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SubjectRe: Versioning file system
Jack Stone wrote:
> I hope I got the CC list right. Apologies to anyone in didn't include
> and anyone I shouldn't have included.
> The basic idea is to include an idea from VMS that seems to be quite
> useful: version numbers for files.
> The idea is that whenever you modify a file the system saves it to na
> new copy leaving the old file intact. This could be a great advantage
> from many view points:
> 1) it would be much easier to do package management as the old
> version would be automatically saved for a package
> management system to deal with.
> 2) backups would also be easier as all versions of a file
> are automatically saved so it could be potentially very
> useful for a company or the like.
> There are probably many others but these were the two that I liked best.
> Revision numbers could be specified as follows:
> /path/to/file:revision_number
> I think that this can be done without breaking userspace if the default
> was to open the highest revision file if no revision number is
> specified. The userspace tools would need to be updated to take full
> advantage of the new system but if the delimiter between the path and
> revision number were chosen sensibly then the changes to most of
> userspace would be minimal to non-existant.
> Personally, I think that the bulk of the implementation could be in the
> core fs code and the modifications to individual filesystems would be
> minimal. The main implementation ideas I have (however, I am no kernel
> expert =) are adding an extra field to struct file and struct inode
> called int revision (as version is already taken) that would hold the
> number of the file revision being accessed.
> Another problem could be the increased usage of disk space. However if
> only deltas from the first version were stored then this could cut down
> on space, or if this were too slow to open a file then the deltas could
> be off every tenth revision (ie 0,10,20,30... where 0,10,20... are full
> copies of the file).
> There would need to be a tool of some describtion to remove old
> revisions but this should not be a major undertaking as it may be
> something as simple as a new system call. This would have to be careful
> to update any deltas that were affected by the removal of previous
> revisions but that could be taken care of in kernel space.
> Thanks to anyone who stuck with me this far =). I don't know how widely
> useful this may be but that's the reason I posted before trying to code
> anything. I would very much value any contributions even a reasoned NAK
> as I'm still learning how kernel development works (and I would love any
> implementation directions)
> Jack
> -
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The underlying internal implementation of something like this wouldn't be all
that hard on many filesystems, but it's the interface that's the problem. The
':' character is a perfectly legal filename character, so doing it that way
would break things. I think NetApp more or less got the interface right by
putting a .snapshot directory in each directory, with time-versioned
subdirectories each containing snapshots of that directory's contents at those
points in time. It keeps the backups under the same hierarchy as the original
files, to avoid permissions headaches, it's accessible over NFS without
modifying the client at all, and it's hidden just enough to make it hard for
users to do something stupid.

If you want to do something like this (and it's generally not a bad idea), make
sure you do it in a way that's not going to change the behavior seen by existing
applications, and that is accessible to unmodified remote clients. Hidden
.snapshot directories are one way, a parallel /backup filesystem could be
another, whatever. If you break existing apps, I won't touch it with a ten foot

-- Chris
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