Thursday, July 5, 2012

What's up with OCFS2?

By: Wim Coekaerts | SVP
On Linux there are many filesystem choices and even from Oracle we provide a number of filesystems, all with their own advantages and use cases. Customers often confuse ACFS with OCFS or OCFS2 which then causes assumptions to be made such as one replacing the other etc... I thought it would be good to write up a summary of how OCFS2 got to where it is, what we're up to still, how it is different from other options and how this really is a cool native Linux cluster filesystem that we worked on for many years and is still widely used.

Work on a cluster filesystem at Oracle started many years ago, in the early 2000's when the Oracle Database Cluster development team wrote a cluster filesystem for Windows that was primarily focused on providing an alternative to raw disk devices and help customers with the deployment of Oracle Real Application Cluster (RAC). Oracle RAC is a cluster technology that lets us make a cluster of Oracle Database servers look like one big database. The RDBMS runs on many nodes and they all work on the same data. It's a Shared Disk database design. There are many advantages doing this but I will not go into detail as that is not the purpose of my write up. Suffice it to say that Oracle RAC expects all the database data to be visible in a consistent, coherent way, across all the nodes in the cluster. To do that, there were/are a few options : 1) use raw disk devices that are shared, through SCSI, FC, or iSCSI 2) use a network filesystem (NFS) 3) use a cluster filesystem(CFS) which basically gives you a filesystem that's coherent across all nodes using shared disks. It is sort of (but not quite) combining option 1 and 2 except that you don't do network access to the files, the files are effectively locally visible as if it was a local filesystem.

So OCFS (Oracle Cluster FileSystem) on Windows was born. Since Linux was becoming a very important and popular platform, we decided that we would also make this available on Linux and thus the porting of OCFS/Windows started. The first version of OCFS was really primarily focused on replacing the use of Raw devices with a simple filesystem that lets you create files and provide direct IO to these files to get basically native raw disk performance. The filesystem was not designed to be fully POSIX compliant and it did not have any where near good/decent performance for regular file create/delete/access operations. Cache coherency was easy since it was basically always direct IO down to the disk device and this ensured that any time one issues a write() command it would go directly down to the disk, and not return until the write() was completed. Same for read() any sort of read from a datafile would be a read() operation that went all the way to disk and return. We did not cache any data when it came down to Oracle data files.

So while OCFS worked well for that, since it did not have much of a normal filesystem feel, it was not something that could be submitted to the kernel mail list for inclusion into Linux as another native linux filesystem (setting aside the Windows porting code ...) it did its job well, it was very easy to configure, node membership was simple, locking was disk based (so very slow but it existed), you could create regular files and do regular filesystem operations to a certain extent but anything that was not database data file related was just not very useful in general. Logfiles ok, standard filesystem use, not so much. Up to this point, all the work was done, at Oracle, by Oracle developers.

Once OCFS (1) was out for a while and there was a lot of use in the database RAC world, many customers wanted to do more and were asking for features that you'd expect in a normal native filesystem, a real "general purposes cluster filesystem". So the team sat down and basically started from scratch to implement what's now known as OCFS2 (Oracle Cluster FileSystem release 2). Some basic criteria were :

  • Design it with a real Distributed Lock Manager and use the network for lock negotiation instead of the disk
  • Make it a Linux native filesystem instead of a native shim layer and a portable core
  • Support standard Posix compliancy and be fully cache coherent with all operations
  • Support all the filesystem features Linux offers (ACL, extended Attributes, quotas, sparse files,...)
  • Be modern, support large files, 32/64bit, journaling, data ordered journaling, endian neutral, we can mount on both endian /cross architecture,..
  • Needless to say, this was a huge development effort that took many years to complete. A few big milestones happened along the way...

