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Suppose you want to do an upgrade of a few GB (upgrading from Jaunty to Karmic for instance) and you only have a 50-100 MB left on your root partition. If you have created both a home (/home) and root (/) partition when you installed Ubuntu, there is a way to make this upgrade: using apt cache redirect:

1. Open a terminal and run the following command in order to delete the cached packages:
sudo apt-get clean

2. In your /home folder, create a new directory owned by root (you can set this by right clicking on a folder, then selecting "Propreties", on the "Permissions" tab), called "apt" and another directory in the "apt" directory, called "cache". To save some time, you can simply run this command to create both folders:
mkdir -p /home/apt/cache

3. Create a new file at /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/02homecache. Open a terminal and type:
sudo gedit /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/02homecache

and paste this inside the file:
Dir::Cache::Archives "/home/apt/cache";

4. Run this in a terminal, to make sure you don't have any syntax errors:
sudo apt-get update

5. If you followed the steps correctly, now you can begin your upgrade.