Chapter 1. Overview of available file systems
Choosing the file system that is appropriate for your application is an important decision due to the large number of options available and the trade-offs involved. This chapter describes some of the file systems that ship with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 and provides historical background and recommendations on the right file system to suit your application.
1.1. Types of file systems
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 supports a variety of file systems (FS). Different types of file systems solve different kinds of problems, and their usage is application specific. At the most general level, available file systems can be grouped into the following major types:
Table 1.1. Types of file systems and their use cases
|Type||File system||Attributes and use cases|
Disk or local FS
XFS is the default file system in RHEL. Because it lays out files as extents, it is less vulnerable to fragmentation than ext4. Red Hat recommends deploying XFS as your local file system unless there are specific reasons to do otherwise: for example, compatibility or corner cases around performance.
ext4 has the benefit of longevity in Linux. Therefore, it is supported by almost all Linux applications. In most cases, it rivals XFS on performance. ext4 is commonly used for home directories.
Network or client-and-server FS
Use NFS to share files between multiple systems on the same network.
Use SMB for file sharing with Microsoft Windows systems.
Shared storage or shared disk FS
GFS2 provides shared write access to members of a compute cluster. The emphasis is on stability and reliability, with the functional experience of a local file system as possible. SAS Grid, Tibco MQ, IBM Websphere MQ, and Red Hat Active MQ have been deployed successfully on GFS2.
Stratis (Technology Preview)
Stratis is a volume manager built on a combination of XFS and LVM. The purpose of Stratis is to emulate capabilities offered by volume-managing file systems like Btrfs and ZFS. It is possible to build this stack manually, but Stratis reduces configuration complexity, implements best practices, and consolidates error information.
1.2. Local file systems
Local file systems are file systems that run on a single, local server and are directly attached to storage.
For example, a local file system is the only choice for internal SATA or SAS disks, and is used when your server has internal hardware RAID controllers with local drives. Local file systems are also the most common file systems used on SAN attached storage when the device exported on the SAN is not shared.
All local file systems are POSIX-compliant and are fully compatible with all supported Red Hat Enterprise Linux releases. POSIX-compliant file systems provide support for a well-defined set of system calls, such as
From the application programmer’s point of view, there are relatively few differences between local file systems. The most notable differences from a user’s perspective are related to scalability and performance. When considering a file system choice, consider how large the file system needs to be, what unique features it should have, and how it performs under your workload.
Available local file systems
1.3. The XFS file system
XFS is a highly scalable, high-performance, robust, and mature 64-bit journaling file system that supports very large files and file systems on a single host. It is the default file system in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8. XFS was originally developed in the early 1990s by SGI and has a long history of running on extremely large servers and storage arrays.
The features of XFS include:
- Metadata journaling, which ensures file system integrity after a system crash by keeping a record of file system operations that can be replayed when the system is restarted and the file system remounted
- Extensive run-time metadata consistency checking
- Scalable and fast repair utilities
- Quota journaling. This avoids the need for lengthy quota consistency checks after a crash.
- Scalability and performance
- Supported file system size up to 1024 TiB
- Ability to support a large number of concurrent operations
- B-tree indexing for scalability of free space management
- Sophisticated metadata read-ahead algorithms
- Optimizations for streaming video workloads
- Allocation schemes
- Extent-based allocation
- Stripe-aware allocation policies
- Delayed allocation
- Space pre-allocation
- Dynamically allocated inodes
- Other features
- Reflink-based file copies (new in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8)
- Tightly integrated backup and restore utilities
- Online defragmentation
- Online file system growing
- Comprehensive diagnostics capabilities
Extended attributes (
xattr). This allows the system to associate several additional name/value pairs per file.
- Project or directory quotas. This allows quota restrictions over a directory tree.
- Subsecond timestamps
XFS has a high performance on large systems with enterprise workloads. A large system is one with a relatively high number of CPUs, multiple HBAs, and connections to external disk arrays. XFS also performs well on smaller systems that have a multi-threaded, parallel I/O workload.
XFS has a relatively low performance for single threaded, metadata-intensive workloads: for example, a workload that creates or deletes large numbers of small files in a single thread.
