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I wanted to upgrade my Macbook 2008 from Yosemite to El Capitan. Unfortunately, when I downloaded it and restarted my computer, on the "select the disk on which to install" page the only location, Macintosh HD, didn't have enough space (by about 2 GB). It doesn't seem like there's a way to free up space from this startup menu, though. I can open Disk Utility from this menu, and it seems logical to put some method of freeing up disk space from there, but if there is, I can't find it.

Is there a way to get out of this startup menu so I can free up space, or a way to free up space directly from the menu? This is pretty frustrating because it seems like a major design flaw if it tells you you don't have enough storage for a certain thing, but it doesn't let you free up the storage to download the thing.

There's already a question exactly like mine: Stuck in update boot (not enough disk space) But no one has answered it, so I think it's okay to ask it again.

EDIT: I can also access Terminal which I could potentially also use

EDIT AGAIN: Nevermind, it looks like Macintosh HD is read-only while I'm in this boot menu. At least terminal says "read-only file system" when I try to use rmdir on something.

  • First is to find out what is using your disk and then delete it - you could start by Emptying Trash - see questions e.g. apple.stackexchange.com/questions/63170/… – Mark Apr 10 '16 at 1:47
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    Except that I'm stuck in a boot menu, so there's no way to "empty trash" or anything like that. – user2252374 Apr 10 '16 at 1:49
  • OK going Terminal and use du to find which directories use space or reboot again into your old OS and then do the check for space – Mark Apr 10 '16 at 1:51
  • How would I reboot into my old OS? – user2252374 Apr 10 '16 at 1:59
  • Doesn't just rebooting take you back? – Mark Apr 10 '16 at 1:59
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Boot to Recovery Mode (hold cmdR while booting). In the menubar open Utilities -> Terminal.

Now change your working directory and go to /Volumes:

cd /Volumes

List all volumes:

ls -l

Move to your main volume

cd name_of_main_volume

Now you can move forward to a directory to remove files and folders with cd folder_name.

Appropriate paths to remove files or folders without touching your own data are:

/Volumes/name_of_main_volume/cores
/Volumes/name_of_main_volume/var/vm

Then remove files with rm file_name or rm *.* after making sure you are in the proper directory with pwd and checking all files with ls -l.

The folder cores may be empty, vm usually contains a sleep image and/or swap files which are all disposable.

If this doesn't suffice go to your applications or your user folder and remove files/folders.

To remove a folder use rm -R folder_name. In this case application files (e.g. Maps.app) are also folders!

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So the same thing happened to me , and here is how I solved it. Go in the Recovery menu (hold cmd+r), in the top left corner, you should see the Apple logo.Click on it and select the boot disk, which should appear as your internal hard disk, you will be prompted to enter your password to decrypt it and you should be good to boot into your old system.

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I found a solution for me (El Capitan MacBook Air), as the above did not work in my situation because all that I could acces through Terminal in recovery mode (what it brings you to as described above) are the Sierra installers (could not eject them, no Macintosh HD). So there was no way I could delete files to free up more space. I spent a lot of time trying to get the Terminal solution to work.

Finally I called Apple and asked to be transferred to a higher tier supervisor. She knew exactly where I was and suggested a simple fix:

  1. Open Disk Utility from that main menu.
  2. Select your hard drive. Not the name below, but the parent "Apple SSD ****" or whatever it's real name is.
  3. Select "First Aid".
  4. Once done, reboot.

In my situation my reboot brought me right back, as if I just hit "cancel" on the update. It was a super simple fix!

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I was installing El Capitan from Snow Leopard. After taking a few hours to start installing, it popped up and said the installation failed, and to click restart to try again. I clicked restart, and it restarted, then asked me what disk I wanted to install El Capitan on, and I picked Macintosh HD and it said not enough space - which surprised me, because I had checked before downloading El Capitan and starting the install that I definitely had enough space. I think the partial install had taken up a lot of space. I couldn't get back to my normal functioning Snow Leopard, every time I turned on the computer it would take me to the El Capitan install screen.

After getting no help from Apple Support, who told me I was going to need to erase my hard drive, I started Googling and found this. Thanks to @klanomath for getting me started with a solution that worked.

  1. Turn off computer using the power button.
  2. Hold down command+R, click the power button, keep holding down command+R until the Apple logo appears, let go. This starts recovery mode.
  3. On the very top of the screen, went to Utilities>Terminal.

The goal was to find big files I could delete.

To get to your main disk, if it's called Macintosh HD. The back slash you have to put before any spaces:

cd /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/

To get list of everything in the folder you are in: ls -1
To get to my documents, use: cd /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Users/username/Documents
If you need to, you can navigate around by doing: cd /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/ ls -1
it shows you a list of folders, then get to the subfolder by either cd /Volumes/Macintosh\ HD/Subfolder/ (typing full path)
or cd ./Subfolder/ (shortcut where the . is wherever you are now).
To go up a folder use cd ...

Then once you're in a subfolder with some files you're considering deleting, you can use the following to get a list with file sizes, so you can identify the big ones:

ls -lh

After I navigated around a while and couldn't find many big files, I googled and found I could do the following to get a list of paths of all files bigger than 500 MB:

find / -size +500000 -print`

Then I could re-navigate to them so that I could delete them. To delete a file use:

rm filetodelete.ext

(be careful you type the file name right, you don't want to accidentally delete other stuff, this can't be undone)

To check the directory you are currently in use pwd.

I deleted some big video files I had and freed up several GB of space. Check the space with

df -h

Look for Macintosh HD in the list (if that's the name of yours) and there should be some stats about % of space full, GB used vs. free, etc.

Then, in the very top left of the screen, the picture of an Apple, I clicked that and clicked "restart," my computer restarted, started the El Capitan install again, took forever, but actually finished! And now I am happily running El Capitan and did not need to erase my hard drive. I will be backing up some of my stuff now, lesson learned :)

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