If you have ever visited the iOS Storage section of Settings app on an iPhone or iPad, you may have noticed that the “System” storage section is occasionally quite large and can take up a significant amount of storage capacity. For extra large storage capacity devices this may not be a big deal, but if you have “System” taking up 16GB of storage on a 32GB device then that is obviously a storage burden that is impinging on total device capacity, potentially preventing other uses of the device due to being unable to download apps, games, media, or other stuff to the device. Therefore, reducing a large “System” storage section of iOS devices could be desirable.
Checking Current “System” Storage Size in iOS
Before going further, you might want to get an idea of how large your current “System” storage is before trying to reduce the capacity, this will give you a reference point to work with. You can check System storage size by doing the following:
- Open the “Settings” app on the iPhone or iPad then go to “General”
- Choose ‘iPhone Storage’ or ‘iPad Storage’
- Wait for the storage usage to calculate, then scroll all the way to the bottom of the Storage screen to find “System” and its total storage capacity consumption
“System” can be wildly different sizes, sometimes it’s 7 GB or so, but it can also easily be 10GB, 15GB, or even a whopping 25 GB or larger too, often even on the same device type. That seemingly random but significant storage usage makes “System” a bit like the “Other” storage which has long frustrated some users by consuming device storage in iOS.
Now that you know how large your “System” storage is from the start, let’s review the process that may help to reduce that storage size.
How to Shrink the “System” Storage on iPhone or iPad
To use this trick to shrink the “System” capacity size of your iPhone Storage or iPad Storage, you will need the iOS device, a computer with iTunes, and a USB cable to connect the device to the computer. If you have all of that, the rest is remarkably simple.
- Open iTunes on the computer, it can be a Mac or Windows PC
- Connect the USB cable to the computer, and then connect the iPhone or iPad to that USB cable
- Unlock the iPhone or iPad by entering the devices passcode – if you have never connected it to the computer before you will need to “Trust” the computer when that pop-up shows up
- Leave the iPhone or iPad connected to the computer with iTunes open for a few minutes, you do not need to sync or anything just let it sit
- Launch the “Settings” app then go to “General” and to the “Storage” section of the device, scrolling all the way down to see “System”, it should have recalculated and often (but not always) reduced in size considerably
- Disconnect the iPhone or iPad from the computer and USB cable and enjoy your new free storage space
Why this works isn’t entirely clear, but presumably when you connect an iPhone or iPad to a computer and open iTunes, it performs some sort of maintenance or cleanup behavior that dumps caches and temp files from the iOS System section, perhaps in preparation for a backup to iTunes, and when finished it can free up a notable amount of storage capacity on the device.
In the screenshots shown here, I was able to free up over 5 GB of storage on an iPhone simply by plugging it into a computer with iTunes, and letting it sit for two minutes while unlocked. On an iPad, I was able to free up 2 GB doing the same action.
This method is not guaranteed to work however, and on an iPhone X with a whopping 25.6 GB system size, it only freed up less than 1 GB. Some users may report more dramatic changes in the size of “System” but there does not seem to be much rhyme or reason involved, if you have any hunches share them in the comments further below.
What is “System” storage anyway?
The “System” section of the iPhone or iPad Storage is likely quite literal, it’s the system software. That includes iOS itself, which is the core operating system running on the iPhone or iPad, including all system functions, system apps, and presumably other system components like caches, temp files, and other underpinnings of the iOS operating system.
The often randomly and widely varying storage consumption size of the “System” section of iOS Storage is sort of like the nebulous “Other” storage section of iOS devices, which is still listed in the Storage section of the Settings app, but it appears that “System” is now contained within the “Other” section.
Another option which consistently shrinks down iOS “System” storage is much more dramatic; erase the device, then reinstall iOS and restore from your backup. Obviously that’s a significant undertaking however, so that shouldn’t be a first resort for anyone. Similarly, restoring iOS will typically reduce the “Other” capacity as well on an iPhone or iPad.
General iOS Storage Tips
One of the biggest complaints iPhone and iPad users often have relates to inadequate storage space on their devices (along with iCloud, but that’s another topic) particularly on smaller storage size models with 16GB and 32GB capacities, but even with 64 GB, 128GB and 256 GB devices too, depending on how much stuff is on there.
If you’re trying to free up “System” storage space to reduce general storage usage on the iPhone or iPad, you may also be interested in learning how to remove and delete “Other” Storage on an iPhone or iPad, along with deleting “Documents & Data” from iOS apps. Other helpful tips for freeing up storage capacity on iOS devices include offloading apps from iOS that are unused, deleting apps that are unused, enabling automatic offloading of unused apps, and focusing on clearing “Documents & Data” from apps on the iPhone or iPad particularly with apps like Instagram which have large caches taking up storage on the iPhone.