How to Reduce “System” Storage Size on iPhone or iPad

Jul 2, 2018 - 36 Comments

How to reduce Large System storage capacity used on iPhone or iPad

If you have ever visited the iOS Storage section of Settings app on an iPhone or iPad, you may have noticed that the “System” storage section is occasionally quite large and can take up a significant amount of storage capacity. For extra large storage capacity devices this may not be a big deal, but if you have “System” taking up 16GB of storage on a 32GB device then that is obviously a storage burden that is impinging on total device capacity, potentially preventing other uses of the device due to being unable to download apps, games, media, or other stuff to the device. Therefore, reducing a large “System” storage section of iOS devices could be desirable.

This tip will cover a somewhat quirky way to reduce the total size of “System” storage as found on the Storage settings of an iPad or iPhone.

Checking Current “System” Storage Size in iOS

Before going further, you might want to get an idea of how large your current “System” storage is before trying to reduce the capacity, this will give you a reference point to work with. You can check System storage size by doing the following:

  1. Open the “Settings” app on the iPhone or iPad then go to “General”
  2. Choose ‘iPhone Storage’ or ‘iPad Storage’
  3. Wait for the storage usage to calculate, then scroll all the way to the bottom of the Storage screen to find “System” and its total storage capacity consumption

“System” can be wildly different sizes, sometimes it’s 7 GB or so, but it can also easily be 10GB, 15GB, or even a whopping 25 GB or larger too, often even on the same device type. That seemingly random but significant storage usage makes “System” a bit like the “Other” storage which has long frustrated some users by consuming device storage in iOS.

Now that you know how large your “System” storage is from the start, let’s review the process that may help to reduce that storage size.

How to Shrink the “System” Storage on iPhone or iPad

To use this trick to shrink the “System” capacity size of your iPhone Storage or iPad Storage, you will need the iOS device, a computer with iTunes, and a USB cable to connect the device to the computer. If you have all of that, the rest is remarkably simple.

  1. Open iTunes on the computer, it can be a Mac or Windows PC
  2. Connect the USB cable to the computer, and then connect the iPhone or iPad to that USB cable
  3. Unlock the iPhone or iPad by entering the devices passcode – if you have never connected it to the computer before you will need to “Trust” the computer when that pop-up shows up
  4. Leave the iPhone or iPad connected to the computer with iTunes open for a few minutes, you do not need to sync or anything just let it sit
  5. Launch the “Settings” app then go to “General” and to the “Storage” section of the device, scrolling all the way down to see “System”, it should have recalculated and often (but not always) reduced in size considerably
  6. Disconnect the iPhone or iPad from the computer and USB cable and enjoy your new free storage space

Shrinking large System storage size on iPhone or iPad

Why this works isn’t entirely clear, but presumably when you connect an iPhone or iPad to a computer and open iTunes, it performs some sort of maintenance or cleanup behavior that dumps caches and temp files from the iOS System section, perhaps in preparation for a backup to iTunes, and when finished it can free up a notable amount of storage capacity on the device.

In the screenshots shown here, I was able to free up over 5 GB of storage on an iPhone simply by plugging it into a computer with iTunes, and letting it sit for two minutes while unlocked. On an iPad, I was able to free up 2 GB doing the same action.

This method is not guaranteed to work however, and on an iPhone X with a whopping 25.6 GB system size, it only freed up less than 1 GB. Some users may report more dramatic changes in the size of “System” but there does not seem to be much rhyme or reason involved, if you have any hunches share them in the comments further below.

How to reduce Large System storage capacity used on iPhone or iPad

What is “System” storage anyway?

The “System” section of the iPhone or iPad Storage is likely quite literal, it’s the system software. That includes iOS itself, which is the core operating system running on the iPhone or iPad, including all system functions, system apps, and presumably other system components like caches, temp files, and other underpinnings of the iOS operating system.

