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Using a Linux for an office file server is a no-brainer: it’s cheap, you don’t have to worry about unmanageable license costs and it just works.

Default settings of most Linux distributions are however not optimal: they are meant to be as standard compliant and as general as possible so that everything works well enough regardless of what you do.

For a file server hosting large numbers of files, these default settings can become a liability: everything slows down as the number of files creeps up and it makes your once-snappy fileserver as fas as a sleepy sloth.

There are a few things that we can do to ensure we get the most of our server.

### Checking our configuration

First, a couple of commands that will help us investigate the current state of our configuration.

* `df` will give us a quick overview of the filesystem:
df -T
Filesystem Type 1K-blocks Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/md2 ext3 19840804 4616780 14199888 25% /
tmpfs tmpfs 257580 0 257580 0% /dev/shm
/dev/md0 ext3 194366 17718 166613 10% /boot
/dev/md4 ext3 9920532 5409936 3998532 58% /var
/dev/md3 ext3 194366 7514 176817 5% /tmp
/dev/md5 ext3 46980272 31061676 13493592 70% /data

* `tune2fs` will help us configure the options for each ext3 partition.
If we want to check what is the current configuration of a given partition, says we want to know the current options for our `/data` mount:
# tune2fs -l /dev/md5
If I was using LVM as a Volume manager, I would type something like:
# tune2fs -l /dev/VolGroup00/LogVol02
This would give lots of information about the partition:
tune2fs 1.40.2 (12-Jul-2007)
Filesystem volume name:
Last mounted on:
Filesystem UUID: d6850da8-af6f-4c76-98a5-caac2e10ba30
Filesystem magic number: 0xEF53
Filesystem revision #: 1 (dynamic)
Filesystem features: has_journal resize_inode dir_index filetype
needs_recovery sparse_super large_file
Filesystem flags: signed directory hash
Default mount options: user_xattr acl
Filesystem state: clean
Errors behavior: Continue
The interesting options are listed under `Filesystem features` and `Default mount options`. For instance, here we know that the partition is using a journal and that it is using the `dir_index` capability, already a performance booster.

* `cat /proc/mounts` is useful to know the mounting options for our filesystem (just listed some interesting ones here):
rootfs / rootfs rw 0 0
/dev/root / ext3 rw,data=ordered 0 0
/dev/md0 /boot ext3 rw,data=ordered 0 0
/dev/md4 /var ext3 rw,data=ordered 0 0
/dev/md3 /tmp ext3 rw,data=ordered 0 0
/dev/md5 /data ext3 rw,data=ordered 0 0
none /proc/sys/fs/binfmt_misc binfmt_misc rw 0 0
/dev/md4 /var/named/chroot/var/run/dbus ext3 rw,data=ordered 0 0
The `data=ordered` mount parameter tells us of the journaling configuration for the partition.

So what is [journaling][1]?
It’s one of the great improvements of ext3: a journal is a special log on the disk that keeps track of changes about to be made. It ensures that, in case of failure, the filesystem can quickly recover without loss of information.

There are 3 settings for the journalling feature:

* `data=journal` the most secure but also slowest option since all data and metadata is written to disk: the whole operation needs to be completed before any other operation can be completed. It’s sort of going to the bank for a deposit, filling the paperwork and making sure the teller puts the money in the vault before you leave.
* `data=ordered` is usually the default compromise: you fill-in the paperwork and remind the teller to put the money in the vault asap.
* `data=writeback` is the fastest but you can’t be absolutely sure that things will be done in time to prevent any loss if a problem occurs soon after you’ve asked for the data to be written.

In normal circumstances all 3 end-up the same way: data is eventually written to disk and everything is fine.
Now if there is a crash just as the data was written only option `journal` would guarantee that everything is safe. Option `ordered` is fairly safe too because the money should be in the vault soon after you left; most systems use this option by default.

If you want to boost your performance and use `writeback` you should make sure that:

* you have a good power-supply backup to minimise the risk of power failure
* you have a good data backup strategy
* you’re ok with the risk of losing the data that was written right before the crash.

To change the journaling option you simply use `tune2fs` with the appropriate option:
# tune2fs -o journal_data_writeback /dev/md5

###Mount options

Now that we’ve changed the available options for our partition, we need to tell the system to use them.
Edit `/etc/fstab` and add `data=writeback` to the option columns:
/dev/md5 /data ext3 defaults,data=writeback 1 2
Next time our partition is mounted, it will use the new option. For that we can either reboot or remount the partition:
# mount – o remount /data

###noatime option

There is another option that can have a very dramatic effect on performance, probably even more than the journaling options above.

By default, whenever you read a file the kernel will update its last access time, meaning that we end up with a write operation for every read!
Since this is required for POSIX compliance, almost all Linux distributions leave this setting alone by default.
For a file server, this can have such drastic consequence on performance.

To disable this time-consuming and not useful feature (for a file server), simply add the `noatime` option to the `fstab` mount options:
/dev/md5 /data ext3 defaults,noatime,data=writeback 1 2
Note that updating access times is sometimes required by some software, such as mail software (such as mutt). If you properly keep your company data in a dedicated partition, you can enable the mount options only for that partition and keep other options for the root filesystem.

###dealing with errors in fstab

After doing the above on one of the servers, I realized that I made a typo when editing `/etc/fstab`.
This resulted in the root filesystem being mounted read-only, making fstab impossible to edit…

To make matters worse, this machine was a few thousand miles away and could not be accessed physically….

Remounting the root filesystem resulted in errors:
# mount -o remount,rw /
mount: / not mounted already, or bad option
After much trial and rebooting, this worked (you need to specify all mounting options, to avoid the wrong defaults from being read from etc/mtab`):
# mount -o rw,remount,defaults /dev/md2 /
After that, I could edit `/etc/fstab` and correct the typo…

How much these options will improve performance really depends on how your data is used: the improvements should be perceptible if your directories are filled with large amounts of small files.
Deletion should also be faster.


Last modified: Sunday, 18 April 2021



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