Operating The Linux Filesystem (203.1)
Operating The Linux Filesystem (203.1)¶
Candidates should be able to properly configure and navigate the standard Linux filesystem. This objective includes configuring and mounting various filesystem types.
Key Knowledge Areas¶
The concept of the
Tools and utilities for handling SWAP partitions and files
Use of UUIDs for identifying and mounting file systems
Understanding of systemd mount units
Terms and Utilities¶
The File Hierarchy¶
Historically, the location of certain files and utilities has not always been standard (or fixed). This has led to problems with development and upgrading between different "distributions" of Linux. The Linux directory structure (or Linux directory structure file hierarchy) was based on existing flavors of UNIX, but as it evolved, certain inconsistencies came into being. These were often small things such as the location (or placement) of certain configuration files, but this resulted in difficulties porting software from host to host.
To equalize these differences a file standard was developed. This, to date, is an evolving process resulting in a fairly static model for the Linux file hierarchy. This filesystem hierarchy is standardized Linux file hierarchy in the filesystem hierarchy standard. The current version is 2.3. More information and documentation on the FHS can be found at Filesystem Hierarchy Standard homepage. See also the section on the FHS standard.
The top level of the Linux file hierarchy is referred to as the root (or
/ ). The root directory typically contains several other directories.
An overview was already presented in the section that discusses the
contents of the root file system. A recap:
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Generally, the root should not contain any additional files NDASH a possible exception would be mount points for various purposes.
A filesystem consists of methods and data structures that an filesystems operating system uses to keep track of files on a disk or partition; that is, the way the files are organised on the disk. The word is also used to refer to a partition or disk that is used to store the files or the type of the filesystem. Thus, one might say "I have two filesystems" meaning one has two partitions on which files are stored, or one might say "I am using the XFS filesystem", meaning the type of the XFS filesystem.
The difference between a disk or partition and the partition filesystem it contains is important. A few programs (including those that create filesystems) operate directly on the raw sectors of a disk or partition; if a filesystem is already there it will be destroyed or seriously corrupted. Most programs operate on a filesystem, and therefore won't work on a partition that doesn't contain one (or that contains a filesystem of the wrong type).
Before a partition or disk can be used as a filesystem, it needs to be initialized, and the bookkeeping data structures need to be written to the disk. This process is called making a filesystem. making a filesystem
Most UNIX filesystem types have a similar general structure, although the exact details vary quite a bit. The central superblock inode directory blocks indirection blocks concepts are superblock, inode, data block, directory block, and indirection block. The superblock contains information about the filesystem as a whole, such as its size (the exact information here depends on the filesystem). An inode contains all information about a file, except its name. The name is stored in the directory, together with the number of the inode. A directory entry consists of a filename and the number of the inode which represents the file. The inode contains the numbers of several data blocks, which are used to store the data in the file. There is space only for a few data block numbers in the inode, however, and if more are needed, more space for pointers to the data blocks is allocated dynamically. These dynamically allocated blocks are indirect blocks; the name indicates that in order to find the data block, one has to find its number in the indirect block first.
Before a partition can be mounted (or used), a filesystem must Creatingfilesystem first be installed on it NDASH with ext2, this is the process of creating i-nodes and data blocks.
This process is the equivalent of initializing the partition. Under
create filesystem mkfs Linux, the command to create a filesystem is
The command is issued in the following way:
- forces a check for bad blocks
- specifies the filesystem type. For most filesystem types there is a
shorthand for this e.g.:
mkfs -t ext2can also be called as ext2
mkfs -t vfator
mkfs -t msdoscan also be called as
- is either the device file associated with the partition or device OR is the directory where the file system is mounted (this is used to erase the old file system and create a new one)
Note Creating a filesystem on a device with an existing filesystem will cause all data on the old filesystem to be erased.
Mounting and Unmounting¶
Linux presents all filesystems as one directory tree. Hence to add a new
device with a filesystem on it its filesystem needs to be made part of
that one directory tree. The way this is done is by attaching the new
filesystem under an existing (preferably empty) directory, which is part
of the existing directory tree - the "
To attach a new file system to the directory mount unmount hierarchy you must mount its associated device file. First you will need to create the mount point; a directory where the device will be attached. As directories are part of a filesystem too the mount point exists on a previously mounted device. It should be empty. If is is not the files in the directory will not be visible while the device is mounted to it, but will reappear after the device has been disconnected (or unmounted). This type of security by obscurity is sometimes used to hide information from the casual onlooker.