1.4. The ext4 file system
The ext4 file system is the fourth generation of the ext file system family. It was the default file system in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.
The ext4 driver can read and write to ext2 and ext3 file systems, but the ext4 file system format is not compatible with ext2 and ext3 drivers.
ext4 adds several new and improved features, such as:
- Supported file system size up to 50 TiB
- Extent-based metadata
- Delayed allocation
- Journal checksumming
- Large storage support
The extent-based metadata and the delayed allocation features provide a more compact and efficient way to track utilized space in a file system. These features improve file system performance and reduce the space consumed by metadata. Delayed allocation allows the file system to postpone selection of the permanent location for newly written user data until the data is flushed to disk. This enables higher performance since it can allow for larger, more contiguous allocations, allowing the file system to make decisions with much better information.
File system repair time using the
fsck utility in ext4 is much faster than in ext2 and ext3. Some file system repairs have demonstrated up to a six-fold increase in performance.
1.5. Choosing a local file system
To choose a file system that meets your application requirements, you need to understand the target system on which you are going to deploy the file system. You can use the following questions to inform your decision:
- Do you have a large server?
- Do you have large storage requirements or have a local, slow SATA drive?
- What kind of I/O workload do you expect your application to present?
- What are your throughput and latency requirements?
- How stable is your server and storage hardware?
- What is the typical size of your files and data set?
- If the system fails, how much downtime can you suffer?
If both your server and your storage device are large, XFS is the best choice. Even with smaller storage arrays, XFS performs very well when the average file sizes are large (for example, hundreds of megabytes in size).
If your existing workload has performed well with ext4, staying with ext4 should provide you and your applications with a very familiar environment.
The ext4 file system tends to perform better on systems that have limited I/O capability. It performs better on limited bandwidth (less than 200MB/s) and up to around 1000 IOPS capability. For anything with higher capability, XFS tends to be faster.
XFS consumes about twice the CPU-per-metadata operation compared to ext4, so if you have a CPU-bound workload with little concurrency, then ext4 will be faster. In general, ext4 is better if an application uses a single read/write thread and small files, while XFS shines when an application uses multiple read/write threads and bigger files.
You cannot shrink an XFS file system. If you need to be able to shrink the file system, consider using ext4, which supports offline shrinking.
In general, Red Hat recommends that you use XFS unless you have a specific use case for ext4. You should also measure the performance of your specific application on your target server and storage system to make sure that you choose the appropriate type of file system.
Table 1.2. Summary of local file system recommendations
|Scenario||Recommended file system|
No special use case
Large storage devices
Limited I/O capability (under 1000 IOPS)
Limited bandwidth (under 200MB/s)
Support for offline shrinking
1.6. Network file systems
Network file systems, also referred to as client/server file systems, enable client systems to access files that are stored on a shared server. This makes it possible for multiple users on multiple systems to share files and storage resources.
Such file systems are built from one or more servers that export a set of file systems to one or more clients. The client nodes do not have access to the underlying block storage, but rather interact with the storage using a protocol that allows for better access control.
Available network file systems
- The most common client/server file system for RHEL customers is the NFS file system. RHEL provides both an NFS server component to export a local file system over the network and an NFS client to import these file systems.
- RHEL also includes a CIFS client that supports the popular Microsoft SMB file servers for Windows interoperability. The userspace Samba server provides Windows clients with a Microsoft SMB service from a RHEL server.
1.9. Volume-managing file systems
Volume-managing file systems integrate the entire storage stack for the purposes of simplicity and in-stack optimization.
Available volume-managing file systems
Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8 provides the Stratis volume manager as a Technology Preview. Stratis uses XFS for the file system layer and integrates it with LVM, Device Mapper, and other components.
Stratis was first released in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8.0. It is conceived to fill the gap created when Red Hat deprecated Btrfs. Stratis 1.0 is an intuitive, command line-based volume manager that can perform significant storage management operations while hiding the complexity from the user:
- Volume management
- Pool creation
- Thin storage pools
- Automated read cache
Stratis offers powerful features, but currently lacks certain capabilities of other offerings that it might be compared to, such as Btrfs or ZFS. Most notably, it does not support CRCs with self healing.