Running out of inodes, no space left on device, php not cleaning sessions

Today I run into a weird problem. When I tried to open my (Serendipity) blog I got this strange error:

Query failed: 

	ORDER BY timestamp DESC

/ Can't create/write to file '/tmp/#sql_6ee_0.MYI' (Errcode: 28)

I was kind of puzzled. All other sites were working fine (such us wiki and list of pim prototypes). I sshed to a server and checked the disk usage:

myusername@pim:~$ df -h
Filesystem            Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda1             3.8G  3.0G  685M  82% / 

Everything fine here. I checked the /tmp folder

myusername@pim:/tmp# ls -la 
total 32
drwxrwxrwt  4 root root 20480 Apr 18 12:42 .
drwxr-xr-x 22 root root  4096 Apr 18 11:20 ..
drwxrwxrwt  2 root root  4096 Mar 24 22:42 .ICE-unix

Nothing strange here either. I tried to login to mysql:

myusername@pim:/tmp$ mysql -u myusername -p
Enter password: 
Welcome to the MySQL monitor

Everything worked fine. So I checked the ERROR 28 the web page was giving me

myusername@pim:/tmp$ perror 28
OS error code  28:  No space left on device

I tried to create a file with no success:

myusername@pim:/tmp$ touch bla.txt
touch: cannot touch `bla.txt': No space left on device

Then I googled a bit and found out that I might be running out of inodes.

myusername@pim:/tmp$ df -i
Filesystem            Inodes   IUsed   IFree IUse% Mounted on
/dev/sda1             250976  250957      19  100% /

Yep, that was it. Now I had to find which folder had a lot of files that were taking up the inodes (as root). Not all results are shown in the below output.

myusername@pim:/var$ cd /
myusername@pim:/$ sudo bash 
root@pim:/$ for i in /*; do echo $i; find $i -type f | wc -l; done
/bin 91
/boot 23
/dev 346
/etc 745
/home 5
/lib 1709
/media 0
/proc 11435
/root 5
/sbin 103
/sys 3863
/tmp 0
/usr 45188
/var    186774

I went to /var and run the same command

root@pim:/var$ for i in *; do echo $i; find $i -type f | wc -l ;done
backups 1
cache 55
lib 173682
log 47
mail 2
run 16
spool 19
www 12950

So I needed to check /var/lib

mkljun@pim:/var/lib$ for i in *; do echo $i; sudo find $i -type f | wc -l ;done
apt 9
doc-base 37
dpkg 2342
misc 2
mlocate 1
mysql 665
php5 170453
screen-profiles 21
ucf 23
xml-core 2

The folder /var/lib/php5 contained 170k files! It was kind of strange why all these files were not deleted after a session timeout. I certainly did not have 170k users visiting my pages (I wished this to be true though).

root@pim:/var/lib# cd php5
root@pim:/var/lib/php5# ls -l | wc -l

I checked the maximum time set for a php5 sessions to live.

root@pim:/var/lib/php5# /usr/lib/php5/maxlifetime

24 minutes. I decided to delete older files.

root@pim:/var/lib/php5# find /var/lib/php5/ -type f -cmin +$(/usr/lib/php5/maxlifetime) -print0 -exec rm {} \;
root@pim:/var/lib/php5# ls -la
total 11768
drwx-wx-wt  2 root     root     12017664 Apr 18 12:35 .
drwxr-xr-x 38 root     root         4096 Sep 22  2010 ..
-rw-------  1 www-data www-data      168 Apr 18 12:23 sess_389b8191e2563e8bb43c41e20e015c0d
-rw-------  1 www-data www-data      118 Apr 18 12:11 sess_52c9acc7779f5cfd7e7e92a900fe7f19
-rw-------  1 www-data www-data      160 Apr 18 12:27 sess_bb8cfa842ceb0027cc9e4082ad8b0419

I checked the inodes usage.

root@pim:/tmp# df -i
Filesystem            Inodes   IUsed   IFree IUse% Mounted on
/dev/sda1             250976   80524  170452   33% /

That was it.

Why PHP is not deleting expired sessions is another question. I went to my php.ini file and found this:

; After this number of seconds, stored data will be seen as 'garbage' and
; cleaned up by the garbage collection process.
session.gc_maxlifetime = 1440

; NOTE: If you are using the subdirectory option for storing session files
;       (see session.save_path above), then garbage collection does *not*
;       happen automatically.  You will need to do your own garbage
;       collection through a shell script, cron entry, or some other method.

So all I needed to do was to create a cron job (I decided to rut it every hour as root)

root@pim:/tmp# crontab -e 

0 * * * *  /usr/bin/find /var/lib/php5/ -type f -cmin +$(/usr/lib/php5/maxlifetime) -print0 -exec /bin/rm {} \;

Hopefully this will help some other soul out there.


Authors gravatar


thanks so much. this was exactly the problem i ran into. except i had a couple millions of old session files…

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Hey, just wanted to say thank you, because you made my day with your help!


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*A million thanks Matjaž*!

We’ve had the same problem with the million inodes in our server, which was incomprehensible until we found this to perfectly solve it.

Two years and a half later your post can still “help some other soul out there” 😉

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I’m glad you have solved this problem as well. Two years ago it took me quite a while to crack it and I thought that there are other soulsout there than might benefit from my experience. Internet is such a great tool.

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Solved a huge headache, otherwise the only option was to create new virtual server,

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Wow, thanks for the help. i had 9.9million used inodes in a Magento sessions folder…. took me 5 hours to rm them all. Did not notice them because the size was not that big…

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Zahid Hussain

Simply *Superb!!!*
I got what I needed and resolved my problem.

Thank you very much. Matjaž.

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Hi! I’m at work browsing your blog from my new iphone 3gs!
Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!
Keep up the fantastic work!

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