[ANNOUNCE] Tux3, a Versioning Filesystem
From: Daniel Phillips
Date: Wed Jul 23 2008 - 16:49:34 EST
Since everybody seems to be having fun building new filesystems these
days, I thought I should join the party. Tux3 is the spiritual and
moral successor of Tux2, the most famous filesystem that was never
released. In the ten years since Tux2 was prototyped on Linux
2.2.13 we have all learned a thing or two about filesystem design. Tux3
is a write anywhere, atomic commit, btree based versioning filesystem.
As part of this work, the venerable HTree design used in Ext3 and
Lustre is getting a rev to better support NFS and possibly become more
The main purpose of Tux3 is to embody my new ideas on storage data
versioning. The secondary goal is to provide a more efficient
snapshotting and replication method for the Zumastor NAS project, and a
tertiary goal is to be better than ZFS.
Tux3 is big endian as the Great Penguin intended.
In broad outline, Tux3 is a conventional node/file/directory design
with wrinkles. A Tux3 inode table is a btree with versioned attributes
at the leaves. A file is an inode attribute that is a btree with
versioned extents at the leaves. Directory indexes are mapped into
directory file blocks as with HTree. Free space is mapped by a btree
with extents at the leaves.
The interesting part is the way inode attributes and file extents are
versioned. Unlike the currently fashionable recursive copy on write
designs with one tree root per version, Tux3 stores all its
versioning information in the leaves of btrees using the versioned
pointer algorithms described in detail here:
This method promises a significant shrinkage of metadata for heavily
versioned filesystems as compared to ZFS and Btrfs. The distinction
between Tux3 style versioning and WAFL style versioning used by ZFS and
Btrfs is analogous to the distinction between delta and weave encoding
for version control systems. In fact Tux3's pointer versioning
algorithms were derived from a binary weave technique I worked on
earlier for version control back in the days when we were all racing for
the glory of replacing the proprietary Bitkeeper system for kernel
Filesystem Characteristics and Limits
* Versioning of individual files, directories or entire filesystem
* Remote replication of single files, directories or entire filesystem
* All versions (aka snapshots) writable
* 2^60 maximum file size
* 2^60 maximum volume size
* 2^48 maximum versions
* 2^48 maximum inodes
* Variable sized, dynamically allocated inodes
* New versioning method (Versioned pointers)
- versioned extents for file/directory data
- versioned standard attributes (e.g. mode, uid, mtime, size)
- versioned extended attributes (including immediate file data)
* New atomic update method (Forward logging)
* New physically stable directory index (PHTree)
* Btree backpointers for robust fsck
Atomic update in Tux3 is via a new method called forward logging that
avoids the double writes of conventional journalling and the recursive
copy behavior of copy on write.
Each update transaction is a series of data blocks followed by a commit
block. Each commit block either stores the location where the next
commit block will be if it is known, otherwise it is the end of a chain
of commits. The start of each chain of commits is referenced from the
Commit data may be logical or physical. Logical updates are first
applied to the target structure in memory (usually a inode table block
or file index block) then the changed blocks are logged physically
before being either applied to the final destination or implicitly
merged with the destination via logical logging. This multi level
logging sounds like a lot of extra writing, but it is not because the
logical updates are more compact than physical block updates and many of
them can be logged with a periodic rollup pass to perform the physical
or higher level logical updates.
A typical write transaction therefore looks like a single data extent
followed by one commit block, which can be written anywhere on the disk.
This is about as efficient as it is possible for an atomic update to be.
Versioning filesystems on rotating media are prone to fragmentation.
With a write-anywhere strategy, we have a great deal of latitude in
choosing where to write, but translating that ability into minimzing
read seeks is far from easy. For metadata, we can fall back to update
in place using the forward logging method acting as a "write twice"
journal. Because the metadata is small (at least when the filesystem is
not heavily versioned) sufficient space of the single commit block
required to logically log a metadata update will normally be available
near the original location and the update in place fallback will not
often be needed.
