In the past few installments, we've taken a bit of a detour by looking at
non-traditional filesystems such as tmpfs and devfs. Now, it's time to get back
to disk-based filesystems, and we do this by taking a look at ext3. The ext3
filesystem, designed by Dr. Stephen Tweedie, is built on the framework of the
existing ext2 filesystem; in fact, ext3 is very similar to ext2 except for one
small (but important) difference -- it supports journaling. Yet even with this
small addition, I think you'll find that that ext3 has several surprising and
intriguing capabilities. In this article, I'll give you a good understanding of
how ext3 compares to the other journaling filesystems currently available. In
my next article, we'll get ext3 up and running.
So, how does ext3 compare to ReiserFS? In previous articles, I explained how
ReiserFS is well suited to handling small files (under 4K), and in certain
situations, ReiserFS' small file performance is ten to fifteen times
greater than that of ext2 and ext3. In contrast, ext3 is a very
well-rounded filesystem. It's a lot like ext2; it's not going to give you
the blazingly fast small-file performance that ReiserFS gives you, but it
provides journalling and decent performance and is much more easily deployable
on legacy ext2 systems, as we'll soon see.
One of the nice things about ext3 is that because it is based on the ext2 code,
ext2 and ext3's on-disk format is identical; this means that a cleanly
unmounted ext3 filesystem can be remounted as an ext2 filesystem with
absolutely no problems. And that's not all. Thanks to the fact that ext2 and
ext3 use identical metadata, it's possible to perform in-place ext2 to ext3
filesystem upgrades. Yes, you read that right. By upgrading a few key system
utilities, installing a modern 2.4 or 2.6 kernel and typing in a single tune2fs
command per filesystem, you can convert your existing ext2 servers into
journaling ext3 systems. You can even do this while your ext2 filesystems are
mounted. The transition is safe, reversible, and incredibly easy, and unlike a
conversion to XFS, JFS, or ReiserFS, you don't need to back up and recreate
your filesystems from scratch. Now, for a moment, consider the thousands of
production ext2 servers in existence that are just minutes away from an ext3
upgrade; then, you'll have a good grasp of ext3's importance to the Linux
If I had to describe ext3 in one word, I'd call it "comfortable".
It's incredibly easy to ext3-enable an existing ext2 system, and after you do,
you're still going to have an ext2-compatible filesystem. And there's yet
another way that ext3 excels in the comfort department; ext3 leverages the
maturity of ext2 as well as its user-space filesystem tools.
In addition to being ext2-compatible, ext3 inherits other benefits by sharing
ext2's metadata format. For one, ext3 users gain access to a rock-solid fsck
tool. You'll recall that one of the points of using a journaling filesystem is
to avoid the need for an exhaustive fsck in the first place; however if you do
end up getting corrupt metadata, either from a flaky kernel, bad hard drive, or
something else, you'll greatly appreciate the fact that ext3 inherits ext2's
fsck. In contrast, ReiserFS' fsck is decent but hasn't been through as much
"real world" scenarios as e2fsck.
Interestingly, ext3 handles journaling very differently than ReiserFS and other
journaling filesystems do. With ReiserFS, XFS, and JFS, the filesystem driver
journals metadata, but makes no provisions for journaling data. With
metadata-only journaling, your filesystem metadata is going to be rock solid,
and you will probably never need to perform an exhaustive fsck. However,
unexpected reboots and system lock-ups can result in significant corruption of
recently-modified data. Ext3 uses a couple of innovative solutions to avoid
these problems, which we'll look at in a bit.
But first, it's important to understand exactly how metadata-only journaling
could end up biting you. As an example, let's say that you were modifying a
file called /tmp/myfile.txt when the machine unexpectedly locked up,
forcing a reboot. If you were using a metadata-only journaling filesystem such
as ReiserFS, XFS or JFS, your filesystem metadata would be easily repaired,
thanks to the metadata journal, and you wouldn't need to sit through a
laborious fsck. Your filesystem's meta information would not get messed up.
However, there's the distinct possibility that when you load
/tmp/myfile.txt into a text editor, your file will not simply be
missing recent changes, but will contain a good amount of garbage and depending
upon the circumstances may even be completely unreadable. This is particularly
true with XFS. Now, this isn't something that will necessarily happen, but it
could happen and often does.
Here's why. Typical journaled filesystems like ReiserFS, XFS, and JFS take
extra special care of metadata, but don't pay as much attention to data. In our
above example, the filesystem was in the process of modifying several
filesystem blocks. The filesystem updated the appropriate metadata, but didn't
have time to flush the data from its caches to the new blocks on disk. Thus,
when you loaded up /tmp/myfile.txt into a text editor, part or all of
the file contained garbage -- blocks of data that didn't get recorded to disk
in time before the system locked up.
The Ext3 Approach
Now that we have a good general understanding of this problem, let's look how
ext3 implements journaling. In ext3, the journaling code uses a special API
called the Journaling Block Device layer, or JBD. The JBD has been designed for
the express purpose of implementing a journal on any kind of block device. Ext3
implements its journaling by "hooking in" to the JBD API. For
example, the ext3 filesystem code will inform the JBD of modifications it is
performing, and will also request permission from the JBD before modifying
certain data on disk. By doing so, the JBD is given the appropriate
opportunities to manage the journal on behalf of the ext3 filesystem. It's
quite a nice arrangement, and because the JBD is being developed as a separate,
generic entity, it could be used to add journaling capabilities to other
filesystems in the future.
