Linux Disk Space: How to Visualize Your Usage

Joel Lee 06-03-2015

Disk space is cheap Hit The Road: The 5 Best Budget Portable Hard Drives Portable hard drives are as inexpensive as they've ever been, and can now pack a terabyte of data into a box as thin as a smartphone and barely larger than a credit card. Read More these days, but not so cheap that you can be reckless with storage. Even with terabyte drives becoming the norm, it’s amazing just how fast all of that space can fill up — and when they do fill up, reclaiming that space can be a pain in the neck.


What if you could see your entire disk space usage at a glance?

We’ve covered disk space visualizers Need A Disk Cleanup? Visualize What Takes Up Space On Your Windows PC Oh the pressure when you run out of disk space. What to delete? The fastest way to locate junk files is to use a tool that helps you visualize your system's file structure. Read More on Windows before but many of them are unavailable on Linux. And while most Linux distros come with built-in commands for exploring disk usage, they tend to be overcomplicated for non-veteran Linux users like me.

I prefer something straightforward and intuitive. Here are some of the best I’ve found.


Don’t let the command line nature of this program scare you away. I promise it’s much easier than it might first appear. The ncdu tool, which stands for NCurses Disk Usage, is built on the ncurses library which allows for graphical interfaces within the terminal.



In fact, I find ncdu the simplest tool out of all the ones on this list. When you run it, it immediately scans your system and starts you off in the directory specified as a parameter (default is the home directory). From there, you just navigate with the cursor keys.

Several actions can be executed with single keystrokes, such as sorting by name or by size, deleting a given file or directory, toggling hidden files, showing more information on an item, etc.

Overall, this is a wonderful tool that accomplishes a lot while staying clean and minimal.

Disk Usage Analyzer

You may recognize this program by its former name, Baobab. Some time ago GNOME began to rename their default software offerings (such as when Totem was renamed to GNOME Videos), resulting in the new name Disk Usage Analyzer.


Either way, the same features that made Baobab so useful are still here, making Disk Usage Analyzer one of the better graphical tools for GNOME users.


What I like about this one is its functional simplicity. The window is split into two panels: the left side shows a tree structure that starts at the root while the right side shows a circular-but-not-quite-pie chart that color codes each element for easy discernment.

As the name states, it’s just an analyzer so there isn’t much to do in terms of interacting with files and directories as you look through your hard drives. However, if all you need is a quick way to pinpoint data usage, it’s very good.



If you’re a Windows user, you might be familiar with WinDirStat. Did you know that WinDirStat is actually a clone of a KDE tool called KDirStat? Most people think that Linux copied Windows here, but the opposite is true. Not that it really matters, though.

K4DirStat is the latest version built on top of the KDE4 desktop environment Guide to KDE: The Other Linux Desktop This guide is meant to introduce the so-called "power users" of computers with an introduction to KDE, including the option (and freedom) that it provides. Read More .


As one would expect from a clone situation, K4DirStat looks nearly identical to WinDirStat: a tree-based hierarchy that provides a lot of upfront information and a graphical map along the bottom that separates and clusters all files according to directory.


There isn’t much else to say. There’s a reason why K4DirStat and WinDirStat are both so popular: quick to learn, easy to use, and extremely helpful for managing disk space. If I weren’t a GNOME user, I’d be using this one as my main analysis tool for sure.


Graphical Disk Map, more commonly known as GDMap, is like K4DirStat without the tree hierarchy aspect. Most people find the lack of a tree to be unusual and uncomfortable, but if you’re in the minority and prefer a map instead, this one’s for you.


The display of proportionally-sized rectangles to represent various files and directories can be navigated extremely quickly once you get the hang of it. It makes it so you don’t even have to worry about file or directory names — the biggest shapes are using the most space.

That’s about it in terms of features. GDMap is lightweight and simple — maybe even too simple — and is the kind of application that only does one thing but does it very well.


The final consideration on this list is a cross-platform Java-based tool that was recommended by a few of our readers the last time we looked at disk space visualization. If you don’t like Java The Top 6 Things To Consider When You Install Java Software Oracle’s Java runtime software is required to run Java applets on websites and desktop software written in the Java programming language. When installing Java, there are a few things you should consider, especially regarding security.... Read More , be kind to yourself and just skip over this section.


JDiskReport is a run-of-the-mill analyzer that makes it easy to see which files and directories are the biggest culprits of disk space hoggery. In that sense, it doesn’t really accomplish all that much more than the previous tools that were already mentioned.

However, what is nifty about JDiskReport is that it offers a few different ways to view the same information. By default it displays disk space usage as a pie chart, but you can also view a Top 50 list of largest files as well as distributions according to file size and file type.

The one thing that keeps me from really loving JDiskReport is its interface. Having been written using what I assume is Java’s Swing UI, it feels unnecessarily dated. Does it impact functionality? No. Does it make me grimace? A little bit.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, whatever works, works. I’m hesitant to declare one of these as better than the others because they all appeal to different preferences. Use the one that meshes best with your tastes; they’ll all get the job done, anyway.

Looking to improve your experience further? Check out our list of best Linux software The Best Linux Software and Apps Whether you're new to Linux or you're a seasoned user, here are the best Linux software and apps you should be using today. Read More to see what else might help you out.

Which disk space analyzer is your favorite? Are there any that I missed? Do you think they’re unnecessary? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!

Image Credits: 3D Infographic design Via Shutterstock

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  1. Paul O'Rorke
    November 27, 2015 at 1:53 am

    I like Disk Usage Analyser but for the one missing piece - I want to see the unused space in the chard graphically so I can see quickly what space is available on a given drive. It shows in the Devices and Locations screen but not in the pie chart. Does anyone know of a way to enable that?

    For windows I still keep a copy of "SpaceMonger.exe" around. It's a simple executable that doesn't need to be installed and does show me unused space. I'd like the same in Linux however.

    Any thoughts?

  2. Ivan
    March 7, 2015 at 9:27 pm

    You might want to add the FileLight to the mix.

    • Joel
      March 12, 2015 at 4:02 am

      Simple but effective. Thanks for the suggestion! I don't use KDE so I probably won't be using it much but I'm sure it's a great fit for some of our readers.

    • roel
      March 10, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Thanks for this tip, I love FileLight from the first time I used it!

  3. m-p{3}
    March 6, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    It seems odd the standard Ubuntu setup doesn't let you glance at your available disk storage from the file manager like in My Computer in Windows.

    • Kenneth DeVries
      March 7, 2015 at 5:22 pm

      Thunar File Manager in Xubuntu has a popup showing percentage of disk space used when you mouseover the disk name. Right-clicking on a directory to open the properties window will show number of files and total size, along with amount of free space on the device.

    • dragonmouth
      March 7, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      Dolphin File Manager has a Status Bar that displays the number of folders and files at the level you are at, the space taken by those files and the amount of free space in the partition. The Status Bar can be toggled in Dolphin Setup.

  4. Michael
    March 6, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Very informative!

    Follow up piece could be programs for cleaning out old files to gain space, after the analysis.