When there is no choice but to write new data far away from the original
location, a method called "write bouncing" is to be used, where the
allocation target is redirected according to a generating function to a
new target zone some distance away from the original one. If that zone
is too crowded, then the next candidate zone further away will be
checked and so on, until the entire volume has been checked for
available space. (Analogous to a quadratic hash.) What this means is,
even though seeking to changed blocks of a large file is not entirely
avoided, at least it can be kept down to a few seeks in most cases. File
readahead will help a lot here, because a number of outlying extents can
be picked up in one pass. Physical readahead would help even more, to
deal with cross-file fragmentation in a directory.
With flash storage, seek time is essentially zero and transfer bandwidth
is the dominant issue, at which Tux3 should excel.
An inode is a variable sized item indexed by its inode number in the
inode btree. It consists of a list of attributes blocks with standard
attributes are grouped together according their frequency of updating,
and extended attributes. Each standard attribute block carries a
version label at which the attribute was last changed. Extended
attributes have the same structure as files, and in fact file data is
just an extended attribute. Extended attributes are not versioned in
the inode, but at the index leaf blocks. The atime attribute is handled
separately from the inode table to avoid polluting the inode table with
versions generated by mere filesystem reads.
- Block sharing makes it difficult to calculate so just give the
total block count for the data attribute btree
Standard attribute block:
Write attribute block:
size - Update with every extending write or truncate
mtime - update with every change
Either immediate file data or root of a btree index with versioned
extents at the leaves
Immediate data attributes:
immediate file data
version link (see below)
Unversioned reference to versioned attributes:
xattrs - version:atom:datalen:data
Versioned link count:
The inode can be freed when link counts of all versions are zero
None of the above:
atime - Update with every read - separate versioned btree
Note: an inode is never reused unless it is free in all versions.
Extended attributes are tagged with attribute "atoms" held in a global,
unversioned atom table, to translate attribute names into compact
The directory index scheme for Tux3 is PHTree, which is a (P)physically
stable variant of HTree, obtained by inserting a new layer of index
blocks between the index nodes and the dirent blocks, the "terminal"
index blocks. Each terminal index block is populated with [hash, block]
pairs, each of which indicates that there is a dirent in <block> with
Thus there are two "leaf" layers in a PHTree: 1) the terminal nodes of
the index btree and 2) the directory data blocks containing dirents.
This requires one extra lookup per operation versus HTree, which is
regretable, but it solves the physical stability problem that has caused
so much grief in the past with NFS support. With PHTree, dirent blocks
are never split and dirents are never moved, allowing the logical file
offset to serve as a telldir/seekdir position just as it does for
primitive filesystems like Ext2 and UFS, on which the Posix semantics of
directory traversal are sadly based.
There are other advantages to physical stability of dirents besides
supporting brain damaged NFS directory traversal semantics: because
dirents and inodes are initially allocated in the same order, a
traversal of the leaf blocks in physical order to perform deletes etc,
will tend to access the inodes in ascending order, which reduces cache
thrashing of the inode table, a problem that has been observed in
practice with schemes like HTree that traverse directories in hash
Because leaf blocks in PHTree are typically full instead of 75% full as
in HTree, the space usage ends up about the same. PHTree does btree
node merging on delete (which HTree does not) so fragmentation of the
hash key space is not a problem and a slightly less uniform but far more
efficient hash function can be used, which should deliver noticeably
HTree always allocates new directories entries into btree leaf nodes,
splitting them if necessary, so it does not have to worry about free
space management at all. PHTree does however, since gaps in the
dirent blocks left by entry deletions have to be recycled. A linear
scan for free space would be far too inefficient, so instead, PHTree
uses a lazy method of recording the maximum sized dirent available in
each directory block. The actual largest free dirent may be smaller,
and this will be detected when a search fails, causing the lazy max
to be updated. We can safely skip searching for free space in any
block for which the lazy max is less than the needed size. One byte
is sufficient for the lazy max, so one 4K block is sufficient to keep
track of 2^12 * 2^12 bytes worth of directory blocks, a 16 meg
directory with about half a million entries. For larger directories
this structure becomes a radix tree, with lazy max recorded also at
each index pointer for quick free space searching without having to
examine every lazy map.
Like HTree, a PHTree is a btree embedded in the logical blocks of a
file. Just like a file, a directory is read into a page cache mapping
as its blocks are accessed. Except for cache misses, the highly
efficient page cache radix tree mechanism is used to resolve btree
pointers, avoiding many file metadata accesses. A second consequence of
storing directory indexes in files is that the same versioning mechanism
that versions a file also versions a directory, so nothing special needs
to be done to support namespace versioning in Tux3.
