Wandering Thoughts archives


One reason that ZFS can't turn a directory into a filesystem

One of the wishes that I and other people frequently have for ZFS is the ability to take an existing directory (and everything underneath it) in a ZFS filesystem and turn it into a sub-filesystem of its own. One reason for wanting this is that a number of things are set and controlled on a per-filesystem basis in ZFS, instead of on a per-directory basis; if you have a (sub)directory where you want any special value for those, you need to make it a filesystem of its own. Often you may not immediately realize this before the directory exists and has been populated, and you discover the need for the special setting values. Today I realized that one reason ZFS doesn't have this feature is because of how ZFS filesystems are put together.

ZFS is often described as tree structured, and this is generally true; a lot of things in a ZFS pool are organized into a tree of objects. However, while filesystems are a tree at the logical level of directories and subdirectories, they aren't a tree as represented on disk. Directories in ZFS filesystems don't directly point to the disk addresses of their contents; instead, ZFS filesystems have a flat, global table of object numbers (effectively inode numbers) and all directory entries refer to things by object number. Since ZFS is a copy on write filesystem, this level of indirection is quite important in reducing how much has to be updated when a file or a directory is changed.

If ZFS filesystems used tree structured references at the level of directory entries (and we ignored hardlinks), it would make conceptual sense that you could take a directory object, pull it into a new filesystem, and patch its reference in its parent directory. All of the object references in the tree under the directory would stay the same; they would just be in a new container, the new filesystem. Filesystems would essentially be cut points in the overall object tree.

However, you can't make this model work when filesystems have a single global space of object numbers that are used in directory entries. A new filesystem has its own new table of object numbers, and you would have to move all of the objects referred to by the directory hierarchy into this new table, which means you'd have to walk the directory tree to find them all and then possibly update all of the directories if you changed their object numbers as part of putting them in a new object (number) table. This isn't the sort of work that you should be asking a filesystem to do in the kernel; it's much more suited for a user level tool.

Now that I've thought of this, it's even more understandable how ZFS doesn't have this feature, however convenient for me it would be, and how it never will.

(Hardlinks by themselves probably cause enough heartburn to sink a feature to turn a directory into a filesystem, although I can see ways to deal with them if you try hard enough.)

solaris/ZFSWhyNotDirectoryToFilesystem written at 22:43:07; Add Comment

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