New NOVA Filesystem

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Andiry Xu (working with Lu Zhang, Steven Swanson and others) posted patches for a new filesystem called NOVA (NOn-Volatile memory Accelerated). Normal RAM chips are wiped every time you turn off your computer. Non-volatile RAM retains its data across reboots. Their project targeted byte-addressable non-volatile memory chips, such as Intel's 3DXpoint DIMMs. Andiry said that the current incarnation of their code was able to do a lot already, but they still had a big to-do list, and they wanted feedback from the kernel people.

Theodore Y. Ts'o gave the patches a try, but he found that they wouldn't even compile without some fixes, which he posted in reply. Andiry said they'd adapt those fixes into their patches.

The last time NOVA made an appearance on the kernel mailing list was August 2017, when Steven made a similar announcement. This time around, they posted a lot more patches, including support for SysFS controls, Kconfig compilation options and a significant amount of documentation.

One of NOVA's main claims to fame, aside from supporting non-volatile RAM, is that it is a log-based filesystem. Other filesystems generally map out their data structures on disk and update those structures in place. This is good for saving seek-time on optical and magnetic disks. Log-based filesystems write everything sequentially, trailing old data behind them. The old data then can be treated as a snapshot of earlier states of the filesystem, or it can be reclaimed when space gets tight.

Log-based filesystems are not necessarily preferred for optical and magnetic drives, because sequential writes will tend to fragment data and slow things down. Non-volatile RAM is based on different technology that has faster seek-times, making a log-based approach a natural choice.

NOVA goes further than most log-based filesystems, which tend to have a single log for the whole filesystem, and instead maintains a separate log for each inode. Using the log data, NOVA can perform writes either in place like traditional filesystems or as copy-on-write (COW) operations, which keep the old version of a file until the new version has been written. This has the benefit of being able to survive catastrophic events like sudden power failures in the middle of doing a write, without corrupting the filesystem.

There were lots of responses to the patches from Andiry and the rest of his team. Most were bug reports and criticism, but no controversy. Everyone seemed to be interested in helping them get their code right so the patches could get into the main tree quickly.

Note: if you're mentioned above and want to post a response above the comment section, send a message with your response text to ljeditor@linuxjournal.com.

Zack Brown is a tech journalist at Linux Journal and Linux Magazine, and is a former author of the "Kernel Traffic" weekly newsletter and the "Learn Plover" stenographic typing tutorials. He first installed Slackware Linux in 1993 on his 386 with 8 megs of RAM and had his mind permanently blown by the Open Source community. He is the inventor of the Crumble pure strategy board game, which you can make yourself with a few pieces of cardboard. He also enjoys writing fiction, attempting animation, reforming Labanotation, designing and sewing his own clothes, learning French and spending time with friends'n'family.

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