Over time the requirements for file systems have increased and the
demands for large structures, large files, long file names and more
has prompted ever more advanced file systems, the system that
accesses and organises the data on mass storage.
Today there is a large number of file systems to choose from and this
section will describe these in detail.
The emphasis is on Linux but with more input I will be happy to add
information for a wider audience.
Most operating systems usually have a general purpose file system for
every day use for most kinds of files, reflecting available features
in the OS such as permission flags, protection and recovery.
This was the original fs for Linux, back in the days Linux was hosted
on minix machines. It is simple but limited in features and hardly ever
used these days other than in some rescue disks as it is rather compact.
xiafs and extfs
These are also old and have fallen in disuse and are no longer recommended.
This is the established standard for general purpose in the Linux world.
It is fast, efficient and mature and is under continuous development and
features such as ACL and transparent compression are on the horizon.
This is the name for the upcoming successor to ext2fs due to enter
stable kernel in the near future. Many features are added to
ext2fs but to avoid confusion over the name after such a radical
upgrade the name will be changed too. You may have heard of it already
but source code is now in beta release .
This is the fs used by BSD and variants thereof. It is mature but also
developed for older types of disk drives where geometries were known. The
fs uses a number of tricks to optimise performance but as disk geometries
are translated in a number of ways the net effect is no longer so optimal.
The Extent File System (efs) is Silicon Graphics' early file system
widely used on IRIX before version 6.0 after which xfs has taken over.
While migration to xfs is encouraged efs is still supported
and much used on CDs.
Silicon Graphics Inc (sgi)
has started porting its mainframe grade file system to Linux.
Source is not yet available as they are busily cleaning out
legal encumbrance but once that is done they will provide the
source code under GPL.
As of July, 23th 1997
Hans Reiser reiser (at) RICOCHET.NET
has put up the source to his tree based
on the web. While his filesystem has some very interesting features and
is much faster than ext2fs and is in use by a number of people.
Hopefully it will be ready for kernel 2.4.0 which might be ready at
the end of the year.
The Enhanced File System project is now dead.
This is a variation on the ext2fs that adds robustness
in case of unexpected interruptions such as power failure.
After such an event Tux2 fs will restart with the file system
in a consistent, recently recorded state without fsck or
other recovery operations. To achieve this Tux2 fs uses
a newly designed algorithm called Phase Tree.
These take a radically different approach to file updates by
logging modifications for files in a log and later at some
time checkpointing the logs.
Reading is roughly as fast as traditional file systems that
always update the files directly.
Writing is much faster as only updates are appended to a log.
All this is transparent to the user. It is in reliability and
particularly in checking file system integrity that these
file systems really shine.
Since the data before last checkpointing is known to be good
only the log has to be checked, and this is much faster than
for traditional file systems.
Note that while
logging filesystems keep track of changes made to both data and inodes,
journaling filesystems keep track only of inode changes.
Linux has quite a choice in such file systems but none are
yet in production quality. Some are also on hold.
Adam Richter from Yggdrasil posted some time ago that they have been
working on a compressed log file based system but that this project is
currently on hold. Nevertheless a non-working version is available on
their FTP server. Check out
the Yggdrasil ftp server
where special patched versions of the kernel can be found.
Read-only media has not escaped the ever increasing complexities
seen in more general file systems so again there is a large choice
to choose from with corresponding opportunities for exciting mistakes.
Note that ext2fs works quite well on a CD-ROM
and seems to save space while offering the normal file system features
such as long file names and permissions that can be retained when
copying files across to read-write media. Also having
on a CD-ROM is possible.
Most of these are used with the CD-ROM media but also the new
DVD can be used and you can even use it through the loopback device
on a hard disk file for verifying an image before burning a ROM.
There is a read-only romfs for Linux but as that is not disk
related nothing more will be said about it here.
This was one of the earliest standards for CD-ROM formats,
supposedly named after the hotel where the final agreement took place.
High Sierra was so limited in features that new extensions simply
had to appear and while there has been no end to new formats the original
High Sierra remains the common precursor and is therefore still
The International Standards Organisation made their extensions and
formalised the standard into what we know as the iso9660 standard.
The Linux iso9660 file system supports both High Sierra as well as
Rock Ridge extensions.
Not everyone accepts limits like short filenames and lack of permissions
so very soon the Rock Ridge extensions appeared to rectify these
Microsoft, not be be outdone in the standards extension game, decided
it should extend CD-ROM formats with some internationalisation features
and called it Joliet.
Linux supports this standards in kernels 2.0.34 or newer.
You need to enable NLS in order to use it.
Joliet is a city outside Chicago; best known for being the site of
the prison where Jake was locked up in the movie "Blues Brothers."
Rock Ridge (the UNIX extensions to ISO 9660) is named
after the (fictional) town in the movie "Blazing Saddles."
