Improving inode Caching

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Future Directions for XFS - Inode Subsystems[edit]


Improving Inode Caching and Operation in XFS[edit]

Thousand foot view:

We want to drive inode lookup in a manner that is as parallel, scalable and low overhead as possible. This means efficient indexing, lowering memory consumption, simplifying the caching heirachy, removing duplication and reducing/removing lock traffic.

In addition, we want to provide a good foundation for simplifying inode I/O, improving writeback clustering, preventing RMW of inode buffers under memory pressure, reducing creation and deletion overhead and removing writeback of unlogged changes completely.

There are a variety of features in disconnected trees and patch sets that need to be combined to acheive this - the basic structure needed to implement this is already in mainline and that is the radix tree inode indexing. Further improvements are going to be based around this structure and using it effectively to avoid needing other indexing mechanisms.


Combining XFS and VFS inodes[edit]

Status: Done (October 2008)

Compressed Inode Cache[edit]

The XFs inode cache uses a lot of memory. We can avoid this problem by making use of the compressed inode cache - only the active inodes are held in a non-compressed form, hence most inodes will end up being cached in compressed form rather than in the XFS/linux inode form. The compressed form can reduce the cached inode footprint to 200-300 bytes per inode instead of 1-1.1k that they currently take on a 64bit system. Hence by moving to a compressed cache we can greatly increase the number of inodes cached in a given amount of memory which more that offsets any comparitive increase we will see from inodes in reclaim. the compressed cache should really have a LRU and a shrinker as well so that memory pressure will slowly trim it as memory demands occur. [Note: this compressed cache is discussed further later on in the reclaim context.]

Fixed Inode Cache Size[edit]

It is worth noting that for embedded systems and appliances it may be worth while allowing the size of the caches to be fixed. Also, to prevent memory fragmentation problems, we could simply allocate that memory to the compressed cache slab. In effect, this would become a 'static slab' in that it has a bound maximum size and never frees and memory. When the cache is full, we reclaim an object out of it for reuse - this could be done by triggering the shrinker to reclaim from the LRU. This would prevent the compressed inode cache from consuming excessive amounts of memory in tightly constrained evironments. Such an extension to the slab caches does not look difficult to implement, and would allow such customisation with minimal deviation from mainline code.

Bypassing the Linux Inode Cache[edit]

Lookups: Done (October 2008)

Tracking dirty inodes: Done

Writeback of dirty inodes: Done

Writeback of dirty pages: still executed the by VFS

Now that we can track dirty inodes ourselves, we can pretty much isolate writeback of both data and inodes from the generic pdflush code. If we add a hook high up in the pdflush path that simply passes us a writeback control structure with the current writeback guidelines, we can do writeback within those guidelines in the most optimal fashion for XFS.

Avoiding the Generic pdflush Code[edit]

Writeback of inodes via AIL: Done

For pdflush driven writeback, we only want to write back data; all other inode writeback should be driven from the AIL (our time ordered dirty metadata list) or xfssyncd in a manner that is most optimal for XFS.

Furthermore, if we implement our own pdflush method, we can parallelise it in several ways. We can ensure that each filesystem has it's own flush thread or thread pool, we can have a thread pool shared by all filesystems (like pdflush currently operates), we can have a flush thread per inode radix tree, and so one. The method of paralleisation is open for interpretation, but enabling multiple flush threads to operate on a single filesystem is one of the necessary requirements to avoid data writeback (and hence delayed allocation) being limited to the throughput of a single CPU per filesystem.

Improving Inode Writeback[edit]

To optimise inode writeback, we really need to reduce the impact of inode buffer read-modify-write cycles. XFS is capable of caching far more inodes in memory than it has buffer space available for, so RMW cycles during inode writeback under memory pressure are quite common. Firstly, we want to avoid blocking pdflush at all costs. Secondly, we want to issue as much localised readahead as possible in ascending offset order to allow both elevator merging of readahead and as little seeking as possible. Finally, we want to issue all the write cycles as close together as possible to allow the same elevator and I/O optimisations to take place.

To do this, firstly we need the non-blocking inode flush semantics to issue readahead on buffers that are not up-to-date rather than reading them synchronously. Inode writeback already has the interface to handle inodes that weren't flushed - we return EAGAIN from xfs_iflush() and the higher inode writeback layers handle this appropriately. It would be easy to add another flag to pass down to the buffer layer to say 'issue but don't wait for any read'. If we use a radix tree traversal to issue readahead in such a manner, we'll get ascending offset readahead being issued.