To mount a device, use the mount command:
With some devices, mount will detect what type of filesystem exists on the device, however it is more usual to use mount in the form of:
Generally, only the root user can use the mount command - mainly due to
the fact that the device files are owned by root. For example, to mount
the first partition on the second (IDE) hard drive off the
directory and assuming it contained the ext2 filesystem, you'd enter
A common device that is mounted is the floppy drive. A floppy disk generally contains the FAT, also known as msdos, filesystem (but not always) FAT and is mounted with the command:
Note that the floppy disk was mounted under the
/mnt directory. This
is because the
/mnt directory is the usual place to temporarily mount
To see which devices you currently have mounted, simply type the command
mount. Some sample output:
1 2 3 4 5
Each line shows which device file is mounted, where it is iso9660
mounted, what filesystem type each partition is and how it is mounted
ro = read only,
rw = read/write). Note the strange entry on line
three NDASH the proc filesystem. This is a special "virtual" filesystem
used by Linux systems to store information about the kernel, processes
and current resource usage. It is actually part of the system's memory
NDASH in other words, the kernel sets aside an area of memory in which
it stores information about the system. This same area is mounted onto
the filesystem so that user programs have access to this information.
The information in the proc filesystem can also be used to see which filesystems are mounted by issuing the command: /proc/mounts
1 2 3 4 5 6
The difference between
/proc/mounts is that
/etc/mtab is the user space administration kept by
/proc/mounts is the information kept by the kernel. The latter
reflects the information in user space. Due to these different
implementations the info in
/proc/mounts is always up-to-date, while
the info in
/etc/mtab may become inconsistent.
To release a device and disconnect it from the filesystem, the umount command is used. It is issued in the form: umount
For example, to release the floppy disk, you'd issue the command:
Again, you must be the root user or a user with privileges to do this. You can't unmount a device/mount point that is in use by a user (e.g. the user's current working directory is within the mount point) or is in use by a process. Nor can you unmount devices/mount points which in turn have devices mounted to them.
The system needs to mount devices during boot. In true UNIX fashion,
there is a file which governs the behaviour of mounting devices at boot
time. In Linux, this file is
/etc/fstab. Lines from the /etc/fstabfile
use the following format:
The first three fields are self explanatory; the fourth field,
mount_options defines how the device will be mounted (this includes
information of access mode
rw , execute permissions and other
information) - information on this can be found in the
mount man pages
(note that this field usually contains the word "defaults" ). The fifth
and sixth fields are used by the system utilities
respectively - see the next section for details.
There's also a file called
/etc/mtab. It lists the currently mounted
partitions in fstab form.
Systemd Mount Units¶
Linux distributions that have adopted the systemd initialization system
have an additional way of mounting filesystems. Instead of using the
fstab file for persistent mounting, a filesystem can be configured
using a mount unit file. This mount unit file holds the configuration
details for systemd to persistently mount filesystems.
A systemd mount unit file has a specific naming convention. The file
name refers to the absolute directory it will be mounted on and the file
.mount. For the name of the file the first and last
forward slash (/) of the mount path it represents are removed and the
remaining slashes are converted to a dash (-). So if, for example, a
filesystem is mounted to the mount point
/home/user/data/ the mount
unit file must be named
In the mount file three required sections are defined:
[Install]. An example of a mount unit file
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
To test the configuration reload the systemctl daemon by using the
systemctl daemon-reload and then manually start the mount unit
file with the command
systemctl start followed by the mount unit file.
In our example that would be
systemctl start home-user-data.mount.
Next you can check if the filesystem was mounted correctly by getting
the overview from
mount. If everything works as expected make the
filesystem mount persistent by enabling the mount unit file with the
systemctl enable home-user-data.mount.
