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Error messages don't always give enough clues as to what might be going on, but they often point the way to start digging for the answer.

While trying to save a small file to my hard drive, I sometimes get a disk full message. My operating system is Windows Vista; my hard drive holds 455 GB and 351 GB are shown as free. The software I'm using when I get the disk full messages are Word Perfect and Microsoft Works, i.e. small word processing files and small spreadsheet files. Do you know why I'm getting the disk full messages or what I could do about it?

In this excerpt from Answercast #48, I look at a computer that is showing "disk full" when the disk has lots of space.

False disk full error

Unfortunately, I don't. I have a theory.

It really depends on the programs you're using specifically. By that I mean, the versions of both Word Perfect and Microsoft Works.

Incorrect error report

The issue is that I have seen programs that incorrectly report disk errors of various sorts as "disk full."

In other words:

  • The program tries to write a file to the disk;

  • Something goes wrong;

  • It's unclear exactly what goes wrong, but something about writing to the disk fails;

  • And the program reports essentially "disk full" for everything;

  • No matter what the real underlying problem is.

Diagnosis

So I don't really have a good way to diagnose this or say anything about it other than to see if you can identify any patterns in:

  • What it is you're saving;

  • Or how you're saving it;

  • Or for that matter, where you're saving it;

That might help add a clue as to exactly why these programs are having difficulty saving files to an otherwise empty disk or a disk with a lot of room.

Temporary folder

The other thing that just came to mind that is certainly a possibility, it's an obscure one...

  • If your temporary folder is on a different drive;

  • And that different drive is running out of space;

  • It's possible that the error message actually refers to the program's inability to write out a temporary copy of the file to that other drive that doesn't have enough room.

That's something else to look at.

Inability to write the file

And finally, like I said, this error can be caused by just about anything that could cause an inability to write the file.

  • It's possible (maybe) that some other program has the file open;
  • Or that some other program is somehow interfering with your program's ability to write the file.

So, I realize that it's a lot of vague "maybes" that I'm throwing out here, but unfortunately that's the kind of scenario that we often face.

Sometimes when it's clear that there's plenty of room and the program is reporting "disk full," in reality all it's really saying is, "Something didn't work." There's no real good additional information to understand what that "something" is other than paying attention to the patterns that might emerge from:

  • The different types of files;

  • The different types of programs that are running at the same time;

  • The different places you're actually saving the file.

Sorry, I don't have better for you, but that's about the best I can come up with.

Article C5749 - August 29, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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7 Comments
Pete Laberge
August 30, 2012 12:30 AM

Or... if you had a full CD, DVD, Floppy, or USB Thumb drive that has not got enough space on it to "do the job"... and the System or Program, for some reason, thinks it has to write to that other storage medium....

Ken B
August 30, 2012 7:09 AM

Another possibility is a program which asks the O/S how much free space is available even before writing the file. Older programs might fail to work if there is more than 2GB free on the drive. (2GB is the largest number a signed 32-bit number can hold.)

Bob
August 31, 2012 5:02 AM

It's been a long while sinse i've experienced this, but I used to have difficulties with saving lots of small files in the same folder - as if the file 'table' ran out of room before the drive ran out of space.
Making a new folder and moving some of the files cured the problem.

That can happen at the root of FAT formatted drives - I believe the limit there is 128 files.
Leo
31-Aug-2012
Andy
August 31, 2012 9:01 AM

Leo, I have come up against this sort of error saving across a network when a server has had an issue and needed to be rebooted. Now, I'm not syaing this is a server issue but it could actually be a disk issue. The server drive not being available is due to the computer not being able to communicate with the disk, the same could be happening in these circumstances too. Check the drive.

Alex Dow
August 31, 2012 11:31 AM

Could it be that it is trying to write to a (small/er) Partition, rather than the main part of the HDD?

Back in the 1970s & 1980s, something like that happened on IBM Mainframes, with their type of partitioning.

We had to run a Compression program, to re-open space for further Saves.

Also have experienced the lack of space for File Names etc, because of many small files.

Terry Hollett
September 1, 2012 1:12 PM

Way back in the Win ME era, I use to get disk write errors after numerous scans and troubleshooting I was able to determine that the swap file was corrupt, deleted it and everything was OK once again. A bit far fetched but...maybe.

Robert Hollingsworth
October 11, 2012 9:41 PM

Leo,

I recently had this problem and have one suggestion to try, but don't know exactly why it works. I recently replaced my old 32-bit Vista computer with a new 64-bit Windows 7 computer. I can't remember the details, but after I installed my old Photoshop Elements 2.0 program from the CD, when I tried to run it on the new computer, it wouldn't run. I can't remember the error message it gave me. I tried trouble-shooting it on the Internet and found one thing to try. It suggested that immediately after clicking the program's icon to start it, that I hold down Control+Alt until a menu opened on the screen giving me the opportunity to choose some other drive for it to work on. I did this and chose an old external hard drive. After that it would start up and work fine, even though it is installed on my new computer's hard drive.

However, subsequently, after using the program, when I tried to save a photo file I had modified using the program onto my hard drive, I got the "Disk Full" error message as described in your discussion topic. Of course this was nonsense since my new computer's hard drive had heaps of room. But then a little light bulb lit up dimly (in my mind). I got to thinking that perhaps there is some kind of incompatibility where that aged program could only save to a drive that was set up for FAT 32 files rather than NTFS files. So I tried saving it to an old external hard drive that I knew predated the NTFS file system. And sure enough, to my delight, it saved there just fine. It required an extra step to then drag the saved file from the external hard drive to my computer's hard drive, but at least I had solved the mystery (sort of), and could now use the program (old, but does what I use it for).

Anyway, this is something that others who get this error message might try.

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