The long term problem with ZFS on Linux is its license

January 25, 2015

Since I've recently praised ZFS on Linux as your only real choice today for an advanced filesystem, I need to bring up the long term downside because, awkwardly, I do believe that btrfs is probably going to be the best pragmatic option in the long term and is going to see wider adoption once it works reliably.

The core of the problem is ZFS's license, which I've written about before. What I didn't write about back then because I didn't know enough at the time was the full effects on ZoL of not being included in distributions. The big effect is it will probably never be easy or supported to make your root filesystem a ZFS pool. Unless distributions restructure their installers (and they have no reason to do so), a ZFS root filesystem needs first class support in the installer and it will almost certainly be rather difficult (both politically and otherwise) to add this. This means no installer-created filesystem can be a ZFS one, and the root filesystem has to be created in the installer.

(Okay, you can shuffle around your root filesystem after the basic install is done. But that's a big pain.)

In turn this means that ZFS on Linux is probably always going to be a thing for experts. To use it you need to leave disk space untouched in the installer (or add disk space later), then at least fetch the ZoL packages from an additional repository and have them auto-install on your kernel. And of course you have to live with a certain amount of lack of integration in all of the bits (especially if you go out of your way to use a ZFS root filesystem).

(And as I've seen there are issues with mixing ZFS and non-ZFS filesystems. I suspect that these issues will turn out to be relatively difficult to fix, if they can be at all. Certainly things seem much more likely to work well if all of your filesystems are ZFS filesystems.)

PS: Note that in general having non-GPLv2, non-bundled kernel modules is not an obstacle to widespread adoption if people want what you have to offer. A large number of people have installed binary modules for their graphics cards, for one glaring example. But I don't think that fetching these modules has been integrated into installers despite how popular they are.

(Also, I may be wrong here. If ZFS becomes sufficiently popular, distributions might at least make it easy for people to make third party augmented installers that have support for ZFS. Note that ZFS support in an installer isn't as simple as the choice of another filesystem; ZFS pools are set up quite differently from normal filesystems and good ZFS root pool support has to override things like setup for software RAID mirroring.)

Written on 25 January 2015.
« Web applications and generating alerts due to HTTP requests
Some notes on keeping up with Go packages and commands »

Page tools: View Source, Add Comment.
Login: Password:
Atom Syndication: Recent Comments.

Last modified: Sun Jan 25 04:20:46 2015
This dinky wiki is brought to you by the Insane Hackers Guild, Python sub-branch.