Unlike two or three years ago, choosing a file system for a Linux system is no longer a matter of a few seconds (Ext2 or ReiserFS?). Kernels starting from 2.4 offer a variety of file systems from which to choose. The following is an overview of how these file systems basically work and which advantages they offer.
It is very important to bear in mind that there may be no file system that best suits all kinds of applications. Each file system has its particular strengths and weaknesses, which must be taken into account. Even the most sophisticated file system cannot substitute for a reasonable backup strategy, however.
The terms data integrity and data consistency, when used in this chapter, do not refer to the consistency of the user space data (the data your application writes to its files). Whether this data is consistent must be controlled by the application itself.
|Setting Up File Systems|
Unless stated otherwise in this chapter, all the steps required to set up or change partitions and file systems can be performed using the YaST module.
Officially one of the key features of the 2.4 kernel release, ReiserFS has been available as a kernel patch for 2.2.x SUSE kernels since SUSE LINUX version 6.4. ReiserFS was designed by Hans Reiser and the Namesys development team. It has proven itself to be a powerful alternative to the old Ext2. Its key assets are better disk space utilization, better disk access performance, and faster crash recovery.
ReiserFS's strengths, in more detail, are:
In ReiserFS, all data is organized in a structure called B*-balanced tree. The tree structure contributes to better disk space utilization because small files can be stored directly in the B* tree leaf nodes instead of being stored elsewhere and just maintaining a pointer to the actual disk location. In addition to that, storage is not allocated in chunks of 1 or 4 kB, but in portions of the exact size needed. Another benefit lies in the dynamic allocation of inodes. This keeps the file system more flexible than traditional file systems, like Ext2, where the inode density must be specified at file system creation time.
For small files, file data and “stat_data” (inode) information are often stored next to each other. They can be read with a single disk I/O operation, meaning that only one access to disk is required to retrieve all the information needed.
Using a journal to keep track of recent metadata changes makes a file system check a matter of seconds, even for huge file systems.
ReiserFS also supports data journaling and ordered data modes similar to
the concepts outlined in the Ext3 section, Section 20.2.3, “Ext3”. The default mode is
data=ordered, which ensures both data and metadata
integrity, but uses journaling only for metadata.
The origins of Ext2 go back to the early days of Linux history. Its predecessor, the Extended File System, was implemented in April 1992 and integrated in Linux 0.96c. The Extended File System underwent a number of modifications and, as Ext2, became the most popular Linux file system for years. With the creation of journaling file systems and their astonishingly short recovery times, Ext2 became less important.
A brief summary of Ext2's strengths might help understand why it was—and in some areas still is—the favorite Linux file system of many Linux users.
Being quite an “old-timer,” Ext2 underwent many
improvements and was heavily tested. This may be the reason why people
often refer to it as rock-solid. After a system outage when the file
system could not be cleanly unmounted, e2fsck starts to analyze the file
system data. Metadata is brought into a consistent state and pending
files or data blocks are written to a designated directory (called
lost+found). In contrast to journaling file
systems, e2fsck analyzes the entire file system and not just the
recently modified bits of metadata. This takes significantly longer than
checking the log data of a journaling file system. Depending on file
system size, this procedure can take half an hour or more. Therefore, it
is not desirable to choose Ext2 for any server that needs high
availability. However, because Ext2 does not maintain a journal and uses
significantly less memory, it is sometimes faster than other file
The code for Ext2 is the strong foundation on which Ext3 could become a highly-acclaimed next-generation file system. Its reliability and solidity were elegantly combined with the advantages of a journaling file system.
Ext3 was designed by Stephen Tweedie. Unlike all other next-generation file systems, Ext3 does not follow a completely new design principle. It is based on Ext2. These two file systems are very closely related to each other. An Ext3 file system can be easily built on top of an Ext2 file system. The most important difference between Ext2 and Ext3 is that Ext3 supports journaling. In summary, Ext3 has three major advantages to offer:
Because Ext3 is based on the Ext2 code and shares its on-disk format as well as its metadata format, upgrades from Ext2 to Ext3 are incredibly easy. Unlike transitions to other journaling file systems, such as ReiserFS, JFS, or XFS, which can be quite tedious (making backups of the entire file system and recreating it from scratch), a transition to Ext3 is a matter of minutes. It is also very safe, because recreating an entire file system from scratch might not work flawlessly. Considering the number of existing Ext2 systems that await an upgrade to a journaling file system, you can easily figure out why Ext3 might be of some importance to many system administrators. Downgrading from Ext3 to Ext2 is as easy as the upgrade. Just perform a clean unmount of the Ext3 file system and remount it as an Ext2 file system.
