What Should I Do When My Android Runs Out Of App Space?

What Should I Do When My Android Runs Out Of App Space?

Dear Lifehacker,
I love trying out and using Android apps, but my phone warns me that it’s “Low on space”. How can that be with 8GB inside and a huge microSD card in place? How can I fix it? Sincerely, Desperately Seeking Droid Space.

Dear Desperately,
It’s true — Android “storage” isn’t easy to grasp, from the outset.

The Problem

On an iPhone, you have X amount of space (8GB, 16GB or 32GB) and, aside from a small bit used for the OS, the rest is yours for storing apps, music, video, photos, whatever you’d like.

Android phones have internal storage built in and also accept microSD cards, usually up to 32GB in size. For the most part, the microSD is yours to do what you’d like with, although some apps will store folders and data on it. The solid memory chips that comprise your “internal storage”, however, are used for both RAM in running active programs and reserved in very specific ways for the main operating system, cache space and then whatever is leftover for your “Internal phone storage” — where you can install applications.

After the space taken up by the main OS, the stock Google apps and any apps that your phone carrier mandated, you’re seeing what you’ve got left in the “Available space” section. You’re seeing in the image here what I’ve got on my Nexus One, 27MB — on a phone that has a total of 512MB of internal storage. With the Nexus in particular, the phone that Google likely considered its strongest shot across the bow at the iPhone, this frustrating lack of app room was duly noted by many reviewers.

hardly alonesmall app capacityDroid IncredibleImage via Wikimedia Commons.

Initially, to maintain a lock on which applications your phone can rightfully run, Google required that all applications be run from the phone’s core internal memory, rather than on a card you could load into your needy friend’s phone. That restriction is being lifted with the help of encryption tools, but in the meantime, the majority of apps haven’t been crafted to run from an SD card, including Google’s own apps. Which is a shame, because for the majority of users, the SD card isn’t something that goes in and out every day — it’s just an easily upgradeable bit of memory that hides underneath the battery, or in a side compartment.

The Solutions

If you’re running out of space and don’t want to start sacrificing your apps to get more, you do have options. We’ll start with the easier options and move on down to the tricky, geeky solutions.

Android 2.2: Move Bigger Apps to SD Storage
If your phone has picked up an Android 2.2 “Froyo” update, you have the ability to move some apps onto your SD card, freeing up internal storage.

But check out a few of your other apps. Start at the top and click down through them, and if you see a “Move to SD card” option, go ahead and hit it. There are drawbacks to this move, but they’re few and uncommon. When your SD card is mounted for computer access, that app, if it’s actively working, will likely close down, and it may not be able to run. And if your SD card is corrupted or lost, you’ll lose access to that app — at least until you download it again, with your payment information backed up to Google.

Clear the Cache, and Maybe Data, on Some Apps

You can feel pretty safe wiping out the cache from an app, especially if it’s taking up a sizable amount of space and you need just one… more… inch to install a new app — although the low space warnings won’t go away anytime soon. Data, on the other hand, is something you won’t want to wipe too often from apps you use all the time. Then again, we’ve read reports of apps like HTC’s email client taking up 80MB of data space on certain phones, so if your apps’ data usage seems outsized, or you never use the app, go ahead and wipe.

Clear Out Apps You Don’t Actually Use

As I ran out of space on my own Android, I took the tack of trying to limit myself to only the apps I could fit on one homescreen. What apps did I really use every day? What apps did I think were essential, but in reality, I never actually clicked them? On my restricted app diet, I eliminated feature-rich PDF readers, apps my innate guilt though I should keep but never actually used, and leftover stuff I’d tested once, thought was cool, then never touched. Image via laihiu.

Android 2.2: Set Your SD Card as the Default Installation Location

Image via scriptingnews.

The Androinica blog has the full write-up on installing apps to SD by default. You’ll want to heed their advice too: apps with home screen widgets you intend to use should be kept on the internal memory, as should any apps you intend to keep running at all times.

Root Your Phone and Set Up Apps2SD

CyanogenMODenable Apps2SD and install any or all apps onto your SD card

Hopefully we’ve been able to help you free up some space, Desperately, and give other Android users running low on app storage figure out the path back to Market freedom. Here’s hoping you can grab something good!


P.S. If we missed any other solutions to clearing out space for apps on an Android phone, do let us all know in the comments.


  • For Froyo Phones, App 2 SD (different from the one mentioned above as it doesn’t require root access) available from the market automates the whole thing painlessly. You can either trigger the app manually and it will identify anything that can be moved, or have it running in the background, and any time you download a new app that can safely be moved to the SD card, you get a notification and a one click move.

    Market Link: market://search?q=pname:com.a0soft.gphone.app2sd

    Description: http://www.androidpit.com/en/android/market/apps/app/com.a0soft.gphone.app2sd/App-2-SD-move-apps-to-SD

    A question I have is whether Android is good enough at internal housekeeping. Every other operating system I know eventually builds up orphaned crud on the drive which needs to be cleaned out now and again. With the limited space on Android, it’s much more critical (and there’s no easy way of seeing what’s hogging the internal storage). Is there a problem, and if so, is there a solution?

  • Another good solution (particularly for phones with odd partition sizes) is to modify the partition table. Of course to do this you need to be pretty familiar with rooting (and will need S-OFF on your phone).
    The HTC Desire in particular has a really small app partition… and about 100meg free space on the System partition if you’re running Cyanogen. Changing to a partition size layout more similar to the N1 has made all the difference for me.

  • Thank you for details and cleaning process to make more space.

    However I think I have much difficult issue here, as I have Motorola Charm which is running on 2.1.

    And as it is vendor free (like T Mobile as I am using this in India), I don’t think there will be any upgrade soon to 2.2.

    I have tried to find ways to root (even as it is a new phone) to install app to sd on Android 2.1 for Moto Charm (seems to me Moto Charm is quite new and know one has figured out yet).

    I have not found a relevant and helpful answer till now.

    I would like to know is there a way out then just waiting?

    Can you help?



  • I, too have Moto Charm and find it virtually impossible to free up space. I have an App2SD function but can’t figure out how to use it. Also have said function on Android Assistant but am unable to complete the task-says Click-Storage-SD. Cannnot click on Storage. Help! Can barely get online to find answers as mem runs approx. 20mb.

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