How to Update iPhone When You Don't Have Enough Room

Low storage space? Here's what to do

The release of a new version of iOS is exciting because of new features, new emoji, and bug fixes. However, that excitement can be spoiled if you don't have enough room on your iPhone to upgrade. If you install the update on your iPhone wirelessly and have used up most of your phone's storage with movies and apps, for example, you might get a warning that the update can't proceed because of low free space.

You're not without options. To upgrade to a new iOS version, follow a few tips on clearing storage from an iPhone to make room for an update.

These methods work for all devices with any version of iOS and are also relevant no matter which version of iTunes you use.

What Happens During an iOS Update Installation

When you update your iPhone to the latest firmware version over Wi-Fi, the new software downloads from Apple to your phone. That means you need at least as much free space on the phone as the size of the update.

However, you need more space than that because the installation process needs to create temporary files and delete outdated and unused files. If you don't have adequate room, you can't upgrade.

This isn't such a big problem these days due to the large storage capacities of some iPhones, but if you have an older phone, one with 32 GB or less of storage, or too much data on it, you might run into this issue.

Install iOS Updates With iTunes 

One way to get around not having enough room is not to update wirelessly but instead to update with iTunes. It's fast and easy to install the update wirelessly, but if you use your computer to sync your iPhone, plug it in for the iOS update, too.

Check for Update button in iTunes

This works because the installation software is downloaded to your computer instead of your phone, and then only the necessary files are installed on the phone, reducing the free storage it needs for the update.

Since iTunes understands what's on your phone and how much space the phone has, it can juggle that data to make room for an update without deleting anything.

Delete Apps That Take Up the Most Space

To address the problem of not having enough available storage, Apple built some smarts into the update process. Starting in iOS 9, when faced with the storage problem during an update, the OS tries to intelligently delete some downloadable content from your apps to free up space. Once the update completes, it re-downloads that content so that you don't lose anything.

In some cases, though, that process doesn't work. If that happens to you, delete data from your iPhone. The easiest way to know what to delete is to check which apps take up the most space and then delete those apps to free up storage space.

You can also remove apps that are built-in to your iPhone, but this doesn't clear up any space. The phone hides these apps from normal view, so you don't gain more storage for the update by deleting stock apps.

In iOS 12 and later, the iPhone Storage area of the settings provides recommendations for how to free up space, including deleting text messages that are more than a year old or storing photos in iCloud instead of on the phone. It also lets you offload unused apps to hibernate them for more storage gains.

Other Ways to Clear Storage on iPhone

If none of the above methods clears up enough storage space for an update, consider the following:

  • Delete apps you no longer use: Maybe you have games or old apps you tried a few times but then forgot about. This is a great time to go through your apps and remove the ones you can do without. Some apps can take up 1 GB or more, so uninstalling these apps and their data can free up loads of room.
  • Clear old or deleted voicemails: It's easy to hear voicemail after voicemail and let them gather in your Phone app forever. Delete the ones you don't need and then remove them from the deleted box to get rid of them.
  • Remove photos you deleted: Just like with voicemails, photos and videos that you delete hang around on your phone for a month before leaving for good. This is great if you accidentally deleted a photo and want to recover it, but not if you need storage space. Either upload the files to an online file storage service like Google Photos or permanently delete the files.
  • Delete non-HDR photos: If you take HDR photos with your iPhone, you have two copies of every picture in your library: one regular and one HDR image. There's no need to keep both, so delete the non-HDR images in the Photos app (these are the lesser quality version) and then clear the deleted photos.
  • Delete podcast episodes: Downloaded, but not-yet-listened-to podcasts can take up a lot of space. Delete these episodes to free up space and then optionally re-download the episodes after the iOS update. Be sure to delete recent episodes first; older episodes might not be available for re-download.
  • Clear out old or large emails: Reducing email storage is important for gaining more space for the update. Email attachments take up space, not only on the email server but on your phone, too, if you keep them there. Go through your email app and delete the messages you're finished with. Most importantly, delete everything in the trash folder.

With these space-saving tactics, you should have cleared more than enough disk space for the iOS upgrade. Try the update again, and if it works and you want some of the data back that you deleted or backed up, go ahead and download it again.