The often randomly and widely varying storage consumption size of the “System” section of iOS Storage is sort of like the nebulous “Other” storage section of iOS devices, which is still listed in the Storage section of the Settings app, but it appears that “System” is now contained within the “Other” section.

iOS large System storage capacity

Another option which consistently shrinks down iOS “System” storage is much more dramatic; erase the device, then reinstall iOS and restore from your backup. Obviously that’s a significant undertaking however, so that shouldn’t be a first resort for anyone. Similarly, restoring iOS will typically reduce the “Other” capacity as well on an iPhone or iPad.

General iOS Storage Tips

One of the biggest complaints iPhone and iPad users often have relates to inadequate storage space on their devices (along with iCloud, but that’s another topic) particularly on smaller storage size models with 16GB and 32GB capacities, but even with 64 GB, 128GB and 256 GB devices too, depending on how much stuff is on there.

If you’re trying to free up “System” storage space to reduce general storage usage on the iPhone or iPad, you may also be interested in learning how to remove and delete “Other” Storage on an iPhone or iPad, along with deleting “Documents & Data” from iOS apps. Other helpful tips for freeing up storage capacity on iOS devices include offloading apps from iOS that are unused, deleting apps that are unused, enabling automatic offloading of unused apps, and focusing on clearing “Documents & Data” from apps on the iPhone or iPad particularly with apps like Instagram which have large caches taking up storage on the iPhone.

Did this trick work for you to reduce your “System” storage space on an iPhone or iPad? Do you have any other helpful tricks to reduce curiously large System or Other storage capacities on iOS devices? Share your experiences in the comments below!

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in iPad, iPhone, Tips & Tricks, Troubleshooting

36 Comments

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  1. Dan Bitnik says:

    What on Earth is Apple doing to bloat iOS system out so much that it takes up 25 GB of storage space? I thought this was supposed to be the lightweight mobile operating system of the future? 25GB!? That’s bigger than a base macOS or Windows installation!

  2. Wes says:

    Interesting. I tried this and on one iPhone it shrunk the System size by about 1GB. Tried it on an iPad and it shrunk it by about 3GB. Why does this work? Is it priming for a backup and performs cleaning function? That is my best guess.

    But also why the heck is the System size so huge? A 128GB iPhone and 15% of the size is taken up by “System” and another 10% by “Other” …. great.

  3. 1252 says:

    Another possibilty to cleanup the System overbloat (on devices with small memory).

    When you see that the system data is way above 12-14 GB go to iStore and choose a film which is larger as your total free memory on device and download it. At the end will say Not enough storage but surprisingly the System data amount will shrunk considerabily. Why? No idea!

  4. makemineamac says:

    Same experience with the Phone X, not even a gig freed up. So strange, and I have over 35gb of System storage on my 64gb iPhone X. (Twas a bad buying decision I know.)

    Oh well.

  5. Steve says:

    “scroll all the way to the bottom of the Storage screen to find “System” and its total storage capacity consumption”

    I see this on my iPhone but not on my iPad.

    • John Robinson says:

      If it is iOS11, on my SE, go/Settings/General/
      iPad Storage/System look at amount, watch for change, following the article instructions.

    • Katbel says:

      Same problem here. iPhone yes
      iPad Pro: cannot see the system storage
      Both with the latest iOS 11.4

    • Louie says:

      It’s all the way on the bottom, separate from the list of apps. I do see it on an iPad Pro (the 10.5” model).

      • Richard says:

        iPad Air running iOS 11.4 does not display current system storage size. There is nothing separate from the list of apps at the bottom.

  6. Ken Campbell says:

    Dear osxdaily please tell us how to reduce system storage on our MacBook Pro

  7. Kenneth Kay says:

    On iPX back up to iTunes, ‘restore’ to factory settings, then ‘restore’ from backup. Got back 10+ gigabytes of storage space on a 256 iPX. Backing up may take a while depending on storage used, restoring from backup was O.K. though.

    • Lee says:

      “System” on my iPhone X is taking up 17 GB but I have seen it as high as 28 GB. It seems to me that the size shrinks after the iPhone completes a backup, but still 17 GB is an enormous System folder.