  • OCFS2 was development in the open, we did not have a private tree that we worked on without external code review from the Linux Filesystem maintainers, great folks like Christopher Hellwig reviewed the code regularly to make sure we were not doing anything out of line, we submitted the code for review on lkml a number of times to see if we were getting close for it to be included into the mainline kernel. Using this development model is standard practice for anyone that wants to write code that goes into the kernel and having any chance of doing so without a complete rewrite or.. shall I say flamefest when submitted. It saved us a tremendous amount of time by not having to re-fit code for it to be in a Linus acceptable state. Some other filesystems that were trying to get into the kernel that didn't follow an open development model had a lot harder time and a lot harsher criticism.
  • March 2006, when Linus released 2.6.16, OCFS2 officially became part of the mainline kernel, it was accepted a little earlier in the release candidates but in 2.6.16. OCFS2 became officially part of the mainline Linux kernel tree as one of the many filesystems. It was the first cluster filesystem to make it into the kernel tree. Our hope was that it would then end up getting picked up by the distribution vendors to make it easy for everyone to have access to a CFS. Today the source code for OCFS2 is approximately 85000 lines of code.
  • We made OCFS2 production with full support for customers that ran Oracle database on Linux, no extra or separate support contract needed. OCFS2 1.0.0 started being built for RHEL4 for x86, x86-64, ppc, s390x and ia64. For RHEL5 starting with OCFS2 1.2.
  • SuSE was very interested in high availability and clustering and decided to build and include OCFS2 with SLES9 for their customers and was, next to Oracle, the main contributor to the filesystem for both new features and bug fixes.
  • Source code was always available even prior to inclusion into mainline and as of 2.6.16, source code was just part of a Linux kernel download from, which it still is, today. So the latest OCFS2 code is always the upstream mainline Linux kernel.
  • OCFS2 is the cluster filesystem used in Oracle VM 2 and Oracle VM 3 as the virtual disk repository filesystem.
  • Since the filesystem is in the Linux kernel it's released under the GPL v2
  • The release model has always been that new feature development happened in the mainline kernel and we then built consistent, well tested, snapshots that had versions, 1.2, 1.4, 1.6, 1.8. But these releases were effectively just snapshots in time that were tested for stability and release quality.

    OCFS2 is very easy to use, there's a simple text file that contains the node information (hostname, node number, cluster name) and a file that contains the cluster heartbeat timeouts. It is very small, and very efficient. As Sunil Mushran wrote in the manual :

  • OCFS2 is an efficient, easily configured, quickly installed, fully integrated and compatible, feature-rich, architecture and endian neutral, cache coherent, ordered data journaling, POSIX-compliant, shared disk cluster file system.

  • Here is a list of some of the important features that are included :

  • Variable Block and Cluster sizes
    Supports block sizes ranging from 512 bytes to 4 KB and cluster sizes ranging from 4 KB to 1 MB (increments in power of 2).
  • Extent-based Allocations
    Tracks the allocated space in ranges of clusters making it especially efficient for storing very large files.
  • Optimized Allocations
    Supports sparse files, inline-data, unwritten extents, hole punching and allocation reservation for higher performance and efficient storage.
  • File Cloning/snapshots
    REFLINK is a feature which introduces copy-on-write clones of files in a cluster coherent way.
  • Indexed Directories
    Allows efficient access to millions of objects in a directory.
  • Metadata Checksums
    Detects silent corruption in inodes and directories.
  • Extended Attributes
    Supports attaching an unlimited number of name:value pairs to the file system objects like regular files, directories, symbolic links, etc.
  • Advanced Security
    Supports POSIX ACLs and SELinux in addition to the traditional file access permission model.
  • Quotas
    Supports user and group quotas.
  • Journaling
    Supports both ordered and writeback data journaling modes to provide file system consistency in the event of power failure or system crash.
  • Endian and Architecture neutral
    Supports a cluster of nodes with mixed architectures. Allows concurrent mounts on nodes running 32-bit and 64-bit, little-endian (x86, x86_64, ia64) and big-endian (ppc64) architectures.
  • In-built Cluster-stack with DLM
    Includes an easy to configure, in-kernel cluster-stack with a distributed lock manager.
  • Buffered, Direct, Asynchronous, Splice and Memory Mapped I/Os Supports all modes of I/Os for maximum flexibility and performance.
  • Comprehensive Tools Support
    Provides a familiar EXT3-style tool-set that uses similar parameters for ease-of-use.

