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SubjectRe: Block device cache issue
On Thu, 2 Apr 2009 17:52:05 +0300 Apollon Oikonomopoulos <> wrote:

> Greetings to the list,
> At my company, we have come across something that we think is a design
> limitation in the way the Linux kernel handles block device caches. I
> will first describe the incident we encountered, before speculating on
> the actual cause.
> As part of our infrastructure, we are running some Linux servers used as
> Xen Dom0s, using SAN LUNs as the VMs' disk images, so these LUNs contain
> normal MBR partition tables. At some point we came across a VM, that -
> due to a misconfiguration of GRUB - failed on a reboot. We used
> multipath-tools' kpartx to create a device-mapper device pointing to the
> first partition of the LUN, mounted the filesystem, changed
> boot/grub/menu.lst, unmounted it and proceeded to boot the VM once more.
> To our surprise, Xen's pygrub showed the boot menu exactly as it was
> before the changes we made. We double-checked that the changes we made
> were indeed there and tried to find out what was actually going on.
> As it turned out, the LUN device's read buffers had not been updated;
> losetup'ing the LUN device with the proper offset to the first partition
> and mounting it gave us exactly the image of the filesystem as it was
> _before_ our changes. We started digging into the kernel's buffer
> internals and came along the conclusion [1] that every block device has
> its own pagecache, attached to a hash of (major,minor), that is
> independent from the caches of its containing or contained devices.
> Now, in practice one rarely - if ever - accesses the same data from
> these two different paths (disk + partition), except in scenarios like
> this. However currently there seems to be an implicit assumption that
> these two paths should not be used in the same "uptime" cycle at all, at
> least not without dropping the caches. For the record, I managed to
> reproduce the whole issue by reading a single block through sda, dd'ing
> random data to it through sda1 and re-reading it through sda: its
> contents were intact (even hours later) and were up-to-date only when
> using O_DIRECT and finally when I dropped all caches (using
> /proc/sys/vm/drop_caches).
> And now we come to the question part: Can someone please verify that the
> above statements are correct, or am I missing something?

The above statements are correct ;)

Similarly, the pagecache for /etc/password is separate from the
pagecache for the device upon which /etc is mounted.

> If they are,
> should it perhaps be the case that the partition's buffers somehow be
> linked with those of the containing device, or even be part of them? I
> don't even know if this is possible without significant overhead in the
> page cache (of which my understanding is very shallow), but keep in mind
> that this behaviour almost led to filesystem corruption (luckily we only
> changed a single file and hit a single inode).

It would incur overhead. We could perhaps fix it by having a single
cache for /dev/sda and then just making /dev/sda1 access that cache
with an offset. But it rarely if ever comes up - I guess the few
applications which do this sort of thing are taking suitable steps to
avoid it - fsync, ioctl(BKLFLSBUF), posix_fadvise(FADV_DONTNEED),
O_DIRECT, etc.

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