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Key Elastic Dev Commands for Troubleshooting Disk Issues

Disk-related issues with Elasticsearch can present themselves through various symptoms. It is important to understand their root causes and know how to deal with them when they arise. As an Elasticsearch cluster administrator, you are likely to encounter some of the following cluster symptoms:

  • Cannot create or modify an index
  • Data is no longer written to some indices
  • Shards are not getting allocated
  • A node is missing

This article presents some helpful Dev Tools commands for troubleshooting and solving the underlying issues, along with recommendations to minimize the risk of disk-related problems occurring in your environment.

The following commands are useful for troubleshooting disk-related Elasticsearch issues with Dev Tools.

GET _cluster/allocation/explainReason for unassigned shards
GET _cat/allocation?vNode storage utilization
GET _nodes/stats/fsFilesystem statistics
GET _cat/shards?vShard size and allocation
GET _plugins/_ism/explain/
GET _ilm/explain/
Explain ISM (OpenSearch)
Explain ILM (Elastic)
GET _cluster/settings?incude_defaultsCluster settings

In the following sections, we will take a closer look at each of these commands and their benefits.

Unassigned shards

An Elasticsearch index can consist of multiple shards. One of the first symptoms of Elastic disk issues is shards not being allocated. After Elasticsearch has failed to allocate a shard, you can see the reason for the failure with this request:

GET _cluster/allocation/explain

If shard allocation failure is related to a disk issue, this request will return a message stating that a disk on a particular node has exceeded one or more of the following disk watermarks:

  • low – Shards will no longer be allocated to the disk
  • high – Shards will be relocated away from the disk
  • flood_stage – All write operations to indices having shards on this node are blocked

The next step is to check the storage for all disks in the cluster to further troubleshoot the issue. To modify disk watermarks, see Cluster settings.

Filesystem storage

To determine the state of the cluster storage, a summary of node storage can be seen using the following request:

GET /_cat/allocation?v

This will return the following information:

shards disk.indices disk.used disk.avail disk.percent host       ip         node
22     56.1gb       56.1gb    543.9gb    600gb      9   node2
22     50.2gb       50.2gb    549.8gb    600gb      9   node1

Take note of the following fields:

  • shards – Number of shards per node
  • disk.indices – Size of index data
  • disk.used – Total used disk storage
  • disk.avail – Free disk space available to Elasticsearch
  • – Total disk size
  • disk.percent – Percentage of disk storage utilization

If you need more detailed disk-related information for troubleshooting, you can use this Elasticsearch command:

GET _nodes/stats/fs

It will return information relating to each Elastic node’s disk:

    "cluster_name" : "elastic-cluster",
    "nodes" : {
      "35_PnZFrRumgTHEn-4kVuA" : {
        "name" : "node1",
        "fs" : {
          "total" : {
            "total_in_bytes" : 736223174656,
            "free_in_bytes" : 713487716352,
            "available_in_bytes" : 676014391296
          "data" : [
              "path" : "/usr/share/elastic/data/nodes/0",
              "mount" : "/usr/share/elastic/data (/dev/sda1)",
              "type" : "ext4",
              "total_in_bytes" : 736223174656,
              "free_in_bytes" : 713487716352,
              "available_in_bytes" : 676014391296

Take note of the following fields for each node and its disks:

  • total_in_bytes – Total disk space
  • free_in_bytes – Free disk space
  • available_in_bytes – Free disk space available to Elasticsearch

If a node is missing from the cluster, its disk may have already reached 100% capacity. Filling up storage capacity will cause Elasticsearch to stop functioning correctly on that node. You will need to increase node disk storage and possibly restart the service to get this node back in the cluster.

If all disks in the cluster have exceeded one or more of their watermarks, you can consider reducing shard replication and data retention time. If this is not possible, the remaining options are to increase node disk storage or add more nodes to the cluster.

If exceeded watermarks are isolated to only some disks in the cluster, the next step is to check the size of all shards on the disks in question to identify shards that are too large.