One problem with this is that we can issue too much readahead and thrash the cache. A possible solution to this is to make the readahead a 'delayed read' and on I/o completion add it to a queue that holds a reference on the buffer. If a followup read occurs soon after, we remove it from the queue and drop that reference. This prevents the buffer from being reclaimed in betwen the readahead completing and the real read being issued. We should also issue this delayed read on buffers that are in the cache so that they don't get reclaimed to make room for the readahead.

To prevent buildup of delayed read buffers, we can periodically purge them - those that are older than a given age (say 5 seconds) can be removed from the list and their reference dropped. This will free the buffer and allow it's pages to be reclaimed.

Once we have done the readahead pass, we can then do a modify and writeback pass over all the inodes, knowing that there will be no read cycles to delay this step. Once again, a radix tree traversal gives us ascending order writeback and hence the modified buffers we send to the device will be in optimal order for merging and minimal seek overhead.

Contiguous Inode Allocation[edit]

To make optimal use of the radix tree cache and enable wide-scale clustering of inode writeback across multiple clusters, we really need to ensure that inode allocation occurs in large contiguous chunks on disk. Right now we only allocate chunks of 64 inodes at a time; ideally we want to allocate a stripe unit (or multiple of) full of inodes at a time. This would allow inode writeback clustering to do full stripe writes to the underlying RAID if there are dirty inodes spanning the entire stripe unit.

The problem with doing this is that we don't want to introduce the latency of creating megabytes of inodes when only one is needed for the current operation. Hence we need to push the inode creation into a background thread and use that to create contiguous inode chunks asynchronously. This moves the actual on-disk allocation of inodes out of the normal create path; it should always be able to find a free inode without doing on disk allocation. This will simplify the create path by removing the allocate-on-disk-then-retry-the-create double transaction that currently occurs.

As an aside, we could preallocate a small amount of inodes in each AG (10-20MB of inodes per AG?) without impacting mkfs time too greatly. This would allow the filesystem to be used immediately on the first mount without triggering lots of background allocation. This could alsobe done after the first mount occurs, but that could interfere with typical benchmarking situations. Another good reason for this preallocation is that it will help reduce xfs_repair runtime for most common filesystem usages.

One of the issues that the background create will cause is a substantial amount of log traffic - every inode buffer initialised will be logged in whole. Hence if we create a megabyte of inodes, we'll be causing a megabyte of log traffic just for the inode buffers we've initialised. This is relatively simple to fix - we don't log the buffer, we just log the fact that we need to initialise inodes in a given range. In recovery, when we see this transaction, then we build the buffers, initialise them and write them out. Hence, we don't need to log the buffers used to initialise the inodes.

Also, we can use the background allocations to keep track of recently allocated inode regions in the per-ag. Using that information to select the next inode to be used rather than requiring btree searches on every create will greatly reduce the CPU overhead of workloads that create lots of new inodes. It is not clear whether a single background thread will be able to allocate enough inodes to keep up with demand from the rest of the system - we may need multiple threads for large configurations.

Single Block Inode Allocation[edit]

One of the big problems we have withe filesystems that are approaching full is that it can be hard to find a large enough extent to hold 64 inodes. We've had ENOSPC errors on inode allocation reported on filesystems that are only 85% full. This is a sign of free space fragmentation, and it prevents inode allocation from succeeding. We could (and should) write a free space defragmenter, but that does not solve the problem - it's reactive, not preventative.

The main problem we have is that XFS uses inode chunk size and alignment to optimise inode number to disk location conversion. That is, the conversion becomes a single set of shifts and masks instead of an AGI btree lookup. This optimisation substantially reduces the CPU and I/O overhead of inode lookups, but it does limit our flexibility. If we break the alignment restriction, every lookup has to go back to a btree search. Hence we really want to avoid breaking chunk alignment and size rules.

An approach to avoiding violation of this rule is to be able to determine which index to look up when parsing the inode number. For example, we could use the high bit of the inode number to indicate that it is located in a non-aligned inode chunk and hence needs to be looked up in the btree. This would avoid the lookup penalty for correctly aligned inode chunks.