With the arrival of DVD with up to about 17 GB of storage capacity
the world seemingly needed another format, this time ambitiously named
Universal Disk Format (UDF).
This is intended to replace iso9660 and will be required for DVD.
There is a large number of networking technologies available that
lets you distribute disks throughout a local or even global networks.
This is somewhat peripheral to the topic of this HOWTO but as it can
be used with local disks I will cover this briefly. It would be best
if someone (else) took this into a separate HOWTO...
This is one of the earliest systems that allows mounting a file space
on one machine onto another. There are a number of problems with NFS
ranging from performance to security but it has nevertheless become
This is a system that allows efficient sharing of files
across large networks. Starting out as an academic project
it is now sold by
whose home page gives you more details.
Important: as AFS uses encryption it is
restricted software and cannot easily be exported from the US.
IBM who owns Transarc, has announced the availability of the latest
version of client as well as server for Linux.
Arla is a free AFS implementation, check the
for more information as well as documentation.
A networking filesystem similar to AFS is underway and is called
This is designed to be more robust and fault tolerant than AFS,
and supports mobile, disconnected operations.
Currently it does not scale very well, and does not really have
proper administrative tools, as AFS does and ARLA is
Network Block Device
(nbd) is available in Linux kernel 2.2
and later and offers reportedly excellent performance. The interesting
thing here is that it can be combined with RAID (see later).
name="Enhanced Network Block Device">
(enbd) is a project to enhance the nbd with
features such as block journaled multi channel communications,
internal failover and automatic balancing between channels
The intended use is for RAID over the net.
Global File System
is a new file system designed for storage across a wide area network.
It is currently in the early stages and more information will come
In addition to the general file systems there is also a number of
more specific ones, usually to provide higher performance or other
features, usually with a tradeoff in other respects.
tmpfs and swapfs
For short term fast file storage SunOS offers tmpfs which is
about the same as the swapfs on NeXT.
This overcomes the inherent slowness in ufs by caching file data
and keeping control information in memory. This means that data on such
a file system will be lost when rebooting and is therefore mainly
suitable for /tmp area but not /var/tmp which is where
temporary data that must survive a reboot, is placed.
SunOS offers very limited tuning for tmpfs and the number of
files is even limited by total physical memory of the machine.
Linux now features tmpfs since kernel version 2.4 and is
enabled by turning on virtual memory file system support (former shm fs).
Under certain circumstances tmpfs can lock up the system in
early kerbel versions, make sure you use version 2.4.6 or later.
The user file system (userfs) allows a number of extensions to
traditional file system use such as
FTP based file system, compression (arcfs) and fast prototyping
and many other features. The docfs is based on this filesystem.
for more information.
When disks are added, removed or just fail it is likely that
disk device names of the remaining disks will change.
For instance if sdb fails then the old sdc becomes sdb,
the old sdc becomes sdb and so on.
Note that in this case hda, hdb etc will remain unchanged.
Likewise if a new drive is added the reverse may happen.
There is no guarantee that SCSI ID 0 becomes sda and that adding
disks in increasing ID order will just add a new device name without
renaming previous entries, as some SCSI drivers assign from ID 0 and up
while others reverse the scanning order.
Likewise adding a SCSI host adapter can also cause renaming.
Generally device names are assigned in the order they are found.
The source of the problem lies in the limited number of bits available
for major and minor numbering in the device files used to describe the
device itself. You an see these in the
on the numbering and allocation can be found in man MAKEDEV.
Currently there are 2 solutions to this problem in various stages of
works by creating a database of drives and where they
belong, check man scsifs and the
scsidev home page
for more information
is a more long term project aimed at getting around the
whole business of device numbering by making the
directory a kernel file system in the same way as
More information will appear as it becomes available.
For a number of reasons it is currently difficult to have files
bigger than 2 GB. One file system that tries to overcome this
limit is smugfs which is very fast but also simple. For instance
there are no directories and the block allocation is simple.
It is available as
compressed tarred source code
and while it worked with kernel version 2.1.85 it is quite possible some
work is required to make it fit into newer kernels. Also the low version
number (0.0) suggests extra care is required.
There is a jungle of choices but generally it is recommended to
use the general file system that comes with your distribution.
If you use ufs and have some kind of tmpfs available
you should first start off with the general file system to get
an idea of the space requirements and if necessary buy more
RAM to support the size of tmpfs you need. Otherwise you
will end up with mysterious crashes and lost time.
If you use dual boot and need to transfer data between the two
OSes one of the simplest ways is to use an appropriately sized
partition formatted with fat as most systems can reliably
read and write this.
Remember the limit of 2 GB for fat partitions.
That guide is being superseded by a HOWTO which is underway and
a link will be added when it is ready.
To avoid total havoc with device renaming if a drive fails
check out the scanning order of your system and try to keep
your root system on hda or sda and removable media
such as ZIP drives at the end of the scanning order.