Here are a couple of neat things about the JBD-managed ext3 journal. For one,
ext3's journal is stored in an inode -- a file, basically. Depending on how you"ext3-enable" your filesystem, you may or may not be able to see thisfile, located at /.journal. Of course, by storing the journal in an
inode, ext3 is able to add the needed journal to the filesystem without
breaking compatibility with ext2 metadata. This is one of the key ways that anext3 filesystem maintains backwards compatibility with ext2 metadata, and inturn, the ext2 filesystem code in the Linux kernel.
Different Journaling Approaches
Not surprisingly, it turns out that there are a number of ways to implement a journal. For example, a filesystem developer could design a journal that storesvariable spans of bytes that need to be modified on the host filesystem. Theadvantage of this approach is that your journal would be able to store lots of
tiny little modifications to the filesystem in a very efficient way, since it
would only record the specific data that needed to be changed and nothing more.
JBD takes another, and in some ways better, approach. Rather than recording spans of bytes that must be changed, JBD stores the complete modified
filesystem blocks themselves. The ext3 filesystem driver also uses this
approach and stores complete replicas of the modified blocks (either 1K, 2K, or4K) in memory to track pending IO operations. At first, this may seem a bitwasteful. After all, complete blocks contain modified data but may also contain
unmodified (already on disk) data as well.
The approach that the JBD uses is called physical journaling, which means that the JBD uses complete physical blocks as the underlying currency forimplementing the journal. In contrast, the approach of only storing modified
spans of bytes rather than complete blocks is called logical journaling, and is
the approach used by XFS. Because ext3 uses physical journaling, an ext3
journal will have a larger relative on-disk footprint than, say, an XFS
journal. But because ext3 uses complete blocks internally and in the journal,
ext3 doesn't deal with as much complexity as it would if it were to implement
logical journaling. In addition, the use of full blocks allows ext3 to perform
some additional optimizations, such as "squishing" multiple pending
IO operations within a single block into the same in-memory data structure.
This, in turn, allows ext3 to write these multiple changes to disk in a single
write operation, rather than many. In addition, because the literal block data
is stored in memory, little or no massaging of the in-memory data is required
before writing it to disk, saving CPU cycles.
Ext3, Protector of Data
And now, we finally get to see how the ext3 filesystem effectively provides both metadata and data journaling, avoiding the potential data corruption
problem I described earlier in this article that can bite metadata-only
journals. In fact, ext3 actually has two methods to ensure data and metadataintegrity.
Originally, ext3 was designed to perform full data and metadata journaling. In
this mode (called data=journal mode), the JBD journals all changes tothe filesystem, whether they are made to data or metadata. Because both dataand metadata are journaled, JBD can use the journal to bring both metadata anddata back to a consistent state. The drawback of full data journaling is that
it can be slow, although you can reduce the performance penalty by setting up a
relatively large journal.
More interestingly, ext3 also offers another journaling mode that provides the benefits of full journaling but without introducing a severe performancepenalty. This new mode works by journaling metadata only. However, the ext3
filesystem driver keeps track of the particular data blocks that correspond
with each metadata update, grouping them into a single entity called atransaction. When a transaction is applied to the filesystem proper, the datablocks are written to disk first. Once they are written, the metadata changes
are then written to the journal. By using this technique (called
data=ordered mode), ext3 can provide data and metadata consistency,
even though only metadata changes are recorded in the journal. ext3 uses this
mode by default.
These days, a lot of people are trying to determine which Linux journaling filesystem is "best". In truth, there is no one "right"filesystem for every application; each one has its own strengths. This is one
of the benefits from having so many next-generation Linux filesystems from
which to choose. So, instead of picking an arbitrary "best"filesystem and using it for every conceivable application, it's far preferableto understand each filesystem's strengths and weaknesses so that you can make
an educated decision as to which one to use.
Ext3 has a number of strengths. It has been designed to be extremely easy to
deploy. It's based on the solid ext2 filesystem code and it inherits a great fsck tool. And ext3's journaling capabilities have been specially designed to
ensure the integrity of both metadata and data. All in all, ext3 is a truly
great filesystem, and a worthy successor to the now-venerable ext2 filesystem.
Join me in my next article, when we get ext3 up and running. Until then, you
may want to check out the following resources.
Be sure to checkout the other articles in this series:
- Part 1: Journaling and ReiserFS
- Part 2: Using ReiserFS and Linux
- Part 3: Tmpfs and bind mounts
- Part 4: Introducing Ext3
- Part 5: Ext3 in action
Dr. Stephen Tweedie introduced the Ext3 Journaling Filesystem at the Ottawa Linux Symposium in July 2000. For more information on Ext3, read Dr. Stephen
2000 OLS ext3 transcript.
To keep abreast of the latest ext3 developments, be sure to visit the
ext3-users mailing list archive