Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why does my program report “Disk Full” when saving a file to a disk with lots of room?


While trying to save a small file to my hard drive, I sometimes get a disk
full message. My operating system is Windows Vista; my hard drive holds 455 GB
and 351 GB are shown as free. The software I’m using when I get the disk full
messages are Word Perfect and Microsoft Works, i.e. small word processing files
and small spreadsheet files. Do you know why I’m getting the disk full messages
or what I could do about it?

In this excerpt from
Answercast #48
, I look at a computer that is showing “disk full” when the
disk has lots of space.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

False disk full error

Unfortunately, I don’t. I have a theory.

It really depends on the programs you’re using
specifically. By that I mean, the versions of both Word Perfect and
Microsoft Works.

Incorrect error report

The issue is that I have seen programs that incorrectly report disk errors
of various sorts as “disk full.”

In other words:

  • The program tries to write a file to the disk;

  • Something goes wrong;

  • It’s unclear exactly what goes wrong, but something about writing to the disk

  • And the program reports essentially “disk full” for everything;

  • No matter what the real underlying problem is.


So I don’t really have a good way to diagnose this or say anything about it
other than to see if you can identify any patterns in:

  • What it is you’re saving;

  • Or how you’re saving it;

  • Or for that matter, where you’re saving it;

That might help add a clue as to exactly why these programs are having
difficulty saving files to an otherwise empty disk or a disk with a lot of

Temporary folder

The other thing that just came to mind that is certainly a possibility,
it’s an obscure one…

  • If your temporary folder is on a different drive;

  • And that different drive is running out of space;

  • It’s possible that the error message actually refers to the program’s
    inability to write out a temporary copy of the file to that other drive that
    doesn’t have enough room.

That’s something else to look at.

Inability to write the file

And finally, like I said, this error can be caused by just about anything
that could cause an inability to write the file.

  • It’s possible (maybe) that some other program has the file open;
  • Or that some other program is somehow interfering with your program’s
    ability to write the file.

So, I realize that it’s a lot of vague “maybes” that I’m throwing out here,
but unfortunately that’s the kind of scenario that we often face.

Sometimes when it’s clear that there’s plenty of room and the program is
reporting “disk full,” in reality all it’s really saying is, “Something didn’t
work.” There’s no real good additional information to understand what that
“something” is other than paying attention to the patterns that might emerge

  • The different types of files;

  • The different types of programs that are running at the same time;

  • The different places you’re actually saving the file.

Sorry, I don’t have better for you, but that’s about the best I can come up

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

7 comments on “Why does my program report “Disk Full” when saving a file to a disk with lots of room?”

  1. Or… if you had a full CD, DVD, Floppy, or USB Thumb drive that has not got enough space on it to “do the job”… and the System or Program, for some reason, thinks it has to write to that other storage medium….

  2. Another possibility is a program which asks the O/S how much free space is available even before writing the file. Older programs might fail to work if there is more than 2GB free on the drive. (2GB is the largest number a signed 32-bit number can hold.)

  3. It’s been a long while sinse i’ve experienced this, but I used to have difficulties with saving lots of small files in the same folder – as if the file ‘table’ ran out of room before the drive ran out of space.
    Making a new folder and moving some of the files cured the problem.

    That can happen at the root of FAT formatted drives – I believe the limit there is 128 files.

  4. Leo, I have come up against this sort of error saving across a network when a server has had an issue and needed to be rebooted. Now, I’m not syaing this is a server issue but it could actually be a disk issue. The server drive not being available is due to the computer not being able to communicate with the disk, the same could be happening in these circumstances too. Check the drive.

  5. Could it be that it is trying to write to a (small/er) Partition, rather than the main part of the HDD?

    Back in the 1970s & 1980s, something like that happened on IBM Mainframes, with their type of partitioning.

    We had to run a Compression program, to re-open space for further Saves.

    Also have experienced the lack of space for File Names etc, because of many small files.

  6. Way back in the Win ME era, I use to get disk write errors after numerous scans and troubleshooting I was able to determine that the swap file was corrupt, deleted it and everything was OK once again. A bit far fetched but…maybe.

  7. Leo,

    I recently had this problem and have one suggestion to try, but don’t know exactly why it works. I recently replaced my old 32-bit Vista computer with a new 64-bit Windows 7 computer. I can’t remember the details, but after I installed my old Photoshop Elements 2.0 program from the CD, when I tried to run it on the new computer, it wouldn’t run. I can’t remember the error message it gave me. I tried trouble-shooting it on the Internet and found one thing to try. It suggested that immediately after clicking the program’s icon to start it, that I hold down Control+Alt until a menu opened on the screen giving me the opportunity to choose some other drive for it to work on. I did this and chose an old external hard drive. After that it would start up and work fine, even though it is installed on my new computer’s hard drive.

    However, subsequently, after using the program, when I tried to save a photo file I had modified using the program onto my hard drive, I got the “Disk Full” error message as described in your discussion topic. Of course this was nonsense since my new computer’s hard drive had heaps of room. But then a little light bulb lit up dimly (in my mind). I got to thinking that perhaps there is some kind of incompatibility where that aged program could only save to a drive that was set up for FAT 32 files rather than NTFS files. So I tried saving it to an old external hard drive that I knew predated the NTFS file system. And sure enough, to my delight, it saved there just fine. It required an extra step to then drag the saved file from the external hard drive to my computer’s hard drive, but at least I had solved the mystery (sort of), and could now use the program (old, but does what I use it for).

    Anyway, this is something that others who get this error message might try.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.