      I would love to “backup and restore” the iPhone X but it is 256 GB and my Mac doesn’t even have that much disk space because Apple ships Macs with tiny hard drives. It just works!

      What an experience.

      Sometimes I wonder if people that work at Apple use Apple products, or if they use something else. Do they not encounter these things? Do they not wonder what it is? Do they not attempt to fix, remedy, or address the problem? Do they have people working on this stuff, or is the entire company working on subscription music services and politically correct Emoji characters?

  8. Lynn says:

    This is so interesting – and something I had never really thought of.

    The system storage on my 256 GB iPhone 7 is 36.35 GB! That seems crazy to me!

    I’m going to try the iTunes trick. I’ll keep you guys posted!

    • Lee says:

      36GB of System on iPhone?? That is CRAZY. What on Earth is iOS doing?

    • IM says:

      On my 2018 128GB iPad, “System” is 68GB taking up more than half of total storage.

      • Scott says:

        68 GB of System storage on an iPad is simply outrageous.

        Apple now sells larger devices but the System of iOS takes up most of the space, what’s the point of buying a bigger device if it’s going to vanish to huge System bloat that nobody seems to understand?

        Has anyone spoken to Applecare about the System folder and asked them why it’s so big and what they are doing about it?

        Is Apple aware this is a problem with the System of iOS? How can they not be?

      • Louie says:

        On mine it’s only 2.24 GB!! talk about variation…Sounds like we’re on the verge of a new scandal, just like the battery scandal last year. It seems apple may be intentionally coding so that iOS bloats and takes up lots of space on some devices. It could be a trick to get more people to buy or upgrade icloud storage, just like slowing down the phones was a trick to sell more.

  9. Michael Graubart says:

    Stranger and stranger! I tried reducing System Storage by connecting my iPhone SE (iOS 11.4) to iTunes on my Mac as described. In fact the amount used by the System was quite low, but I was interested in what might happen nonetheless.

    Before doing this, System Storage was shown as 6.27 GB. After leaving the phone connected to the Mac for some minutes, System Storage was shown as…wait for it!…6.69 GB! Reduced?

    After disconnecting, it then went up by a tiny further amount to 6.7 GB. Finally I went through the procedure of reconnecting to iTunes and waiting again, but the amount remained at 6.7 GB.

  10. John F says:

    Iphone 5S – started at 5.21Gb free, followed the procedure and result – 5.19 Gb free… ’nuff said ?…

  11. Tom Bull says:

    My iPhone actually went up! From 13gb to 20gb!

    • Wario says:

      That’s lovely, an exponentially growing System storage on iPhone! Don’t you just love the consistency from iOS? One minute your System storage is huge, the next minute it’s twice the size. Great?

      OK really though, plug it in and back it up. It seems like the backup is what shrinks the System storage for me. Maybe the System grows with backup data that gets cleared once the backup completes?

      You can also backup, erase, and restore, but that takes so long on large capacity devices that it is impractical beyond reason.

  12. Lynn says:

    OK … weirdest thing. I typed my response above last night when I was in bed – with intent to try the iTunes trick today after work.

    So this morning when I looked again, the number was down to 21.57 GBs, without anything being done (except regular cloud back-up which happens every night.)

    Then WHILE I WAS LOOKING AT IT, the number changed to 15.21 GBs! Yes, seriously, right in front of my eyes!!!

    So I am now thinking that number is basically meaningless. Hopefully Apple will fix that bug soon!

  13. Shangha1 says:

    Removing shortcuts from the screen of an iPad will also create a lot of additional storage. The URL of whatever the shortcut relates can be stored in a Pages document and with practice can be stored a lot more efficiently e.g.

