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Your iPhone’s low storage space may be because it has been taken over by System Data, a category that can potentially consume all of its available capacity. Here’s how to reclaim space when things get too bloated to function.
Storage capacity is a major issue for mobile device users, with space available on an iPhone, iPad, and even a Mac being a sensitive issue for everyone. While users with expansive storage capacities have fewer issues with it than most, those who save money with more modest storage may have more trouble.
Control what apps are on your device by offloading or deleting them, maintaining saved videos and other files, relying on cloud storage capacity, and other techniques are commonly used to tame storage usage.
Sure, deleting files and clearing apps cache can help, but it won’t help with an occasional system data issue. Sometimes system data can grow huge and there is little you can do about it.
Here’s what you can do to get a usable amount of free storage again.
What is System Data on an iPhone?
By checking your iPhone’s storage usage, you’ll find that iOS conveniently categorizes data usage into several categories, including apps, photos, media, iOS, and system data.
These are all self-explanatory, with Photos and Media being made up of images, videos, and other typical media-like files. Apps refer to apps downloaded from the App Store and caches of data for each while iOS is the storage space consumed by the operating system itself.
Monitor Storage Usage in iOS
- Open Settings†
- Tap Generalthen iPhone storage†
- The bar at the top graphically shows which storage space is being used.
- The list of apps below shows individual app storage usage. Tap each to see the app size and consumption of related files and options to unload the app and delete the data.
- At the bottom of the list are lists for iOS and system data.
System Data, and what the Settings app calls “Other System Data,” contains many files that do not fall under other categories.
The definition within iOS is that system data “contains caches, logs, and other resources currently being used by the system.” This does not specify what the data is, but it could consist of various logs, temporary data storage, and other elements that are not strictly considered part of any of the listed apps.
Then some elements are used by iOS but are not owned by a particular app. For example, downloading several Siri voices or installing fonts can expand this section, but they are not defined as being used by just one app or the OS itself.
Why does system data use all my iPhone storage?
This data will also “fluctuate according to system needs”. This means that temporary data can be written to storage as system data and deleted when iOS no longer needs it.
The problem, however, is that you can’t see the types of data used in this category, nor can you delete it.
In general, other system data can be several gigabytes in size at first, and depending on how you use the iPhone, it can grow and shrink by several gigabytes over time.
The problem of bloating comes into play when that change in the size of other system data continues in an upward direction. Over time, some users may see their iPhone’s system data taking up a lot of space, possibly tens of gigabytes.
In the case of a AppleInsider writer, Other System Data grew to nearly 85 gigabytes, consuming virtually all of the available remaining storage space and causing device problems.
It’s not known exactly why this happens, but it’s probably due to one or more caches or logs that are constantly added over time, but crucially not removed at a rate to keep up with writing. If you leave it on too long, it can devour everything.
Since there is no way to directly see what caused it or to selectively remove problematic system data elements, users may be left with very few options available.
How to Reduce System Data Usage?
There are a few things you can do to reduce the amount of system data being used, and they vary in severity from what you need to do with your iPhone and its data. This guide starts with the least intensive option.
Keep in mind that these are meant to be taken after other reasonable measures such as deleting unwanted videos or other files to free up space.
Also, don’t forget to backup your iPhone before proceeding. The last thing you want to do is delete precious data when trying to recover space.
Safari and Messages
The first way is to try and reduce cache usage by a select few Apple-produced apps. These can be Safari and Messages caches, which can sometimes contain the System Data category.
For Messages, this could be as simple as opening Settings, then tapping Messages, scrolling down to Message History, and changing how long you “Keep Messages” from “Forever” to a lower number, such as a year or 30 days.
Clearing the Safari cache is a little more complicated, but still useful.
How to clear Safari cache in iOS
- Open Settings†
- Tap Safari†
- Scroll down and tap Clear history and website data†
- In the warning popup, tap Clear history and data to confirm.
Caches per app
If it is a particular app that is causing the problem, you can try uninstalling the app if you have an idea which app is wasting space. For example, apps that use a lot of videos can use such caching, but without necessarily deleting the caches afterward.
There’s no guarantee this will remove the problematic cache capacity you want to delete, but it should still reduce how much of it is in active use. It is recommended that you try to offload the app before completely uninstalling it, i.e. uninstalling the app but keeping your related documents and data.
Remove or delete apps in iOS
- Open Settings†
- Tap General†
- Tap iPhone storage†
- Scroll and tap the relevant app†
- Tap Offload Appthen Offload App to confirm.
- You can also click . to tap Delete Appthen Delete App to confirm.
The nuclear option is to restore your iPhone from a backup. This involves backing up all data on iPhone, factory resetting iPhone, and then restoring from backup.
While you will get all your user data back and continue to use apps, after setting up a device you may experience issues with two-factor authentication apps and other related issues.
In the AppleInsider In the case of one editor, restoring from a backup solved the problem, so it’s worth taking the time to do this if you can.
How to backup and restore an iPhone from a backup.
- To backup the data, connect the iPhone to your Mac or PC and open either Finder or iTunes†
- Select the iPhoneand then select the General tab.
- Select “Back up all data on your iPhone to this Mac.”
- Check “Encrypt local backup” to save account passwords and any health data.
- Select Backup now and wait for it to finish.
- Disconnect the iphone.
- Open Settings and select General then Transfer or reset iPhone†
- Tap Clear all content and settings† Tap Get on and follow the prompts to complete.
- After it’s cleared, connect the iPhone back to the Mac or PC, open Finder or iTunesand select the iPhone†
- below GeneralClick Restore backup†
- Select the most recent backup you just created and then click To recover† Follow the instructions on the screen.