If we then redefine the meaning of the contents of the AGI btree record for such inode chunks, we do not need a new index to keep these in. Effectively, we need to add a bitmask to the record to indicate which blocks inside the chunk can actually contain inodes. We still use aligned/sized records, but mask out the sections that we are not allowed to allocate inodes in. Effectively, this would allow sparse inode chunks. There may be limitations on the resolution of sparseness depending on inode size and block size, but for the common cases of 4k block size and 256 or 512 byte inodes I think we can run a fully sparse mapping for each inode chunk.

This would allow us to allocate inode extents of any alignment and size that fits *inside* the existing alignment/size limitations. That is, a single extent allocation could not span two btree records, but can lie anywhere inside a single record. It also means that we can do multiple extent allocations within one btree record to make optimal use of the fragmented free space.

It should be noted that this will probably have impact on some of the inode cluster buffer mapping and clustering algorithms. It is not clear exactly what impact yet, but certainly write clustering will be affected. Fortunately we'll be able to detect the inodes that will have this problem by the high bit in the inode number.

Inode Unlink[edit]

If we turn to look at unlink and reclaim interactions, there are a few optimisations that can be made. Firstly, we don't need to do inode inactivation in reclaim threads - these transactions can easily be pushed to a background thread. This means that xfs_inactive would be little more than a vmtruncate() call and queuing to a workqueue. This will substantially speed up the processing of prune_icache() - we'll get inodes moved into reclaim much faster than we do right now.

This will have a noticable effect, though. When inodes are unlinked the space consumed by those inodes may not be immediately freed - it will be returned as the inodes are processed through the reclaim threads. This means that userspace monitoring tools such as 'df' may not immediately reflect the result of a completed unlink operation. This will be a user visible change in behaviour, though in most cases should not affect anyone and for those that it does affect a 'sync' should be sufficient to wait for the space to be returned.

Now that inodes to be unlinked are out of general circulation, we can make the unlinked path more complex. It is desirable to move the unlinked list from the inode buffer to the inode core, but that has locking implications for incore unlinked. Hence we really need background thread processing to enable this to work (i.e. being able to requeue inodes for later processing). To ensure that to overhead of this work is not a limiting factor, we will probably need multiple workqueue processing threads for this.

Moving the logging to the inode core enables two things - it allows us to keep an in-memory copy of the unlinked list off the perag and that allows us to remove xfs_inotobp(). The in-memory unlinked list means we don't have to read and traverse the buffers every time we need to find the previous buffer to remove an inode from the list, but it does mean we have to take the inode lock. If the previous inode is locked, then we can't remove the inode from the unlinked list so we must requeue it for this to occur at a later time.

Combined with the changes to inode create, we effectively will only use the inode buffer in the transaction subsystem for marking the region stale when freeing an inode chunk from disk (i.e. the default noikeep configuration). If we are using large inode allocation, we don't want to be freeing random inode chunks - this will just leave us with fragmented inode regions and undo all the good work that was done originally.

To avoid this, we should not be freeing inode chunks as soon as they no longer have any empty inodes in them. We should periodically scan the AGI btree looking for contiguous chunks that have no inodes allocated in them, and then freeing the large contiguous regions we find in one go. It is likely this can be done in a single transaction; it's one extent to be freed, along with a contiguous set of records to be removed from the AGI btree so should not require logging much at all. Also, the background scanning could be triggered by a number of different events - low space in an AG, a large number of free inodes in an AG, etc - as it doesn't need to be done frequently. As a result of the lack of frequency that this needs to be done, it can probably be handled by a single thread or delayed workqueue.

Further optimisations are possible here - if we rule that the AGI btree is the sole place that inodes are marked free or in-use (with the exception of unlinked inodes attached to the AGI lists), then we can avoid the need to write back unlinked inodes or read newly created inodes from disk. This would require all inodes to effectively use a random generation number assigned at create time as we would not be reading it from disk - writing/reading the current generation number appears to be the only real reason for doing this I/O. This would require extra checks to determine if an inode is unlinked - we need to do an imap lookup rather than reading it and then checking it is valid if it is not already in memory. Avoiding the I/O, however, will greatly speed up create and remove workloads. Note: the impact of this on the bulkstat algorithm has not been determined yet.