    Influential Women in Chinese History
    Author: Zhu Ying
    Article: Mao’s Pioneering Wife
    https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/1804293847/

    Article: Qiu Jin, known as the woman knight of Mirror Lake
    https://www.shine.cn/feature/art-culture/1803191863/

  14. ButchM says:

    Don’t forget that Apple may not be the culprit for the bloat … as some third party apps tend to cache tons of data to save time and keep things speedy on mobile devices.

    Facebook is famous for this and retains far too much data than is necessary IMHO. If you travel a lot, navigation apps and weather apps set to go into cache overload as well compared to folks that stick closer to home.

    What would be nice if we had the ability to allocate cache space on a per app basis instead of letting the apps or the system determine that usage.

    • Biggers Grabell says:

      @ButchM makes a great point, this could be third party app behavior but usually those third party apps bloat themselves with Documents & Data. I wonder if something changed.

      As for Facebook, I wouldn’t use it, I would not recommend it, and I definitely would not install it on my iPhone ever. Anyone using Facebook is crazy if you want my opinion!

      And I will second @ButchM suggestion that it would be nice if there were “Dump Cache” buttons on every single app, as well as on iOS System, to clear out storage, because iOS cache management is obviously not efficient. This is something Android has that iOS still does not.

  15. Katbel says:

    The trick works for the iPhone but if you go back another time the system is big as it was before
    Mine went from 19Gb to 11 GB
    Then I disconnected it from my Mac and checked again
    and it was 19Gb again. Did the trick again went down and up again..

  16. Pilgrim says:

    Is there a way to see this in iOS 10? Thanks!

  17. Ed says:

    Went from 45.7GB to 7.5GB

  18. Oz says:

    Just manually closing suspended apps shrinks it considerably. I typically close all suspended apps every few days. I’ve never paid much attention to storage before, but I looked after reading this article and found my system storage at 7.6GB. I just killed all the suspended apps again and it immediately dropped to 5.2GB.

    I suspect that for most people that never do this, it would not be uncommon for tens of gigabytes of storage to be consumed just by suspended apps alone. Most people don’t realize that for every app that is suspended, iOS has to maintain data about the suspended state. I wouldn’t think it would amount to multiple gigabytes of data, but I only closed about 20 suspended apps and recovered 2.4GB, so for me it averaged out to about 120MB per app. I assume this will also vary per app – some apps may require much more data to maintain the suspended state.

  19. Lynn says:

    Well just peeked again and today it’s at 29.88.
    [Insert rolling eyes and shrug emojis here!!!!]

  20. AP says:

    Bad news. This lowered my system storage from 10GB to 7GB but the total storage used remained exactly unchanged. Seems to have shifted cached data from system to the storage devoted to the apps themselves.

  21. Angela says:

    Am I able to do this on my iPhone 5s? When I go to ‘General’ then Storage & iCloud Usage’, three things come up:
    Used
    Available
    Manage Storage
    I’m only able to open ‘Manage Storage’. So I click on that and wait for it to completely load. As I scroll down, all I’m seeing are my apps. There is not a ‘System’ to click on. Could it be in another place? Or is a 5s iPhone not capable of this little ‘trick’? Thanks for any input e’one! 🙂

  22. Cristina says:

    Here my iPhone 7plus going mad with the system storage taking 64 giga and growing. Every time I try to open more space deleting a video or an app the storage system grows… the trick suggested didn’t work.

  23. Viji says:

    I had the same problem with my 6s. The Other storage is actually data that is already deleted and waiting to be re-written again. That is why every time you delete an app, the app storage become smaller and other storage increase. I backed up, factory reset and restored from the backup. and Other storage was 0 again.

  24. Rob O says:

    I have a 32gb iPhone 6s and my system storage is 27.6gb – haven’t tried the iTunes trick but neither will I considering responses from above.
    Took it to store many months ago and the apple ‘genius’ was literally open mouthed!

    Without booking back an appointment that I cannot make due to work in a weeks time and going without a phone while they do checks it seems I have no option but to now look elsewhere for a phone!

    That being said the last 3 iPhones I’ve had have all mysteriously started going wrong when an upgrade is on the horizon!

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