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

TypeFile systemAttributes and use cases

Disk or local FS

XFS

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

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

NFS

Use NFS to share files between multiple systems on the same network.

SMB

Use SMB for file sharing with Microsoft Windows systems.

Shared storage or shared disk FS

GFS2

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.

Volume-managing FS

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 read(), write(), and seek().

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

  • XFS
  • ext4

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:

Reliability
  • 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

Performance characteristics

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

ScenarioRecommended file system

No special use case

XFS

Large server

XFS

Large storage devices

XFS

Large files

XFS

Multi-threaded I/O

XFS

Single-threaded I/O

ext4

Limited I/O capability (under 1000 IOPS)

ext4

Limited bandwidth (under 200MB/s)

ext4

CPU-bound workload

ext4

Support for offline shrinking

ext4

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.

1.7. Shared storage file systems

Shared storage file systems, sometimes referred to as cluster file systems, give each server in the cluster direct access to a shared block device over a local storage area network (SAN).

Comparison with network file systems

Like client/server file systems, shared storage file systems work on a set of servers that are all members of a cluster. Unlike NFS, however, no single server provides access to data or metadata to other members: each member of the cluster has direct access to the same storage device (the shared storage), and all cluster member nodes access the same set of files.

Concurrency

Cache coherency is key in a clustered file system to ensure data consistency and integrity. There must be a single version of all files in a cluster visible to all nodes within a cluster. The file system must prevent members of the cluster from updating the same storage block at the same time and causing data corruption. In order to do that, shared storage file systems use a cluster wide-locking mechanism to arbitrate access to the storage as a concurrency control mechanism. For example, before creating a new file or writing to a file that is opened on multiple servers, the file system component on the server must obtain the correct lock.

The requirement of cluster file systems is to provide a highly available service like an Apache web server. Any member of the cluster will see a fully coherent view of the data stored in their shared disk file system, and all updates will be arbitrated correctly by the locking mechanisms.

Performance characteristics

Shared disk file systems do not always perform as well as local file systems running on the same system due to the computational cost of the locking overhead. Shared disk file systems perform well with workloads where each node writes almost exclusively to a particular set of files that are not shared with other nodes or where a set of files is shared in an almost exclusively read-only manner across a set of nodes. This results in a minimum of cross-node cache invalidation and can maximize performance.

Setting up a shared disk file system is complex, and tuning an application to perform well on a shared disk file system can be challenging.

Available shared storage file systems

  • Red Hat Enterprise Linux provides the GFS2 file system. GFS2 comes tightly integrated with the Red Hat Enterprise Linux High Availability Add-On and the Resilient Storage Add-On.

    Red Hat Enterprise Linux supports GFS2 on clusters that range in size from 2 to 16 nodes.

1.8. Choosing between network and shared storage file systems

When choosing between network and shared storage file systems, consider the following points:

  • NFS-based network file systems are an extremely common and popular choice for environments that provide NFS servers.
  • Network file systems can be deployed using very high-performance networking technologies like Infiniband or 10 Gigabit Ethernet. This means that you should not turn to shared storage file systems just to get raw bandwidth to your storage. If the speed of access is of prime importance, then use NFS to export a local file system like XFS.
  • Shared storage file systems are not easy to set up or to maintain, so you should deploy them only when you cannot provide your required availability with either local or network file systems.
  • A shared storage file system in a clustered environment helps reduce downtime by eliminating the steps needed for unmounting and mounting that need to be done during a typical fail-over scenario involving the relocation of a high-availability service.

Red Hat recommends that you use network file systems unless you have a specific use case for shared storage file systems. Use shared storage file systems primarily for deployments that need to provide high-availability services with minimum downtime and have stringent service-level requirements.

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
    • Snapshots
    • 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.