What the “Other” Storage Space is in Mac OS X & How to Clear It Up
Many Mac users check the About This Mac Storage tab to get a quick overview of their disk space usage, and many will see a rather large “Other” storage space taking up disk capacity on their drives. If this sounds familiar, it’s probably because iOS often has a rather large Other storage space, but that’s largely where the similarities end, and in OS X it’s much easier to track down exactly what “Other” is. This is basically because the Mac has a user accessible file system and system directories, where as those corresponding elements in iOS are largely hidden from the user.
Let’s take a moment to check the Storage space on any Mac, and then learn a bit more about the Other space in OS X, what it is, and how you could reduce the size of “Other” storage on a Mac if the computer is running low on available disk space.
Checking “Other” Storage in Mac OS X
If you’re curious to see how many files and items on a Mac drive are classified by OS X as “Other” storage consumed, you can check through the About This Mac window panel:
- Click the Apple menu and choose “About This Mac”
- Look under “Storage” tab to find the Other data on the Mac drive
The Other storage is the blue item in new versions of OS X, and the yellow item in the graph on prior versions of Mac OS X, regardless, Other is visible in any modern version of Mac OS X.
In versions prior to OS X 10.10 you will need to click on “More Info” in the About This Mac screen to see the Storage tab, otherwise everything else is the same.
The size of Other is often quite large in OS X and it varies considerably as you can see in the various screen shots here, but again, this is not something to overly concern yourself with as it could be in the iOS world. Nonetheless, it can be valuable to know what that other stuff is, particularly in the event you are running low on disk space.
What Exactly is “Other” Storage in OS X?
Perhaps Other is taking up a ton of space, so what exactly is that “Other” storage on a Mac? Essentially it’s anything that OS X does not allocate to the listed specified storage types of applications, backups, audio, movies, backups, and photos. That means a very broad list of items will be considered as Other, including things like the following:
- Documents and file types, including PDF, doc, PSD, etc
- Archives and disk images, including zips, dmg, iso, etc
- Various types of personal and user data
- Anything in the system folders of OS X, ranging from temporary files, swap, voices, etc
- User library items like Application Support, iCloud files, screen savers, etc
- User caches and system caches, including things like browser caches and locally stored message media files
- Fonts, app accessories, application plugins, and app extensions
- Various file and file types not recognized by Spotlight, for example a virtual machine hard drive, Windows Boot Camp partitions, etc
As you can see, this is not unnecessary junk or clutter. Basically, anything that is not one of the media types that the Storage tab specifies will be shown as “Other”.
This makes the OS X “Other” storage quite a bit different from the same label applied to iOS storage, and while there can be some bloated caches and other junk, the Other storage on a Mac is more likely to make sense. This is often in contrast to the sometimes opaque and peculiar Other storage capacity in iOS, which can be anything from mishandled caches to data that is not being properly removed when apps or media is deleted, or even misallocated labels, if you happen to run into a bloated Other space on your mobile devices, you can typically reclaim and remove the Other iOS storage by deleting bloated apps, their data, and then restoring an iPhone or iPad from a backup as described here.
Cleaning Up “Other” Storage on a Mac
Generally speaking, the Other storage on a Mac is not something to overly concern yourself with unless you’re running low on disk space. If you do want to try and clean up the Other storage capacity in OS X, you’ll want to look in the following locations for data and files you no longer need.
- User(s) Downloads folders at ~/Downloads
- User Library caches ~/Library/Caches/
- User Documents folders ~/Documents/
- User Messages app attachments and media files
Going further, you can apply some broader techniques to free up disk storage and the Other space. These articles will undoubtedly prove invaluable if you’re attempting to locate large files on a Mac and recover disk capacity on any OS X machine:
- How to free up disk space on any Mac with OS X
- Locating other large files by advanced file search in OS X
- Uninstalling unused applications in Mac OS X
As usual with deleting things in OS X, always back up your Mac with Time Machine before getting started, and do not remove items you are not uncertain of.
While system files and caches are included in “Other”, you almost certainly do not want to modify the /System directory or any other root directory or system folder.
What About “Other” Bloated System Caches, Temp, and System Files?
To clear out OS X system level caches, temp files, virtual memory files, sleep images, and other things that could potentially count against Other storage, rebooting the Mac is often sufficient. Do not attempt to modify anything in the system folder unless you’re an expert user who knows exactly what they’re doing and why, you will otherwise almost certainly break something. If you want to, you can also use third party tools like Onyx to clear out caches safely, though it’s rarely necessary.
Finally, do note that Boot Camp partitions of Windows and Linux will also show as Other, and they are not reducible without removing those drives. This is demonstrated with Windows 10 and OS X 10.11 on the same drive with dual booting partitions:
Freeing Up Additional Disk Space on Mac
The “Other” space may be a bit of a mystery at first glance, but sometimes different types of files and data on the Mac is what is causing storage space to disappear. Here are some general tips to free up additional disk space on a Mac:
- Fixing the “Startup disk almost full” error message on a Mac by rooting out space hogging files and conquering drive waste
- Delete old iTunes backups of iPhone & iPad devices – Usually things like local iPhone and iPad backups will be shown as the ‘backups’ list and not under “Other”, but nonetheless removing unwanted iOS backups offer an easy way to recover hard disk space
- Additional easy tips to free up disk space on Mac OS X are here
Have any tricks of your own to free up the Other storage on the Mac or recover disk capacity in OS X? Let us know in the comments.