Scaling to large number of versions
What happens as number of versions becomes very large is something of a
worry. Then a lot of metadata for unrelated versions may have to be
loaded, searched and edited. A relatively balanced symmetric version
tree can be broken up into a number of subtrees. Sibling subtrees
cannot possibly affect each other. O(log(subtrees)) subtrees need to be
loaded and operated on for any given version.
What about scaling of completely linear version chain? Then data is
heavily inherited and thus compressed. What if data is heavily
versioned and therefore not inherited much? Then we should store
elements in stable sort order and binsearch, which works well in this
case because not many parents have to be searched.
I have convinced myself that scaling to arbitrary numbers of versions
will cause worst case slowdown of no more than O(log(versions)) using
the method described above. When I say "large number of versions" I
mean "more than a few hundred", so it is not an pressing issue for
today's versioning filesystem applications, which mainly use
their versioning capability to implement backup and replication.
Filesystem expansion and shrinking
(What could possibly go wrong?)
Multiple Filesystems sharing the same Volume
This is just a matter of providing multiple inode btrees sharing the
same free tree. Not much of a challenge, and somebody may have a need
for it. Is there really any advantage if the volume manager and
filesystem already support on-demand expansion and shrinking?
(Have not thought about it yet. Quotas should be comprehensive, fine
grained and deadlock free.)
New user interfaces for Version Control
The standard method for accessing a particular version of a volume is
via a version option on the mount command. But it is also possible to
access file versions via several other methods, including a new variant
of the open syscall with a version tag parameter.
"Version transport" allows the currently mounted version to be changed
to some other. All open files will continue to access the version under
which they were opened, but newly opened files will have the new
version. This is the "Git Cache" feature.
Tux3 introduces the idea of a version link, similar to a symlink, but
carrying a version tag to allow the named file to be opened for some
other version than the currently mounted version. Like symlinks,
it is not required that the referenced object be valid. Version links
do not introduce any new inter-version consistency requirement, and are
therefore robust. Unlike symlinks, version links are not followed by
default. This makes it easy to implement a Netapp-like feature of
a hidden .snapshot subdirectory in each directory through which periodic
snapshots can be accessed by a user.
Summary of data structures
Only fixed fs attributes and pointers to metablocks
Like traditional superblocks, but containing only variable data
Distributed across volume, all read on start
Contain variable fields, e.g., forward logs
Versioned standard attributes
Versioned extended attributes
Versioned data attribute
Nonversioned file btree root
Btree tree versioned at the terminal index nodes leaf blocks are
arrays of 32 bit atimes
Btree with extents at the leaves
subtree free space hints at the nodes
A btree much like a directory mapping attribute names to internal
attribute codes (atoms). Maybe it should just be a directory like
Forward log commit block
Hash of transaction data
Rollup - which previous log entries to ignore
Embedded in logical blocks of directory file, therefore
Implementation work has begun. Much of the work consists of cutting and
pasted bits of code I have developed over the years, for example, bits
of HTree and ddsnap. The immediate goal is to produce a working
prototype that cuts a lot of corners, for example block pointers instead
of extents, allocation bitmap instead of free extent tree, linear search
instead of indexed, and no atomic commit at all. Just enough to prove
out the versioning algorithms and develop new user interfaces for
The biggest single piece of prototype work remaining to go from a
simplified prototype to the filesystem described here is to extend the
versioned pointer algorithms to handle versioned extents, a challenging
bit of hacking indeed. Transaction management at the VFS method level
is also expected to be a major cause headaches just as it was for Ext3.
Btree methods are pretty much under control.
The Tux3 project home is here:
A mailing list is here:
All interested parties welcome. Hackers especially welcome.
Prototype code proving the versioning algorithms is here:
A Mercurial tree is coming soon.
 For the whole story: google "evil+patents+sighted"
 Copy on write versioning, which I had a hand in inventing.
 Linus won. A major design element of Git (the directory manifest)
was due to me, and of course Graydon Hoare (google Quicksort) deserves
more credit than anyone.
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