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When I booted my Mac last night I got a flashing folder against a gray background. The computer started fine this morning, but when I closed the lid and opened it up again I had to reboot, and now it's persistently in this flashing folder state.

Booting while holding down ⌘ Cmd-R brings me to OS X Utilities. Running "Repair disk" from disk utilities indicates there's no problem, but I did notice that it also says I only have 16 MB free on a 110GB hard drive.

Might this be the problem? If so, is there some way to delete data from my computer while in this state, to clear enough space to boot correctly?

  • How long ago is your last backup and can you afford to delete some files or applications to then reinstall them again? (For instance, you could reinstall Word or iMovie or GarageBand easily and not lose your data or settings) – bmike Feb 21 '15 at 1:18
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Though the following should be valid for non-encrypted volumes and unlocked encrypted volumes, it doesn't help much because the main volume here is encrypted and locked. So skip to FileVault2-encrypted volumes

Non-encrypted volumes

Almost no free space on your start volume is a problem. At least 10 % free space are recommended.

It's indeed possible to remove files & folder in Recovery Mode but if you have an external disk/thumb drive (hfs+ or fat32-formatted) you may move them instead:

  • attach your external device (if you have one).
  • If FileVault2 is enabled on your main volume start Disk Utility, right click the volume and unlock it
  • Quit Disk Utility and open /Utilities/Terminal in the menubar
  • enter cd /Volumes/NameOfYourMainVolume/Users/accountname to change to your user folder (example: cd "/Volumes/Macintosh HD/Users/ausername"). To get the names/mountpoints of your main volume/external disk enter diskutil list or df.
  • enter ls -la to show all files and folders

    Example:

    drwxr-xr-x+ 56 ausername  staff   1904 20 Feb 23:45 .
    drwxr-xr-x+  7 root       admin    238 15 Jun  2012 ..
    -rw-------   1 ausername  staff      3 21 Nov 16:11 .CFUserTextEncoding
    -rw-r--r--@  1 ausername  staff  43012 20 Feb 23:35 .DS_Store
    drwxr-xr-x+  3 ausername  staff    102 15 Feb 17:41 .TemporaryItems
    drwxr-xr-x   4 ausername  staff    136  2 Nov 23:22 SomeFolder
    
  • now move further with cd SomeFolder
  • enter ls -la to show all files and folders

    Example:

    drwxr-xr-x+  7 ausername  staff        238 15 Jun  2012 ..
    -rw-------   1 ausername  staff 4736527884 16 Okt 22:33 BigFile.mov
    drwxr-xr-x   4 ausername  staff        136  2 Nov 23:22 UnwantedFolder
    
  • to move BigFile.mov to your external device enter
    mv BigFile.mov /Volumes/ExternalDevice/
    or to move UnwantedFolder to your external device enter
    mv UnwantedFolder /Volumes/ExternalDevice/.

  • if you don't have an external drive remove folders and files with rm -dr UnwantedFolder to remove UnwantedFolder and all its content or rm BigFile.mov to remove BigFile.mov (4.7 GB in the example above). rm *.mov removes all .mov files in your working directory.

    rm is a powerful command to delete a file or directory without confirmation by default. Because of this behavior, users should really be sure before deleting files or folders. So double check where you are - enter pwd to print your working directory - and what you want to delete!

FileVault2-encrypted volumes

  • started to Recovery Mode open Disk Utility

    diskutil1

    If you had one partition spanning your whole hard drive and encrypted it with FileVault2 it's completely normal that you have only some MB available space left. That's unallocated free space on your hard drive. In the example above 12,7 MB are left.

  • highlight your FileVault2 volume and unlock it.

    diskutil2

  • enter the FileVault password

    diskutil3

  • if you succeed and the encrypted volume isn't corrupted your FileVault2 volume will be mounted. Check the available free space. In the example below the availbale free space on the volume is 52,8 GB

    diskutil4

    If the unlocking fails - using the correct password - the FileVault2 volume probably is corrupted. The only possible solution then is completely erase/repartition the hard drive and restore a backup.

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    I would delete something in /Applications unless you have some large files you can download again (torrents?) or media you can rip from CD again. Also, if the OP has a backup, then anything can be removed safely... – bmike Feb 21 '15 at 1:20
  • Thanks, that's greatly appreciated (and nice touch incorporating my username!). Though I am a Mac novice (as is probably obvious), I'm actually very comfortable with the command line. But I'm still having problems. I used Internet Recovery, and when I open the terminal as you instruct, the only folder in /Volumes is 'Mac OS X Base System', which includes 'Install OS X Mountain Lion.app' and 'usr' but not 'Users' (and the find command shows no 'Users' directory exists), so it seems like my actual hard drive volume isn't accessible from here. – ausername Feb 21 '15 at 1:29
  • The output of diskutil list shows /dev/disk0s2 is the Apple_HFS Mac OS X Base System (1.2GB), and includes the output 0: FDisk_partition_scheme *120.0 GB disk12 1: 0xEE 120.0 GB disk12s1 But the mount command seems to fail: running diskutil mount -mountPoint /Volumes/myhd /dev/disk12s1 gives the error: Volume on disk12s1 failed to mount If it's relevant, my hard drive is encrypted. Am I doing something obviously wrong? – ausername Feb 21 '15 at 7:45
  • @ausername But now i really doubt that low disk space causes the question mark: Enabling FileVault on your main volume always leaves some unallocated space in the MByte range on your main drive. Maybe your FileVault got corrupted. I think we have to start from scratch. – klanomath Feb 21 '15 at 8:39

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