Swap space in Linux is a partition or file that is used to move the contents of inactive pages of RAM to when RAM becomes full. Linux can use either a normal file in the filesystem or a swap separate partition for swap space. A swap partition is faster, but it is easier to change the size of a swap file (there's no need to repartition the whole hard disk, and possibly install everything from scratch). When you know how much swap space you need, you should use a swap partition, but if you are in doubt, you could use a swap file first, and use the system for a while so that you can get a feel for how much swap you need, and then make a swap partition when you're confident about its size. It is recommended to use a separate partition, because this excludes chances of file system fragmentation, which would reduce performance. Also, by using a separate swap partition, it can be guaranteed that the swap region is at the fastest location of the disk. On current HDDs this is at the beginning of the platters (outside rim, first cylinders). It is possible to use several swap partitions and/or swap files at the same time. This means that if you only occasionally need an unusual amount of swap space, you can set up an extra swap file at such times, instead of keeping the whole amount allocated all the time.
mkswap is used to initialize a mkswap swap partition or a
swap file. The partition or file needs to exist before it can be
initialized. A swap partition is created with a disk partitioning tool
fdisk and a swap file can be created with: /dev/zero
When the partition or file is created, it can be initialized with:
An initialized swap space is taken into use with
swapon. This swapon
command tells the kernel that the swap space may be used. The path to
the swap space is given as the argument, so to start swapping on a
temporary swap file one might use the following command:
or, when using a swap partition:
Swap spaces may be used automatically by listing them in the file
The startup scripts will run the command
-a, which will start swapping on all the swap spaces listed
/etc/fstab. Therefore, the swapon command is usually used only when
extra swap is needed. You can monitor the use of swap spaces with free
free. It will report the total amount of swap space used:
1 2 3 4 5
The first line of output (
Mem:) shows the physical memory. The
column does not show the physical memory used by the kernel, which is
loaded into the RAM memory during the boot process. The
used column shows the amount of memory used (the second line
does not count buffers). The
free column shows completely unused memory. The
shows the amount of memory used by tmpfs (shmem in /proc/meminfo); The
buffers column shows the current size of the disk buffer cache.
That last line (
Swap: ) shows similar information for the swap spaces.
If this line is all zeroes, swap space is not activated.
The same information, in a slightly different format, can be shown by
cat on the file /proc/meminfo
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
swapoff To disable a device or swap file, use the
The term UUID stands for Universal Unique IDentifier. It's a 128 bit number that can be used to identify basically anything. Generating such UUIDs can be done using appropriate software. There are 5 various versions of UUIDs, all of them use a (pseudo)random element, current system time and some mostly unique hardware ID, for example a MAC address. Theoretically there is a very, very remote chance of an UUID not being unique, but this is seen as impossible in practice.
On Linux, support for UUIDs was started within the e2fsprogs package.
With filesystems, UUIDs are used to represent a specific filesystem. You
can for example use the UUID in
/etc/fstab to represent the partition
which you want to mount.
Usually, a UUID is represented as 32 hexadecimal digits, grouped in sequences of 8,4,4,4 and 12 digits, separated by hyphens. Here's what an fstab entry with a UUID specifier looks like:
You might be wondering about the use of UUID's in fstab, since device names work fine. UUIDs come in handy when disks are moved to different connectors or computers, multiple operating systems are installed on the computer, or other cases where device names could change while keeping the filesystem intact. As long as the filesystem does not change, the UUID stays the same.
Note the 'as long as the filesystem does not change'. This means, when
you reformat a partition, the UUID will change. For example, when you
use mke2fs to reformat partition
/dev/sda3, the UUID will be changed.
So, if you use UUIDs in
/etc/fstab, you have to adjust those as well.
blkid If you want to know the UUID of a specific partition, use
Note It is possible to create a new filesystem and still make it have the same UUID as it had before, at least for 'ext' type filesystems.
On most Linux distributions you can generate your own UUIDs using the
To improve performance of Linux filesystems, many operations are
done in filesystem buffers, stored in RAM. To actually flush the data
contained in these buffers to disk, the
sync command is used.
sync is called automatically at the right moment when rebooting or
halting the system. You will rarely need to use the command yourself.
sync might be used to force syncing data to an USB device before
removing it from your system, for example.
sync does not have any operation influencing options, so when you need
to, just execute \"
sync\" on the command line.