You know, ZFS, ButterFS (btrfs…its actually “better” right?), and I’m sure more.

I think I have ext4 on my home computer I installed ubuntu on 5 years ago. How does the choice of file system play a role? Is that old hat now? Surely something like ext4 has its place.

I see a lot of talk around filesystems but Ive never found a great resource that distiguishes them at a level that assumes I dont know much. Can anyone give some insight on how file systems work and why these new filesystems, that appear to be highlights and selling points in most distros, are better than older ones?

Edit: and since we are talking about filesystems, it might be nice to describe or mention how concepts like RAID or LUKS are related.

  • @excitingburp
    416 months ago

    Btw COW isn’t necessarily (and isn’t at least for ZFS) a performance trade-off. Data isn’t really copied, new data is simply written elsewhere on the disk (and the old data is not marked as free space).

    Ultimately it actually means “the data behaves as though it was copied,” which can be achieved in many ways. There are many ways to do that without actually copying.

    • @[email protected]
      96 months ago

      So let me give an example, and you tell me if I understand. If you change 1MB in the middle of a 1GB file, the filesystem is smart enough to only allocate a new 1MB chunk and update its tables to say “the first 0.5GB lives in the same old place, then 1MB is over here at this new location, and the remaining 0.5GB is still at the old location”?

      If that’s how it works, would this over time result in a single file being spread out in different physical blocks all over the place? I assume sequential reads of a file stored contiguously would usually have better performance than random reads of a file stored all over the place, right? Maybe not for modern SSDs…but also fragmentation could become a problem, because now you have a bunch of random 1MB chunks that are free.

      I know ZFS encourages regular “scrubs” that I thought just checked for data integrity, but maybe it also takes the opportunity to defrag and re-serialize? I also don’t know if the other filesystems have a similar operation.

      • @[email protected]M
        6 months ago

        Not OP, but yes, that’s pretty much how it works. (ZFS scrubs do not defrgment data however).

        Fragmentation isn’t really a problem for several reasons.

        • Some (most?) COW filesystems have mechanisms to mitigate fragmentation. ZFS, for instance, uses a special allocation strategy to minimize fragmentation and can reallocate data during certain operations like resilvering or rebalancing.

        • ZFS doesn’t even have a traditional defrag command. Because of its design and the way it handles file storage, a typical defrag process is not applicable or even necessary in the same way it is with other traditional filesystems

        • Btrfs too handles chunk allocation effeciently and generally doesn’t require defragmentation, and although it does have a defrag command, it’s almost never used by anyone, unless you have a special reason to (eg: maybe you have a program that is reading raw sectors of a file, and needs the data to be contiguous).

        • Fragmentation is only really an issue for spinning disks, however, that is no longer a concern for most spinning disk users because:

          • Most home users who still have spinning disks use it for archival/long term storage/media that rarely changes (eg: photos, movies, other infrequently accessed data), so fragmentation rarely occurs here and even if it does, it’s not a concern.
          • Power users typically have a DAS or NAS setup where spinning disks are in a RAID config with striping, so the spread of data across multiple sectors actually has an advantage for averaging out read times (so no file is completely stuck in the slow regions of a disk), but also, any performance loss is also generally negated because a single file can typically be read from two or more drives simultaneously, depending on the redundancy config.
        • Enterprise users also almost always use a RAID (or similar) setup, so the same as above applies. They also use filesystems like ZFS which employs heavy caching mechanisms, typically backed by SSDs/NVMes, so again, fragmentation isn’t really an issue.

        • @[email protected]
          36 months ago

          Cool, good to know. I’d be interested to learn how they mitigate fragmentation, though. It’s not clear to me how COW could mitigate the copy cost without fragmentation, but I’m certain people smarter than me have been thinking about the problem for my whole life. I know spinning disks have their own set of limitations, but even SSDs perform better on sequential reads over random reads, so it seems like the preference would still be to not split a file up too much.