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iPhone Software Update Failure: ‘“Not enough free space is available on this computer” (8.81TB not enough space for 0.128 TB iPhone)

All I want to do is install iOS 9.3.5 for a security bug fix. That is a critical zero-day exploit security fix. I was left with zero backups of my iPhone, I wsa unable to backup the iPhone and I was unable to update to the latest iOS. Finally I figured out a fix (see far end of post).

iTunes: not enough space on “this computer” — which volume?!

The iPhone in question is a 128GB iPhone 6s Plus with 42.6GB available, so about 85GB is in use on the iPhone (nearly all of of it for music and recorded books). Nearly all of that stuff already exists in the media folder, so there should be a need for only ~2GB of space for a backup (confirmed by seeing previous backup of 1.8GB).

Below, a lovely designed-by-nitwits error message stemming from the mindset of “all Macs have one drive, the internal one we geniuses at Apple build into the Mac”. It’s actually worse than that:

  • Which volume has inadequate free space?
  • How much free space is required to make a backup? Because it always worked before, so “what gives” now?
  • Why can’t I just proceed with the update? Nothing is on the phone except my own (already downloaded) photos and my own music in the iTunes library.

Deleting the one and only backup of this iPhone results in no backups and a refusal to backup the iPhone (not enough space). So now there are zero backups and iTunes won’t backup the iPhone, let alone update iOS. Joy.


Apparently 8.81 terabytes is inadequate to backup a 0.128 TB iPhone. Either that, or backups MUST go onto the boot drive (yet another Apple Core Rot bug).

What’s wrong with backing-up the iPhone to the Media folder?

So which volume doesn’t have enough free space? The startup volume Boot which has 25GB free? Or the ArchivePV volume containing the iTunes Media folder with 8.81 TB free (8810GB)? No backups, no iOS update, ship listing and dead in the water.

Cannot backup an iPhone with 32TB of free space

Figuring the brain-dead behavior of iTunes could be fooled, I symlinked ~/Library/iTunes to a folder on another volume with ample space—no go. But later I realized that it is ~/Library/Application Support/MobileSync/Backup that contains iPhone backups, more on that below.

Next, I wondered: why is there not enough space? Apple Photos app says there are no photos on the iPhone. But iTunes begs to disagree. The bar graph in iTunes does not give a figure for space usage of photos on the iPhone, but it looks to be ~32GB at least. Except that there exist no photos on the iPhone as per Photos on the Mac and Photos app on the iPhone itself. WTF? This remains true even after rebooting the iPhone.

Cannot backup an iPhone with 32TB of free space


Technology is supposed to make things easier, not harder. When simplification (ill-conceived ideas on backing up) confuse and harrass even well-informed users, something is fundamentally broken in the design.

I finally went into the iPhone itself, and manually deleted some photos that the Photos app claimed were not there (“0 photos”, see above) This cleared up enough space for the iPhone backup and then the update to work. But why can’t it just work right? The screen shot above shows a fundamental flaw (bug).

Moreover, why can’t I backup the iPhone to some other volume when the boot drive has too little space? Or to the iTunes Media folder? It’s fragile software enginnering: is this the best the richest company in the world can do? And it is a fundamental design flaw: what if a user has a 128GB or 256GB boot drive, and a 128GB or (future) 256GB iPhone or iPad? It will be impossible to backup the device or update the software, as seen above.

As can be seen, fresh backups of both my iPhone 5S and iPhone 6s Plus take only 84 MB = 0.084 GB, making the refusal to backup/update even more infuriating.

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