Inodes in Web Hosting and Why They Matter

Most web hosts that you’ll use have a structure called, “inodes.” Even if the host says “unlimited space” for storing files, many will still throttle the number of inodes you can have. But what are they and is it important?

Actually, they’re a lot more important than you might realize. And if you don’t keep your site clean, they can add up very quickly.

What Are Inodes in Web Hosting?

Inode stands for, “index nodes” and is based on the Linux/Unix structure. Each of these inodes holds information about every file and folder you have on your website. 

This includes every image, file, folder, cache, and even email message you have saved. And as you can imagine, this number can increase rather quickly depending on how active your site is.

Many web hosts will have a cap on the number of inodes you can have on your account. If you go beyond your threshold, it may cost you a bit extra every month.

But, I would like to make it clear…not all websites will accumulate inodes at the same rate. Basic blogs and minimalist websites probably won’t hit 50% capacity in the first five years.

However, it’s still something that you will need to address at some point.

In short, inodes are a method of tracking File Usage from cPanel.

GreenGeeks Shared Hosting

Where Can You Find Your Inode Usage?

For most web hosts, the inodes are displayed on the right-hand side within cPanel. Some will say, “Inodes” while others may say, “File Usage.”

File Usage

In either case, it usually means the same thing.

It’s this number that you need to concern yourself with, as it could lead to problems later on if you surpass that number.

Storage Space is Not “Unlimited”

In some situations, web hosts will tout an “unlimited” amount of space for your website. This isn’t entirely accurate.

Sure, the size of the file can be almost anything you can upload. But, a lot of hosts will still restrict the number of files and folders.

Let’s say you have a video you want to upload into its own folder on your website. You also want to create a thumbnail image for your blog to show it to visitors.

Let’s also say that this video is 10GB. 

Even though the folder, video, and thumbnail all take up just over 10GB of drive space, it will cost you three inodes…one for each file and folder.

So, the size of the file isn’t really the concern in this regard. It’s more about how many files, folders, email messages, and other elements on your account.

The term “unlimited storage” is a bit misleading. It’s true that you can store any size of file on your account. However, you won’t be able to store millions of them.

What Happens When You Go Over Allotted Inodes?

Each web host is different. What happens when you hit your inodes cap really depends on how they have the account set up.

Some web hosts, such as GreenGeeks, have what’s known as a “soft cap.” When you hit this number, you’ll receive a warning email that you’re surpassing your limit in inodes.

This gives you enough time to clean up some files or otherwise free up some space on your account.

But once a hard cap is hit, the website will no longer function properly. This is because it won’t be able to write to cache and other temporary files a website needs to create with each visit.

Technically, the site is still there and the files intact. But, it won’t behave correctly, if at all. This means you’re still able to backup or retrieve your files using an FTP program like FileZilla.

Otherwise, you’ll have to upgrade your account to get the site working properly again.

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that many of these caps are very high. In most situations, you should have enough inodes available for creating just about anything you want.

Well, unless you’re creating a large online store, image portfolio, or another type of site that requires an incredible number of uploads.

How to Clear Inodes from cPanel

Clearing inodes from cPanel is actually fairly easy. Just make sure you’re deleting the right things. It’s very easy to destroy your site should you remove something vital.

1. Delete Unused or Obsolete Files and Folders

File Manager

Using the File Manager, you can go in and remove files and folders that are no longer needed. And you might be amazed by how much junk your site can accumulate over time.

If you’re not absolutely sure what files to delete, get some help. Most web hosts with quality tech support can help you clean up your files without risking damage to your site.

However, make sure you run a backup just in case.

Also keep in mind that even if you remove a subdomain from cPanel, the folders and files will remain. You’ll need to go into File Manager and delete these after removing the subdomain.

For instance, I removed a subdomain that had WordPress installed. I had to manually go in and delete the subfolder in File Manager, which freed up more than 6,000 inodes!

And that was from a WordPress subdomain with no published posts or pages. I was using it as a temp testing site.

Speaking of which, if you use WordPress or any other CMS, make sure you completely delete unused theme and plugin folders. Some will leave behind data even if they’re disabled or removed from platforms like WordPress.

This isn’t difficult to do from cPanel. Simply log into the root directory of your site, find the folders of the unused installed themes and plugins, and delete them.

Just make sure you’re deleting the right folders and files. Removing something by accident can break your site.

2. Keep Your Cache Clean

Most of us run caching plugins to help with website performance. These are temporary files that are stored that visitors access at a much faster rate than to directly load them from the site.

These caches can fill up very quickly.

Today, a lot of content management systems like WordPress have plugins that let you do this directly from your website. It’s important to purge those caches on a routine basis.

Besides, it gives the cache a chance to build from updated information. This delivers the best version of your site to visitors.

3. Delete Old and Spam Email

Email is probably one of the biggest killers when it comes to the number of inodes your site is using. Remember, each folder and file is taking up one inode.

So, if you get thousands of emails per day…you get the picture.

Make sure you get rid of old email that is no longer nessary and empty the spam folder as often as you can.

Pay special attention to the spam folder, actually. A lot of people often forget the folder is there serving a purpose. Unfortunately, it can fill up rather quickly, depending on your spam filter.

Personally, I use Thunderbird to pull email off of my GreenGeeks website server. This way, I know for absolute that email is not causing problems for the number of inodes I’m using.

The trade off is that I cannot use IMAP with my smartphone. That’s because the email is sent directly to my computer, which my phone cannot access directly.

But that’s OK. If I’m not at my computer, I’m too busy to read email.

How to Clear Inodes in WordPress

Although you won’t have access to the email aspect of your website, it is possible to clear off some inodes within WordPress itself.

And, I’m not just talking about using a caching plugin, although you should be doing that anyway.

The File Manager Plugin

You can install a plugin like File Manager that gives you access to your site’s root directory. From here, you can delete old and obsolete files and remove unused themes and plugins.

Essentially, it works similar to cPanel’s File Manager, only that you can work within the WordPress admin dashboard.

Clean the Media Library

Another thing you could do is clean the media library. If you delete a post or page, any images you used on it will still be taking up inodes within WordPress.

Using a plugin like Media Cleaner helps eliminate anything your library has that is not being accessed.

Won’t These Plugins Just Add More Inodes?

It’s true, installing more plugins will only create more inodes as each could come with quite a few files and folders depending on the plugin. However, the trade off might be worth it if you delete more than what the plugin adds.

This is especially true for websites that have been around a long time. It’s easy to accumulate a large amount of junk files over the years.

But if you’re worried, you can always remove the plugins once you’re done by going into cPanel.

Personally, I keep File Manager around as it is far more useful than just a way to help me clean obsolete files. It’s more of an advanced feature, but it can help save a lot of time in troubleshooting and general website maintenance.

Keep an Eye On Your Inodes

The main takeaway from all this is that you need to make sure you keep the number of inodes on your site in check.

In the beginning, you probably won’t see a lot of movement. But as time marches on, the number of files and folders you accumulate will grow. And if it grows too much, it can prevent your site from working altogether.

It’s just one of those things self-hosted website owners need to address.

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Michael Brockbank

Michael has been a freelance writer since January of 2012. He has completed more than 8,000 jobs for a variety of clients ranging from animals to travel. Currently, he is the Content Marketing Team Lead of GreenGeeks Web Hosting.

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