6.9 Tuning Disks

6.9.1 Sysctl Variables

6.9.1.1 vfs.vmiodirenable

The vfs.vmiodirenable sysctl variable defaults to 0 (off) (though soon it will default to 1) and may be set to 0 (off) or 1 (on). This parameter controls how directories are cached by the system. Most directories are small and use but a single fragment (typically 1K) in the filesystem and even less (typically 512 bytes) in the buffer cache. However, when operating in the default mode the buffer cache will only cache a fixed number of directories even if you have a huge amount of memory. Turning on this sysctl allows the buffer cache to use the VM Page Cache to cache the directories. The advantage is that all of memory is now available for caching directories. The disadvantage is that the minimum in-core memory used to cache a directory is the physical page size (typically 4K) rather than 512 bytes. We recommend turning this option on if you are running any services which manipulate large numbers of files. Such services can include web caches, large mail systems, and news systems. Turning on this option will generally not reduce performance even with the wasted memory but you should experiment to find out.

6.9.1.2 hw.ata.wc

FreeBSD 4.3 flirted with turning off IDE write caching. This reduced write bandwidth to IDE disks but was considered necessary due to serious data consistency issues introduced by hard drive vendors. Basically the problem is that IDE drives lie about when a write completes. With IDE write caching turned on, IDE hard drives will not only write data to disk out of order, they will sometimes delay some of the blocks indefinitely when under heavy disk loads. A crash or power failure can result in serious filesystem corruption. So our default was changed to be safe. Unfortunately, the result was such a huge loss in performance that we caved in and changed the default back to on after the release. You should check the default on your system by observing the hw.ata.wc sysctl variable. If IDE write caching is turned off, you can turn it back on by setting the kernel variable back to 1. This must be done from the boot loader at boot time. Attempting to do it after the kernel boots will have no effect.

For more information, please see ata(4).

6.9.2 Soft Updates

The tunefs(8) program can be used to fine-tune a filesystem. This program has many different options, but for now we are only concerned with toggling Soft Updates on and off, which is done by :

    # tunefs -n enable /filesystem
    # tunefs -n disable /filesystem

A filesystem cannot be modified with tunefs(8) while it is mounted. A good time to enable Soft Updates is before any partitions have been mounted, in single-user mode.

Soft Updates drastically improves meta-data performance, mainly file creation and deletion, through the use of a memory cache. We recommend turning Soft Updates on on all of your filesystems. There are two downsides to Soft Updates that you should be aware of: First, Soft Updates guarantees filesystem consistency in the case of a crash but could very easily be several seconds (even a minute!) behind updating the physical disk. If you crash you may lose more work than otherwise. Secondly, Soft Updates delays the freeing of filesystem blocks. If you have a filesystem (such as the root filesystem) which is close to full, doing a major update of it, e.g. make installworld, can run it out of space and cause the update to fail.

This, and other documents, can be downloaded from ftp://ftp.FreeBSD.org/pub/FreeBSD/doc/.

For questions about FreeBSD, read the documentation before contacting <questions@FreeBSD.org>.
For questions about this documentation, e-mail <doc@FreeBSD.org>.