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FSFS propaganda

From: Greg Hudson <ghudson_at_MIT.EDU>
Date: 2004-04-30 18:44:50 CEST

I've written a little propaganda document about FSFS. It lives in
http://web.mit.edu/ghudson/info/fsfs if you need to link to it; here's
a copy for easy access and for the list archives.

In the longer term (closer to the 1.1 release), this could be used as
source material for FAQs or for the svn book.

"FSFS" is the name of a Subversion filesystem implementation, an
alternative to the original Berkeley DB-based implementation.  See
http://subversion.tigris.org/ for information about Subversion.  This
is a propaganda document for FSFS, to help people determine if they
should be interested in using it instead of the BDB filesystem.
How FSFS is Better
* Write access not required for read operations
To perform a checkout, update, or similar operation on an FSFS
repository requires no write access to any part of the repository.
* Little or no need for recovery
An svn process which terminates improperly will not generally cause
the repository to wedge.  (See "Note: Recovery" below for a more
in-depth discussion of what could conceivably go wrong.)
* Smaller repositories
An FSFS repository is smaller than a BDB repository.  Generally, the
space savings are on the order of 10-20%, but if you do a lot of work
on branches, the savings could be much higher, due to the way FSFS
stores deltas.  Also, if you have many small repositories, the
overhead of FSFS is much smaller than the overhead of the BDB
* Platform-independent
The format of an FSFS repository is platform-independent, whereas a
BDB repository will generallly require recovery (or a dump and load)
before it can be accessed with a different operating system, hardware
platform, or BDB version.
* Can host on network filesystem
FSFS repositories can be hosted on network filesystems, just as CVS
repositories can.  (See "Note: Locking" for caveats about
* No umask issues
FSFS is careful to match the permissions of new revision files to the
permissions of the previous most-recent revision, so there is no need
to worry about a committer's umask rendering part of the repository
inaccessible to other users.  (You must still set the g+s bit on the
db directories on most Unix platforms other than the *BSDs.)
* Standard backup software
An FSFS repository can be backed up with standard backup software.
Since old revision files don't change, incremental backups with
standard backup software are efficient.
(BDB repositories can be backed up using "svnadmin hotcopy" and can be
backed up incrementally using "svnadmin dump".  FSFS just makes it
* Can split up repository across multiple spools
If an FSFS repository is outgrowing the filesystem it lives on, you
can symlink old revisions off to another filesystem.
* More easily understood repository layout
If something goes wrong and you need to examine your repository, it
may be easier to do so with the FSFS format than with the BDB format.
(To be fair, both of them are difficult to extract file contents from
by hand, because they use delta storage, and "db_dump" makes it
possible to analyze a BDB repository.)
* (Fine point) Fast "svn log -v" over big revisions
In the BDB filesystem, if you do a large import and then do "svn log
-v", the server has to crawl the database for each changed path to
find the copyfrom information, which can take a minute or two of high
server load.  FSFS stores the copyfrom information along with the
changed-path information, so the same operation takes just a few
* (Marginal) Can give insert-only access to revs subdir for commits
In some filesystems such as AFS, it is possible to give insert-only
write access to a directory.  If you can do this, you can give people
commit access to an FSFS repository without allowing them to modify
old revisions, without using a server.
(The Unix sticky bit comes close, but people would still have
permission to modify their own old revisions, which, because of delta
storage, might allow them to influence the contents of other people's
more recent revisions.)
How FSFS is Worse
* More server work for head checkout
Because of the way FSFS stores deltas, it takes more work to derive
the contents of the head revision than it does in a BDB filesystem.
Measurements suggest that in a typical workload, the server has to do
about twice as much work (computation and file access) to check out
the head.  From the client's perspective, with network and working
copy overhead added in, the extra time required for a checkout
operation is minimal, but if server resources are scarce, FSFS might
not be the best choice for a repository with many readers.
* Finalization delay
Although FSFS commits are generally faster than BDB commits, more of
the work of an FSFS commit is deferred until the final step.  For a
very large commit (tens of thousands of files), the final step may
involve a delay of over a minute.  There is no user feedback during
the final phase of a commit, which can lead to impatience and, in
really bad cases, HTTP client timeouts.
* Lower commit throughput
Because of the greater amount of work done during the final phase of a
commit, if there are many commits to an FSFS repository, they may
stack up behind each other waiting for the write lock, whereas in a
BDB repository they would be able to do more of their work in
* Immature code
FSFS was only recently implemented.  At the time of this writing, it
is not part of any Subversion release, and it has received only
minimal testing.
* (Developers) More difficult to index
Every so often, people propose new Subversion features which require
adding new indexing to the repository in order to implement
efficiently.  Here's a little picture showing where FSFS lies on the
indexing difficulty axis:
               Ease of adding new indexing
   harder <----------------------------------> easier
           FSFS            BDB            SQL
With a hypothetical SQL database implementation, new indexes could be
added easily.  In the BDB implementation, it is necessary to write
code to maintain the index, but transactions and tables make that code
relatively straightforward to write.  In a dedicated format like FSFS,
particularly with its "old revisions never change" constraint, adding
new indexing features would generally require a careful design
How To Use
At the time of this writing, FSFS support only exists in the
unreleased trunk, in r9573 or later.  If you aren't comfortable with
building Subversion from source, you should probably wait until the
Subversion 1.1 release.
If you've gotten that out of the way, using FSFS is simple: just
create your repositories with "svnadmin create --fs-type=fsfs PATH".
Note: Recovery
If a process terminates abnormally during a read operation, it should
leave behind no traces in the repository, since read operations do not
modify the repository in any way.
If a process terminates abnormally during a commit operation, it will
leave behind a stale transaction, which will not interfere with
operation and which can be removed with a normal recursive delete
If a process terminates abnormally during the final phase of a commit
operation, it may be holding the write lock.  The way locking is
currently implemented, a dead process should not be able to hold a
lock, but over a remote filesystem that guarantee may not apply.
Also, in the future, FSFS may have optional support for
NFSv2-compatible locking which would allow for the possibility of
stale locks.  In either case, the write-lock file can simply be
removed to unblock commits, and read operations will remain
Note: Locking
Locking is currently implemented using the apr_file_lock() function,
which on Unix uses fcntl() locking, and on Windows uses LockFile().
Modern remote filesystem implementations should support these
operations, but may not do so perfectly, and NFSv2 servers may not
support them at all.
It is possible to do exclusive locking under basic NFSv2 using a
complicated dance involving link().  It's possible that FSFS will
evolve to allow NFSv2-compatible locking, or perhaps just basic O_EXCL
locking, as a repository configuration option.
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Received on Fri Apr 30 18:45:14 2004

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