fine. Sure, 85% is more than I’d like, but it's not 99% or anything.

I was suspecting that it was a problem due to not rebooting the machine for 5 years and maybe the creation of a lot of small files but the inode info that I’m getting kinda contradicts this. Where should I investigate instead?


ls -l /

drwxrwxrwt   4 root root 692M Feb  1 11:09 tmp/
drwxr-xr-x  10 root root 4.0K Jan  1  2013 usr/
drwxr-xr-x  14 root root 4.0K Oct  7  2010 var/
  • Do you use Plesk? – 030 Jan 30 '15 at 21:35
  • What webserver do you use? – 030 Jan 30 '15 at 21:37
  • @utrecht This is on a Debian server. – Kzqai Jan 30 '15 at 21:42
  • Ok, but what webserver, e.g., apache2? – 030 Jan 30 '15 at 21:45
  • @utrecht Ah, yes, apache2 on this server. – Kzqai Jan 30 '15 at 21:46

It could be that the /tmp/ directory itself is filled with stale PHP sessions that are not getting cleaned up; meaning the source of the issues might be isolated to the /tmp/ directory itself. If that is the case I would just remove all /tmp/sess_* files. First, list all of the sess_* files like this:

ls -la /tmp/sess_*

Or you can get count with wc like this:

ls -la /tmp/sess_* | wc -l

Now once you get some confirmation there is some insane number of files there, go ahead and run this command to delete the /tmp/sess_* files:

sudo rm -rf /tmp/sess_*

And the ephemeral session files will be blown away.

But another brute force—but relatively safe—way to deal wit this is to blow away the /tmp directory itself, recreate the /tmp directory and reboot the server.

Since the /tmp directory is basically a coding holding pen for cached material, there is nothing valid that should be in there. So my best advice is to run the following command to remove & rebuidl the /tmp directory.

rm -rf /tmp && mkdir /tmp/ && chown root:root /tmp && chmod 1777 /tmp

Now that one liner is basically a list of shell commands connected by && that will first delete /tmp, recreate /tmp, change the ownership of /tmp back to root:root and then set proper permissions to the /tmp directory. If you wish you can run each command one by one if you feel safer doing it that way.

sudo rm -rf /tmp 
sudo mkdir /tmp
sudo chown root:root /tmp
sudo chmod 1777 /tmp

Once that is done, I would recommend rebooting the server. Things should be calm cleared up again.

  • nods I'll try this approach sometime next week. – Kzqai Feb 1 '15 at 20:55
  • 1
    I wasn't able to delete /tmp directly, same as I wasn't able to ls /tmp, but I was able to mount the filesystem temporarily elsewhere and -then- it allowed me to delete & remake the /tmp directory. I just mv'ed the old directory to /tmp_damaged since I actually wasn't able to rm & delete it either. – Kzqai Feb 11 '15 at 23:33

Sometimes damaged file system can do effects like it - for example when directory /tmp is damaged. Or - when there is to much files.

For "quick" fix:

mv /tmp /tmp.xxx
mkdir /tmp
chmod a+rwxt /tmp

If that help - try reboot system and fsck root file system. If it's ok - just remove /tmp.xxx directory.

Another possibility is - when /tmp is "other" partition or tmpfs (seen on linux vservers) - but it's not show by df (because df get list of partitions from /etc/mtab file which sometimes is not correct). Try check disk space directly on tmp by command:

df /tmp
df -i /tmp

Other option which usually helps with sessions - it using other session mechanism. If you have a lot of temporary sessions, which doesn't need to be very persistent - i would you recommend using memcache for session storing. Configuration it very simple - you must install php-memcache, memcached and then in php.conf configure:

session.save_handler = memcache

Then - sessions will be stored in memcache up to defined size. over it - oldest will be automaticly removed.


For me, changing fs.inotify.max_user_watches did the trick.

root@grostruc:/# service ssh restart
Error: No space left on device
root@grostruc:/# sysctl fs.inotify.max_user_watches
fs.inotify.max_user_watches = 65536
root@grostruc:/# sysctl fs.inotify.max_user_watches=262144
fs.inotify.max_user_watches = 262144
root@grostruc:/# service ssh restart

Fix changed value in /etc/sysctl.conf

  • 1
    That sounds pretty peculiar any clue why that happened? – kasperd Jul 17 '15 at 15:45
  • Huh, crashplan started this issue for me and this solved it. Thanks! Does this have a significant performance change? I had just over 8k before and going up to 262k seems drastic but good enough for me – Sirens Aug 11 '17 at 15:44
  • Update this did not fix it. – Sirens Sep 18 '17 at 3:39

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