Shrinking the partitions of a software RAID-1 swap partition

April 17, 2017

A few days ago I optimistically talked about my plans for a disk shuffle on my office workstation, by replacing my current 1 TB pair of drives (one of which had failed) with a 1.5 TB pair. Unfortunately when I started putting things into action this morning, one of the 1.5 TB drives failed immediately. We don't have any more spare 1.5 TB drives (at least none that I trust), but we did have what I believe is a trustworthy 1 TB drive, so I pressed that into service and changed my plans around to be somewhat less ambitious and more lazy. Rather than make a whole new set of RAID arrays on the new disks (and go through the effort of adding them to /etc/mdadm.conf and so on), I opted to just move most of the existing RAID arrays over to the new drives by attaching and detaching mirrors.

This presented a little bit of a problem for my mirrored swap partition, which I wanted to shrink from 4 GB to 1 GB. Fortunately it turns out that it's actually possible to shrink a software RAID-1 array these days. After some research, my process went like this:

  • Create the new 1 GB partitions for swap on the new disks as part of partitioning them. We can't directly add these to the existing swap array, /dev/md14, because they're too small.

  • Stop using the swap partition because we're about to drop 3/4ths of it. This is just 'swapoff -a'.

  • Shrink the amount of space to use on each drive of the RAID-1 array down to an amount of space that's smaller than the new partitions:

    mdadm --grow -z 960M /dev/md14

    I first tried using -Z (aka --array-size) to shrink the array size non-persistently, but mdadm still rejected adding a too-small new array component. I suppose I can't blame it.

  • Add in the new 1 GB partitions and pull out the old 4 GB partition:

    mdadm --add /dev/md14 /dev/sdc3
    # (wait for the resync to finish)
    mdadm --add /dev/md14 /dev/sdd3
    mdadm --repace /dev/md14 /dev/sde4
    # (wait for the resync to finish)
    madam -r /dev/md14 /dev/sde4

  • Tell software RAID to use all of the space on the new partitions:

    mdadm --grow -z max /dev/md14

At this point I almost just swapon'd the newly resized swap partition. Then it occurred to me that it probably still had a swap label that claimed it was a 4 GB swap area, and the kernel would probably be a little bit unhappy with me if I didn't fix that with 'mkswap /dev/md14'. Indeed mkswap reported that it was replacing an old swap label with a new one.

My understanding is that the same broad approach can be used to shift a software RAID-1 array for a filesystem to smaller partitions as well. For a filesystem that you want to keep intact, you first need to shrink the filesystem safely below the size you'll shrink the RAID array to, then at the end grow the filesystem back up. All things considered I hope that I never have to shrink or reshape the RAID array for a live filesystem this way; there are just too many places where I could blow my foot off.

(Life is easier if the filesystem is expendable and you're going to mkfs a new one on top of it later.)

You might ask why it's worth going through all of this instead of just making a new software RAID-1 array. That's a good question, and for me it comes down to how much of a pain it often is to set up a new array. These days I prefer to change /etc/mdadm.conf, /etc/fstab and so on as little as possible, which means that I really want to preserve the name and MD UUID of existing arrays when feasible instead of starting over from scratch.

This is also where I have an awkward admission: for some reason, I thought that you couldn't use 'mdadm --detail --scan' on a single RAID array, to conveniently generate the new line you need for mdadm.conf when you create a new array. This is wrong; you definitely can, so you can just do things like 'mdadm --detail --scan /dev/mdNN >>/etc/mdadm.conf' to set it up. Of course you may then have to regenerate your initramfs in order to make life happy.

(I hope I never need to do this sort of thing again, but if I do I want to have some notes about it. Sadly someday we may need to use a smaller replacement disk in a software RAID mirror in an emergency situation and I may get to call on this experience.)

Written on 17 April 2017.
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Last modified: Mon Apr 17 23:18:30 2017
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