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Essential Utilities: Reclaiming Disk Space

Linux offers an unsurpassed breadth of open source small utilities that perform functions ranging from the mundane to the wonderful. These tools help make Linux a compelling operating system. This series of articles identifies indispensable open source utilities which make using Linux that bit more special.

LightbulbYou often hear that disk space is cheap and plentiful. And it’s true that a 4TB mechanical hard disk drive currently retails for around 100 dollars. But like many users I have moved over to solid-state drives (SSD) as my primary storage. SSD does functionally everything a hard drive does, but helps to make a computer feel more responsive. With a SSD, data is stored on interconnected flash memory chips that retain the data even when there’s no power present. SSDs are more expensive than mechanical hard drives in terms of dollar per gigabyte. And SSDs with high capacities are thin on the ground and expensive, so most users settle for lower capacity SSDs.

Whatever the size of the hard disk, our disks always fill up over time; it seems data expands to fill any void. This is partly because we experiment with lots of distributions and software. But hard disks do seem to fill up by themselves. Whether you use SSDs or mechanical hard disk drives, you cannot afford to be rash with storage. When a hard disk is full, it can be very time consuming to sort out and remove offending files and directories.

Linux distributions come supplied with utilities to explore disk usage. For example, du is a popular tool used to estimate file space usage; space being used under a particular directory or files on a file system.

du shows directories which are taking up space. And you can combine du with other command-line utilities such as grep and sort to make the output more meaningful. But if you want a more visual experience, step forward the graphical utilities designed to make tracking down wasted disk space effortless. We also include our favorite command-line tools.

The utilities featured in this article help to simplify the process by scanning your drive and producing interactive maps that shows each file as a colored rectangle that’s proportional to the size of the file. And this software can distinguish between large collections of data which are still in use and ones which have not been accessed for a long time. The latter may be image files or large archives downloaded, unpacked, used once, and never cleaned up.

If you find yourself running low on space, these effective command-line and graphical tools will save both time and effort in reclaiming disk space.

Here’s our verdict on the software. Please note that the rating reflects the software’s capabilities regarding disk usage only. Krusader doesn’t score that highly, but it’s an excellent file manager.


Now, let’s explore the 8 tools at hand. For each title we have compiled its own portal page, a full description with an in-depth analysis of its features, a screenshot of the software in action, together with links to relevant resources.

Disk Usage Utilities
QDirStatExcellent Qt-based directory statistics
DucCollection of tools for indexing, inspecting and visualizing disk usage
ncduDisk usage analyzer with an ncurses interface
FilelightCreates an interactive map to visualise disk usage
BaobabAlso known as Disk Usage Analyse
ageduUtility for tracking down wasted disk space
KrusaderFile manager with built-in disk usage functionality
xdiskusageLight and frugal utility

Read our complete collection of recommended free and open source software. The collection covers all categories of software.

The software collection forms part of our series of informative articles for Linux enthusiasts. There's tons of in-depth reviews, alternatives to Google, fun things to try, hardware, free programming books and tutorials, and much more.
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