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Shard size and allocation

To identify any large shards that might be causing exceeded watermarks, shard size and allocation information can be gathered using the following request:

GET _cat/shards?v

The result should look like this:

index         shard prirep state     docs store  ip         node
movies-000001 0     p    STARTED   999999 90.9gb node2
movies-000001 0     r    STARTED   999999 90.9gb node1
music-000001  1     r    STARTED   200054 10.0gb node2
music-000001  1     p    STARTED   200054 10.0gb node1
music-000001  0     p    STARTED   200054 10.0gb node2
music-000001  0     r    STARTED   200054 10.0gb node1

If an index has become too large, check the rollover conditions of its index state/lifecycle management policy if it has one assigned to it. This will help to determine the cause of the large index size, but you will still need to deal with the index by breaking it up into multiple primary shards.

You can break up the index into smaller shards using the reindex operation. This involves reindexing all its documents into a new index with multiple primary shards. You can create such a new index as follows:

PUT movies-000001-reindexed
    "aliases": {
        "movies": {
            "is_write_index": false
    "mappings": {},
    "settings": {
        "number_of_shards": 4,
        "number_of_replicas": 1

After you have created the new index, you can reindex the documents from the old index using the following command:

POST _reindex?wait_for_completion=false
    "source": {
        "index": "movies-000001"
    "dest": {
        "index": "movies-000001-reindexed"

Executing this command with the wait_for_completion=false parameter will return a task id as follows:

  "task" : "35_PnZFrRumgTHEn-4kVuA:10082"

This task id can now be used to monitor the process of the reindexing task using the following command:

GET _tasks/35_PnZFrRumgTHEn-4kVuA:10082

Once this operation has been completed with no conflicts, it is safe to delete the old index.

Index state management

Indices can be managed using the OpenSearch ISM or Elastic ILM plugin. To quickly view information about the state/lifecycle management of a specific index, use one of these requests:

GET _plugins/_ism/explain/movies-000001OpenSearch
GET movies-000001/_ilm/explainElastic

If this request returns only null values, the index is not managed by any index state/lifecycle management policy and you will need to create a policy and add it to the index.

If the index is already has a management policy, the result should look like this:

    "movies-000001" : {
      "index.plugins.index_state_management" :  {
        "policy_id" : "movies_default"
      "index" : "movies-000001",
      "policy_id" : "movies_default",
      "rolled_over" : false,
      "state" : {
        "name" : "hot",
      "action" : {
        "name" : "rollover",
        "index" : 0,
        "failed" : true,
        "consumed_retries" : 0,
        "last_retry_time" : 0
      "step" : {
        "name" : "attempt_rollover",
        "step_status" : "failed"
      "retry_info" : {
        "failed" : true,
        "consumed_retries" : 0
      "info" : {
        "message" : "Missing rollover_alias [index=movies-000001]",
        "conditions" : {
          "min_size" : {
            "condition" : "10gb",
            "current" : "90.9gb"
          "min_doc_count" : {
            "condition" : 10000,
            "current" : 999999
      "enabled" : true

If an index has failed to roll over, the info.message field shown in the result above indicates why. If the failure is due to "Failed to process cluster event", a rollover can be triggered manually using this request:

POST movies/_rollover

If the failure is due to "Missing rollover_alias", the rollover alias for this index is not configured. You can easily resolve this failure by manually setting the plugins.index_state_management.rollover_alias field as follows:

PUT movies-000001/_settings
    "plugins": {
        "index_state_management": {
            "rollover_alias": "movies"

Keep in mind that this field name differs for different distributions of Elasticsearch:


Make sure the appropriate index template is also configured to apply the correct rollover alias to new indices to prevent the issue from reoccurring.

If rollover actions occur as expected but the cluster is still running into storage issues, you should consider reconfiguring index state/lifecycle management policies to store data for shorter periods to use less disk space. Remember that any changes made to a policy will not affect indices already managed by a previous version of that policy unless each index is explicitly updated manually.

Cluster settings

If some of the disks in the cluster have exceeded some of their watermarks, ensure that the cluster is properly configured to rebalance itself. The following command can be used to see all current cluster settings:

GET _cluster/settings?include_defaults

This request returns these disk-related cluster settings:

"persistent": {},
"transient": {},
"defaults": {
    "cluster": {
    "routing": {
        "allocation" : {
            "type" : "balanced",
            "disk" : {
            "threshold_enabled" : "true",
            "watermark" : {
                "flood_stage" : "95%",
                "high" : "90%",
                "low" : "85%",
                "enable_for_single_data_node" : "false"
            "include_relocations" : "true",
            "reroute_interval" : "60s"

When dealing with cluster settings, it is important to note the following setting types:

  • defaults – Default Elasticsearch cluster settings
  • persistent – Persists after cluster restart (overrides default settings)
  • transient – Resets after cluster restart (overrides all settings)

If a node’s disk exceeds the low watermark, it can no longer have additional shards allocated to it, but will keep writing documents to its existing shards. Furthermore, the node will only start relocating shards to other available nodes after it has exceeded the high watermark. If a disk exceeds the flood_stage watermark, indices with shards on that node will be blocked from all write operations to prevent the disk from reaching full capacity. This is indicated by index.blocks.read_only_allow_delete:true in the index’s settings. Note that this field is automatically set back to false once the disk returns to a level below the flood_stage watermark. If many nodes have exceeded one or more of these watermarks, you should consider increasing disk storage or adding more nodes to the cluster.

If the cluster is unbalanced, the root cause is most likely that shards are not evenly sized. When designing an Elasticsearch cluster, it is important to consider the number of shards and their sizes for each index based on the cluster architecture. The simplest way to achieve this would be to have a number of total shards per index that is divisible by the number of nodes in the cluster. This would ensure that indices would use the same amount of disk storage on every node. Assuming that all nodes have equal disk storage, this will ensure that the cluster is balanced at all times.

However, if you are already in the troubleshooting phase, it is likely too late to consider or implement these design practices. In that case, consider making use of watermark levels to automatically rebalance node storage as they fill up. If needed, low and high watermarks can be fine-tuned based on cluster storage utilization and architecture to improve overall cluster balance even in the undesirable case of having unevenly sized shards.

Cluster settings can be modified using the following command:

PUT _cluster/settings
    "persistent": {
    "cluster": {
        "routing": {
        "allocation" : {
            "type" : "balanced",
            "disk" : {
                "threshold_enabled" : "true",
                "watermark" : {
                "flood_stage" : "95%",
                "high" : "80%",
                "low" : "75%",
                "enable_for_single_data_node" : "false"
                "include_relocations" : "true",
                "reroute_interval" : "60s"

If the disk watermarks are already optimally configured, consider reducing replica shards or scaling up the cluster by increasing node disk storage or adding more nodes.

To minimize the risk of disk-related issues, here are some important recommendations to keep in mind to utilize cluster storage optimally.

Size shards appropriately

When you configure rollover conditions for an index, it is important to manage the size of index shards. Rollover can be configured to occur when any of the following conditions are met:

  • min_size
  • min_index_age
  • min_doc_count

Carefully consider the velocity of data when setting these conditions to indices from becoming too large, as this could cause cluster performance issues. On the other hand, rolling over indices too soon will lead to an increase in shard count, which can eventually result in an over-sharded cluster. Therefore, it is recommended to keep all shards within the same size range. A good rule of thumb would be between 5GB and 50GB. Keeping shard sizes smaller, for example 10GB, would result in better cluster performance.

Balance the tradeoffs of primary and replica shards

A single index can consist of multiple primary and replica shards. Primary shards contain a subset of index documents, meaning all read and write operations can be distributed across different nodes.

Furthermore, each primary shard can be duplicated on multiple other nodes using replica shards. Replica shards are copies of primary shards, which are very useful for improving search query throughput (i.e. number of parallel requests that still perform well) but come at the cost of additional disk storage.

Fine-tune your storage management

To minimize the costs of disk storage, it is important to make optimal use of all available disks. Here are three things to consider for optimal cluster storage utilization:

Data retentionMake sure you are not storing data that is no longer needed by modifying the appropriate index state/lifecycle management policy.
Cluster balancingCarefully consider cluster architecture when configuring index primary and replica shards. If necessary, fine-tune disk watermarks to ensure storage is distributed evenly across nodes.
ScalingIf all disks exceed their watermarks, scale up the cluster by increasing node storage or adding more nodes. Similarly, if cluster storage is significantly underutilized, consider removing nodes to reduce wasted storage costs.


As an Elasticsearch cluster administrator, the commands presented in this article will prove helpful when troubleshooting and solving disk-related issues. You’d also want to track down disk- and shard-related metrics over time with a tool like Sematext Cloud. Notice how in this example, we relative balance in the number of shards:

But an imbalance in disk space usage, because not all shards are equal:

In this case we’re nowhere near the storage limits, but we can set up alerts so that we can be one step ahead of the problems: either by redesigning the way we shard data or taking some other corrective action that we discussed here.

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