I couldn't stop this Android bug from eating up all of my phone's storage

Pixel Pacman Storage Bug Hero
Pixel Pacman Storage Bug Hero (Image credit: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

When you've been using the same phone for a long time, it's just expected that you'll eventually run out of space and have to clean things up from time to time. Google has made it easy to clean your phone up for a few years now with the Files Go app, and big OS updates like Android 12 have built-in smart storage that's designed to automatically free up space when it makes sense. So imagine my surprise when I found out a hidden system app that can't be cleaned up was taking up nearly 20GB of my phone's precious storage space.

That system app in question is "Phone and Messaging Storage"; an innocuously named app that, based on my experience with trying to trim up its size, doesn't do exactly what you think it does. I've been using this Pixel 4 XL for the past year-and-a-half — a phone that does not support storage expansion with the best microSD cards, mind you — and no amount of operating system updates seem to have solved this problem for me.

I basically ignored the problem for months, as I would just continually run the clean-up utility through the Files Go app and that would free up enough space to keep it from whining at me for several days. Eventually, though, it became too much to deal with and it ended up ballooning to the point where I could no longer install new apps on the phone. This is when I started to dive a bit deeper to figure out the problem.

Ancient origins

Pixel 4 Android Storage Full

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

Up until about two weeks ago, I simply could not find where my storage had gone. It was as if roughly 20GB of storage had just up and disappeared one day until it dawned on me to check system apps. Sure enough, right at the top of the list was the Phone and Messaging Storage app; a system app I didn't realize even existed beforehand but was now the center of my attention.

Phone And Messaging Storage App Screenshot

Source: Android Central (Image credit: Source: Android Central)

Like most system apps, Phone and Messaging Storage cannot be removed or altered by a normal user. To do that, you'd need to root the phone and go through several different steps using a utility like Titanium Backup, or whatever it is the kids use these days. As it stands, I haven't rooted or ROMed a phone in probably half a decade, and I wasn't about to start doing it now.

Just as you might do yourself, I sought out help with a simple Google search. I figured I had a once-off problem on my hands that I would never be able to resolve, but the results of the search told me that this bug has been around since at least 2016, although I couldn't find any user reports of a file size quite to the level I was experiencing.

This is a problem that's been around since at least 2016 and seemingly has no fix.

The journey I embarked on included clearing out the usual temporary file storage places, emptying cache, and going through all the steps Google outlines on its Pixel Phone Help website to free up storage space — despite the fact that this problem is not only happening on Pixel phones. These steps amounted to zero, zilch, nadda. I was back to square one and feeling at least a little bit desperate by this point.

Nuke it

Pixel 4 Xl Nuclear

Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central (Image credit: Source: Nick Sutrich / Android Central)

As one gentleman and scholar Steve Jobs once put it, I then went "thermonuclear" on my Android phone. Some people suggested clearing out all of the phone apps' data and rebooting. That didn't work. Others suggested deleting every text message you had ever received; an hour-long process that took several retries, very long waits between MMS group deletions, and even kicked me out of quite a few RCS groups I hadn't intended to leave.

Despite all this, no progress was made on the elusive storage mystery. After all, if clearing out all of your call logs and messages doesn't clean up the Phone and Messaging Storage system app, what in the world would?

After all, if clearing out all of your call logs and messages doesn't clean up the Phone and Messaging Storage system app, what in the world would?

I then went app-by-app and cleared data and cache on basically everything I could, from system apps to user apps, spending much more of my day than I intended on such a stupid problem. I followed the last shreds of hope to their end as I removed all the Google accounts on my phone, rebooted, and slowly added everything back. Even then, absolutely nothing has been solved and I'm still sitting at 1GB of free space left on my phone.

At this point, the only foreseeable solution I can find is to factory reset the device.

So I contacted Google, who would most assuredly produce some magic super-secret way of resolving this bug that seemingly has no solution anywhere on the Internet. After a solid week of back-and-forth correspondence, the best solution was to refer me back to the very same help document I linked above. Thanks for the effort, at least.

At this point, the only foreseeable solution I can find is to factory reset the device. The worst part is that — if forum users are right — this likely won't solve the issue long term. I've now come across several users who have said they performed this action only to have the bug creep right back up several weeks down the road.

I'm here to end my sad tale of woe with as much a resolution as I came into it with. Really and truly, I have no idea how to move forward with fixing this problem other than carrying a second phone around with me to store all my games and offline music. The worst part is that, at least based on my correspondence with them, Google doesn't seem to know how to fix it either. If they don't, I surely don't know who else does.

