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I was unable to update/install any apps earlier today, using either Play Store, F-Droid, or Play Store in my work partition, even though I had over 500MB free on my phone (Pixel XL running Android 9.0).

I have 2 theories about why this happened, and I would like to find out more low-level information to try to figure out definitively why it happened. I think it's happened before, as well.

Theory 1 is that the flash memory on the device is being wear-leveled, and some of it has become unusable because it has been written to too many times and is "dead", but for some reason Android, or maybe the underlying Linux kernel, is still reporting the unusable blocks as "free space". So while it looked like I had 500MB free, I really had less.

Theory 2 is that Play Store in my work partition is somehow silently causing installs on my personal partition to fail until it "gets its way" and manages to install the updates it wants to install. (This seems very unlikely to be intentional, if so - there was no warning about this in any of the terms and conditions I signed up to when I created a work partition, to my recollection. Also, it doesn't explain why even 500MB free is not sufficient to install a relatively small update.)

When I freed up even more space (by uninstalling 2 apps in my work partition) Play Store in my work partition was able to update all 5 apps that were due to be updated, when I manually hit update on them. Then F-Droid was able to update apps again. So it looks like I'm good, for the time being... oh wait, I spoke too soon, it's happening again.

The two work apps that were uninstalled then automatically got pushed to my device and reinstalled, which to me casts doubt on the theory that it was about lack of space / unusable space (theory 1).

I uninstalled them again, and now I'm able to install apps again... for now.

Can I get some additional information on what was going on using adb or something like that?

I've already tried df in termux and it's not showing me anything useful - only one partition's free space is changing. I've read through the wall of text of previous solutions but they either don't seem to be relevant or are not making a lot of sense to me.

  • Did you try running 'adb logcat' and looks for info/warnings/errors? It is the first point of contact for troubleshooting. – Firelord Aug 21 at 14:54
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There is a low space threshold of about 500MB (depends on the device), and any app install or update that would take you over this limit always fails. No-one really explains this, least of all Android itself.

This is actually a badly-implemented "feature" - it is supposed to prevent you hitting 0% free so that system apps don't start failing, but it doesn't fully prevent that. You can still hit 0% free - and get into a terrible situation where system apps pop up error notifications every fraction of a second - by uploading/downloading files to the phone.

(The reason the 2 apps were able to reinstall themselves, is probably because I cleared some caches for some of the apps in settings as well as uninstalling those apps.)

The only way around this problem involves root access - which I am not allowed to do because it violates the terms and conditions of my work partition on my phone.

So the only thing to do is free up enough space...

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