Some other journaling file systems follow the
“metadata-only” journaling approach. This means your
metadata is always kept in a consistent state, but the same cannot be
automatically guaranteed for the file system data itself. Ext3 is
designed to take care of both metadata and data. The degree of
“care” can be customized. Enabling Ext3 in the
data=journal mode offers maximum security (data
integrity), but can slow down the system because both metadata and data
are journaled. A relatively new approach is to use the
data=ordered mode, which ensures both data and metadata
integrity, but uses journaling only for metadata. The file system driver
collects all data blocks that correspond to one metadata update. These
data blocks are written to disk before the metadata is updated. As a
result, consistency is achieved for metadata and data without
sacrificing performance. A third option to use is
data=writeback, which allows data to be written into
the main file system after its metadata has been committed to the
journal. This option is often considered the best in performance. It
can, however, allow old data to reappear in files after crash and
recovery while internal file system integrity is maintained. Unless you
specify something else, Ext3 is run with the
Converting from Ext2 to Ext3 involves two separate steps:
Log in as
root and run
-j. This creates an Ext3
journal with the default parameters. To decide yourself how large the
journal should be and on which device it should reside, run
-J instead together with the
desired journal options
device=. More information about the tune2fs program is
available in its manual page (tune2fs(8)).
To ensure that the Ext3 file system is recognized as such, edit
/etc/fstab, changing the file system type
specified for the corresponding partition from
ext3. The change takes effect after the next
To boot a root file system set up as an Ext3 partition, include the
jbd in the
initrd. To do so, edit the file
/etc/sysconfig/kernel to include the two modules
INITRD_MODULES then execute the command
Right after kernel 2.6 had been released, the family of journaling file systems was joined by another member: Reiser4. Reiser4 is fundamentally different from its predecessor ReiserFS (version 3.6). It introduces the concept of plug-ins to tweak the file system functionality and a finer grained security concept.
In designing Reiser4, its developers put an emphasis on the
implementation of security-relevant features. Reiser4 therefore comes
with a set of dedicated security plug-ins. The most important one
introduces the concept of file “items.” Currently, file
access controls are defined per file. If there is a large file
containing information relevant to several users, groups, or applications,
the access rights had be fairly imprecise to include all parties
involved. In Reiser4, you can split those files into smaller portions
(the “items”). Access rights can then be set for
each item and each user separately, allowing a much more precise file
security management. A perfect example would be
/etc/passwd. To date, only
root can read and edit the file while
root users only get read
access to this file. Using the item concept of Reiser4, you could split
this file in a set of items (one item per user) and allow users or
applications to modify their own data but not
access other users' data. This concept adds both to security and
Many file system functions and external functions normally used by a file system are implemented as plug-ins in Reiser4. These plug-ins can easily be added to the base system. You no longer need to recompile the kernel or reformat the hard disk to add new functionalities to your file system.
Like XFS, Reiser4 supports delayed allocation. See Section 20.2.7, “XFS”. Using delayed allocation even for metadata can result in better overall layout.
JFS, the Journaling File System, was developed by IBM. The first beta version of the JFS Linux port reached the Linux community in the summer of 2000. Version 1.0.0 was released in 2001. JFS is tailored to suit the needs of high throughput server environments where performance is the ultimate goal. Being a full 64-bit file system, JFS supports both large files and partitions, which is another reason for its use in server environments.
A closer look at JFS shows why this file system might prove a good choice for your Linux server:
JFS follows a “metadata-only” approach. Instead of an extensive check, only metadata changes generated by recent file system activity are checked, which saves a great amount of time in recovery. Concurrent operations requiring multiple concurrent log entries can be combined into one group commit, greatly reducing performance loss of the file system through multiple write operations.
JFS holds two different directory organizations. For small directories, it allows the directory's content to be stored directly into its inode. For larger directories, it uses B+trees, which greatly facilitate directory management.
For Ext2, you must define the inode density in advance (the space occupied by management information), which restricts the maximum number of files or directories of your file system. JFS spares you these considerations—it dynamically allocates inode space and frees it when it is no longer needed.
Originally intended as the file system for their IRIX OS, SGI started XFS development in the early 1990s. The idea behind XFS was to create a high-performance 64-bit journaling file system to meet the extreme computing challenges of today. XFS is very good at manipulating large files and performs well on high-end hardware. However, even XFS has a drawback. Like ReiserFS, XFS takes great care of metadata integrity, but less of data integrity.
A quick review of XFS's key features explains why it may prove a strong competitor for other journaling file systems in high-end computing.
At the creation time of an XFS file system, the block device underlying the file system is divided into eight or more linear regions of equal size. Those are referred to as allocation groups. Each allocation group manages its own inodes and free disk space. Practically, allocation groups can be seen as file systems in a file system. Because allocation groups are rather independent of each other, more than one of them can be addressed by the kernel simultaneously. This feature is the key to XFS's great scalability. Naturally, the concept of independent allocation groups suits the needs of multiprocessor systems.
Free space and inodes are handled by B+ trees inside the allocation groups. The use of B+ trees greatly contributes to XFS's performance and scalability. XFS uses delayed allocation. It handles allocation by breaking the process into two pieces. A pending transaction is stored in RAM and the appropriate amount of space is reserved. XFS still does not decide where exactly (speaking of file system blocks) the data should be stored. This decision is delayed until the last possible moment. Some short-lived temporary data may never make its way to disk, because it may be obsolete by the time XFS decides where actually to save it. Thus XFS increases write performance and reduces file system fragmentation. Because delayed allocation results in less frequent write events than in other file systems, it is likely that data loss after a crash during a write is more severe.
Before writing the data to the file system, XFS reserves (preallocates) the free space needed for a file. Thus, file system fragmentation is greatly reduced. Performance is increased because the contents of a file are not distributed all over the file system.