Nicholas Sutrich
Senior Content Producer — Smartphones & VR
Nick started with DOS and NES and uses those fond memories of floppy disks and cartridges to fuel his opinions on modern tech. Whether it's VR, smart home gadgets, or something else that beeps and boops, he's been writing about it since 2011. Reach him on Twitter or Instagram @Gwanatu
  • Oddly, I don't have this Phone and Messaging Storage app on my phone. Nothing at all in System Apps. Is this inherent to a Pixel? I'm using a Note 9...
  • Ya, the writer said its a Pixel phone problem only.
  • Read it again: Quote: despite the fact that this problem is not only happening on Pixel phones...smh
  • I'm using a Pixel 4 XL, Android 11 and my "Phone and Messaging Storage" app is only taking up 0.96mb as reported by the built-in storage app. I haven't reloaded the OS all year....
  • I had to FDR my pixel recently and it freed up like 15GB plus from somewhere. I had it pretty cleaned up I had thought as well. Who knows.
  • never mind post deleted..........................
  • Maybe this is a bug that's on certain Pixel phones.
  • Not using a Pixel but a OnePlus 8T. I am currently at 2.95 MB size.
  • This doesn't appear in the Google Files app on my Android One Nokia. But I also have another files app," Cx File Explorer", and it does show up there in Apps...All... then Scroll down to find Phone and Messaging Storage. On my phone it is only taking up 641kB. It lights up Blue after a long press and there's an option to Delete at the bottom of the screen.
    I haven't tried doing that because 641kB is negligible on my phone but it might be worth trying on yours?
  • My phone and messaging app takes 412kb on my pixel 2xl.
  • Well this is a hit piece for them not to get in trouble cuz you tell by the way he wrote it like a magazine article he's a writer so it's a hit piece number two if you haven't rooted your phone in 10 years and what the hell you doing in Android mod profile number three if you don't know how to use DD and do a system dump from the show command line and you need to just go get you an iPhone
  • If it gives you a thrill knowing how to use DD and do a system dump from the show command line go for it. Remember, 99.999% of folks do not purchase a Android phone for rooting as you suggest. For them their phone is a tool for getting work accomplished, that goes for any phone user including iPhone. When one needs futzing with their phone keeping it running as you suggest, for them it is has become unreliable.
  • Just checked mine. Pixel 3 XL running Android 12 Beta 3. Phone and Messaging Storage is using 1.23GB.
  • I have that app on my OnePlus 8 Pro, Android 11. I'm also using Google's Dialer app, so probably that's why I have it? Anyway, I've last reset my phone in ... February. The app is currently using 14 MB on my end, so ...
  • I didn't find that file on my Pixel 4. But while searching for it I noticed that I had turned Smart Storage off. Then I remembered I turned it off because I found it to be somewhat annoying. Now I wonder if turning Smart Storage off removed the Phone and Messaging file from my phone.
  • Now that's interesting indeed! That night be a fix. Turning certain system apps off does archive certain apps only to open again a year later when you forgot what you did and turned it back on curious about what happens when you turn it back on. Something the author might want to check out.
  • It's funny how Google makes Android, and can't get something like this right on their own phones.
    Not a good look, lol.
  • I can confirm that this was eating 20 gbs on my pixel 3a. I never could figure out what was eating it all up. I figured it was cached movie downloads from Netflix, Hulu, and Prime but I cleaned it all and it did little good. It's a stupid problem for Google to have.
  • You know, I'm in the beta "S" click now for 5 wks. I guess, and I've seen my available device storage shrinking little by little on my Pixel 4a (5G). Case and point, about a week ago my handset got jammed-up after setting up an additional Google/Gmail account. I tried all the tricks on file, but ultimately it was FDR for me too! Anyways, this reset brought to my attention how much my available (on device) storage had shrunk in just under 2 weeks time. I was using about 11gb total, that's after restoring and adding everything back to snuff, etc. Today, I'm at using 20gb, and mind you I haven't added anything close to that on my own (my life just isn't that interesting) Lol !
    But I'm watching it now, and if it keeps on with the slow & steady rise I'm gonna bounce it off of those beta-ballers @ Google and shoot it out there to my friends at XDA as well as the beta forums @ Reddit to see what I get. The author of this post probably did all that too, but it can't hurt to try and I'll certainly share my results here!
    Thanks for your post, friend. I'll be back...
  • One final thought, does anyone know why Google did away with the "Wipe Cache Partition" on the recovery menu a few years back? This would be a great assist here specifically with this problem, and several of us are big fans of this selection...it's always been an option on just about every other android system based device (Samsung's Note Series was my jam)!
    If Google doesn't seem to want to disclose why it's gone & been gone, here's an idea...ADD IT BACK to the recovery menu & fastboot option?! Hey, I'm not a developer I'm just saying....
  • Just went thru mine. Found a bunch on the trash bin, which I hate. And also find 20gb being used by iHeartRadio app. Wow! I don't even use that for music, just podcasts. WTH are they storing on my phone....
  • You have to actually delete your conversations to get rid of this.
    Mine was almost taking up 6gigs of storage. Talking to Google was no help at all, in fact none of them really ever understood what I was even talking about.
    After some troubleshooting, I realized that if I deleted my individual chats, and re added them from my contact list, I was able to get it down to a few hundred MB.
  • Have you tried reporting this through Google's public issuetracker? If not, I'd recommend you do that if you still want to try to avoid factory resetting your device.