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SubjectRe: Raw devices (Was:Re: NTFS, FAT32, etc.)
On Thu, 8 May 1997, Martin von Loewis wrote:

> > O_SYNC gives synchronous writes but using O_SYNC is not the same
> > as having raw devices. Raw device writes skip the buffer cache
> > but may or may not be completed before return depending whether
> > the kernel uses an intermediate buffer or not.
>
> Now it's getting weird. So you are saying that the kernel might have
> an extra internal buffer, which is not counted as buffer cache for
> raw devices (this sounds like a terminology issue: any internal buffer
> of the kernel for writing could be considered a 'cache').
> Anyway, so raw devices do *not* guarantee IO finalization, which means
> that in case of a crash, data written to a raw device might get lost?
> This does not sound like a very usefull device...
>
> Thanks,
> Martin
>

If I recall properly, this thread started because some database
writers think that you need to have a physical write to the
storage device in order to maintain "Database concurrency". This
premise is flawed.

A write to the physical hardware does not guarantee that the
data is on a disk platter. Further, reading from the
hardware does not imply that the data was actually read from
the disk platter. This is because most all high quality,
high speed disk drives buffer data internally. The extreme
example is a RAID Array where the data may never be written
to a physical disk until a power failure is detected.

There is no essential difference between data buffered in
the kernel or data buffered in the disk drive. There is
always the possibility that data being written may not be
able to be read at a later date.

This is the reason for "Transaction Processing". Such
processing is used for Banking Institutions, etc., where
they keep track of interest earned to the nearest mill at
the nearest millisecond.

There are books written about transaction processing. It is
a very important tool for database management. It is a way
of recovering all information should the hardware fail.

Basically, it involves assembling all the information
necessary to roll-back a transaction should it fail.

Then a specific time is used to "commit to" the transaction.
This information is written someplace (usually a file called
a journal file) and the file is closed. The time at which
the transaction is committed is not the time at which the
file is written or closed. The transaction time is an
element within that transaction record.

No further transactions are allowed on any of the records in
that file until the transaction is complete although other
transactions, involving other records, may be occurring.

Eventually the actual results of the transaction are written
to the database. The time at which this write occurred is
then appended to the journal file. This time does not have
to be accurate because it is used only for disaster
recovery. The records contained within the journal file are
then allowed to be used in other transactions.

Eventually, the disk(s) containing the database files are
backed up and archived. As each record is backed up, the
journal file regarding that record is deleted after it too
is backed up.

The result is that any transaction occurring at any time can
be rolled back and redone in the correct order regardless of
any system crashes. Further, the time that the transaction
occurred will always be the time at which it was committed,
regardless of any intervening hardware problems.

Now, some "Johnny come lately" coders, not to be confused
with Software Engineers, think that you can bypass all that
by doing physical writes to hardware. They are not only
uninformed but dumb, i.e., stupid.

If you read some book that says you can guarantee "database
concurrency" or some other US$50 word, by doing physical
writes, throw it away. It is wrong. If you have a College
Professor who insists that this is true, change classes. If
you have a boss that insists that this is true, change jobs.

Now you have solved the problem. You can now write a
database program that works. The key to writing any database
program is to presume that the data goes to paper tape. With
this in mind, you'll write an efficient high-speed process
in which you let the operating systems worry about punching
the holes.

Now, it is possible to do a better job of implimenting a
"Database storage area" than a file-system. For this, you
would use a "raw device". Such devices exist in all UNIX type
operating systems. Linux uses /dev/sda-z for SCSI devices.
Sun uses /dev/rdsk/c0t0..... Again, to worry about how or when
your records get written to the physical media will not be
productive. You let the Operating System do it.
Cheers,
Dick Johnson
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Richard B. Johnson
Project Engineer
Analogic Corporation
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