  • The filesystem was distributed for Linux distributions in separate RPM form and this had to be built for every single kernel errata release or every updated kernel provided by the vendor. We provided builds from Oracle for Oracle Linux and all kernels released by Oracle and for Red Hat Enterprise Linux. SuSE provided the modules directly for every kernel they shipped. With the introduction of the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel for Oracle Linux and our interest in reducing the overhead of building filesystem modules for every minor release, we decide to make OCFS2 available as part of UEK. There was no more need for separate kernel modules, everything was built-in and a kernel upgrade automatically updated the filesystem, as it should. UEK allowed us to not having to backport new upstream filesystem code into an older kernel version, backporting features into older versions introduces risk and requires extra testing because the code is basically partially rewritten. The UEK model works really well for continuing to provide OCFS2 without that extra overhead.

    Because the RHEL kernel did not contain OCFS2 as a kernel module (it is in the source tree but it is not built by the vendor in kernel module form) we stopped adding the extra packages to Oracle Linux and its RHEL compatible kernel and for RHEL. Oracle Linux customers/users obviously get OCFS2 included as part of the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel, SuSE customers get it by SuSE distributed with SLES and Red Hat can decide to distribute OCFS2 to their customers if they chose to as it's just a matter of compiling the module and making it available.

    OCFS2 today, in the mainline kernel is pretty much feature complete in terms of integration with every filesystem feature Linux offers and it is still actively maintained with Joel Becker being the primary maintainer. Since we use OCFS2 as part of Oracle VM, we continue to look at interesting new functionality to add, REFLINK was a good example, and as such we continue to enhance the filesystem where it makes sense. Bugfixes and any sort of code that goes into the mainline Linux kernel that affects filesystems, automatically also modifies OCFS2 so it's in kernel, actively maintained but not a lot of new development happening at this time. We continue to fully support OCFS2 as part of Oracle Linux and the Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel and other vendors make their own decisions on support as it's really a Linux cluster filesystem now more than something that we provide to customers. It really just is part of Linux like EXT3 or BTRFS etc, the OS distribution vendors decide.

    Do not confuse OCFS2 with ACFS (ASM cluster Filesystem) also known as Oracle Cloud Filesystem. ACFS is a filesystem that's provided by Oracle on various OS platforms and really integrates into Oracle ASM (Automatic Storage Management). It's a very powerful Cluster Filesystem but it's not distributed as part of the Operating System, it's distributed with the Oracle Database product and installs with and lives inside Oracle ASM. ACFS obviously is fully supported on Linux (Oracle Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux) but OCFS2 independently as a native Linux filesystem is also, and continues to also be supported. ACFS is very much tied into the Oracle RDBMS, OCFS2 is just a standard native Linux filesystem with no ties into Oracle products. Customers running the Oracle database and ASM really should consider using ACFS as it also provides storage/clustered volume management. Customers wanting to use a simple, easy to use generic Linux cluster filesystem should consider using OCFS2.

    To learn more about OCFS2 in detail, you can find good documentation on in the Documentation area, or get the latest mainline kernel from and read the source.

    One final, unrelated note - since I am not always able to publicly answer or respond to comments, I do not want to selectively publish comments from readers. Sometimes I forget to publish comments, sometime I publish them and sometimes I would publish them but if for some reason I cannot publicly comment on them, it becomes a very one-sided stream. So for now I am going to not publish comments from anyone, to be fair to all sides. You are always welcome to email me and I will do my best to respond to technical questions, questions about strategy or direction are sometimes not possible to answer for obvious reasons.

    Join the discussion

    Comments ( 1 )
    • guest Tuesday, October 21, 2014

      Thanks for this informative posting.

      Few questions that I have.

      Does oracle Linux use UEK or UEK is available as separate kernel module?

      Has they been any disadvantage towards using OCFS2 in Grid Infra?


    Please enter your name.Please provide a valid email address.Please enter a comment.CAPTCHA challenge response provided was incorrect. Please try again.Captcha

    Visit the Oracle Blog


    Contact Us


    Integrated Cloud Applications & Platform Services