How to Delete VSS Shadows You Can’t Delete: outside of your allowed context…

You may run into a situation where some Volume Shadow Copy Service (VSS) shadows can’t be deleted.

You tried:

vssadmin delete shadows /all

but receive the error message:

Error: Snapshots were found, but they were outside of your allowed context.  Try removing them with the backup application which created them.


This peculiar error basically means Windows won’t let you touch the VSS shadow copy….despite the fact you are logged on as admin.

How to Fix “outside of your allowed context” Errors

In order to get rid of these kinds of shadows we need to apply a “trick”. Basically the VSS diff area storage is where VSS keeps these shadows “alive”.

By seriously cutting this limit to the bare minimum we invoke a mechanism in VSS itself that causes it to dump all shadows.

So we proceed by telling VSS to cut the limit down to 401 MB. For some reason the user interface will claim the bottom is 300MB but on several versions of Windows it refuses and reports:

Error: Specified number is invalid

The command that works uses 401MB and is (adapt it to your drive letter as needed):

vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=D: /on=D: /maxsize=401MB

Then once you get “success” you can increase the limit once again to the recommended “unbounded” setting, or an actual limit value if you are using shadow copies for other purposes:

vssadmin resize shadowstorage /for=d: /on=D: /maxsize=unbounded

Then, vssadmin happily reports:

Successfully resized the shadow copy storage association

and a quick check using

vssadmin list shadows

reveals all VSS shadow copies are now gone!


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