One of the issues we need to consider with this background inactivation is that we will be able to defer a large quantity of inactivation transactions so we are going to need to be careful about how much we allow to be queued. Simple queue depth throttling should be all that is needed to keep this under control.

Reclaim Optimizations[edit]

Tracking inodes for reclaim in radix tree: Done

Using RCU for radix tree reclaim walks: Done

Non-blocking background reclaim: Done

Parallelised shrinker based reclaim: Done

Now that we have efficient unlink, we've got to handle the reclaim of all the inodes that are now dead or simply not referenced. For inodes that are dirty, we need to write them out to clean them. For inodes that are clean and not unlinked, we need to compress them down for more compact storage. This involves some CPU overhead, but it is worth noting that reclaiming of clean inodes typically only occurs when we are under memory pressure.

By compressing the XFS inode in this case, we are effectively reducing the memory usage of the inode rather than freeing it directly. If we then get another operation on that inode (e.g. the working set is slightly larger than can be held in linux+XFS inode pairs, we avoid having to read the inode off disk again - it simply gets uncompressed out of the cache. In essence we use the compressed inode cache as an exclusive second level cache - it has higher density than the primary cache and higher load latency and CPU overhead, but it still avoids I/O in exactly the same manner as the primary cache.

We cannot allow unrestricted build-up of reclaimable inodes - the memory they consume will be large, so we should be aiming to compress reclaimable inodes as soon as they are clean. This will prevent buildup of memory consuming uncompressed inodes that are not likely to be referenced again immediately.

This clean inode reclaimation process can be accelerated by triggering reclaim on inode I/O completion. If the inode is clean and reclaimable we should trigger immediate reclaim processing of that inode. This will mean that reclaim of newly cleaned inodes will not get held up behind reclaim of dirty inodes.

For inodes that are unlinked, we can simply free them in reclaim as theƦ are no longer in use. We don't want to poison the compressed cache with unlinked inodes, nor do we need to because we can allocate new inodes without incurring I/O.

Still, we may end up with lots of inodes queued for reclaim. We may need to implement a throttle mechanism to slow down the rate at which inodes are queued for reclaimation in the situation where the reclaim process is not able to keep up. It should be noted that if we parallelise inode writeback we should also be able to parallelise inode reclaim via the same mechanism, so the need for throttling may relatively low if we can have multiple inodes under reclaim at once.

It should be noted that complexity is exposed by interactions with concurrent lookups, especially if we move to RCU locking on the radix tree. Firstly, we need to be able to do an atomic swap of the compressed inode for the uncompressed inode in the radix tree (and vice versa), to be able to tell them apart (magic #), and to have atomic reference counts to ensure we can avoid use after free situations when lookups race with compression or freeing.

Secondly, with the complex unlink/reclaim interactions we will need to be careful to detect inodes in the process of reclaim - the lookupp process will need to do different things depending on the state of reclaim. Indeed, we will need to be able to cancel reclaim of an unlinked inode if we try to allocate it before it has been fully unlinked or reclaimed. The same can be said for an inode in the process of being compressed - if we get a lookup during the compression process, we want to return the existing inode, not have to wait, re-allocate and uncompress it again. These are all solvable issues - they just add complexity.

Accelerated Reclaim of buftarg Page Cache for Inodes[edit]

Per-buftarg buffer LRU reclaim: Done

Per-buftarg shrinker: Done

Per-buffer type reclaim prioritisation: Done

For single use inodes or even read-only inodes, we read them in, use them, then reclaim them. With the compressed cache, they'll get compressed and live a lot longer in memory. However, we also will have the inode cluster buffer pages sitting in memory for some length of time after the inode was read in. This can consume a large amount of memory that will never be used again, and does not get reclaimed until they are purged from the LRU by the VM. It would be advantageous to accelerate the reclaim of these pages so that they do not build up unneccessarily.

A better method would appear to be to leverage the delayed read queue mechanism. This delayed read queue pins read buffers for a short period of time, and then if they have not been referenced they get torn down. If, as part of this delayed read buffer teardown procedure we all free the backing pages completely, we acheive the exact same result as having our own LRUs to manage the page cache. This seems much simpler and a much more holistic approach to solving the problem than implementing page LRUs.

Killing Bufferheads (a.k.a "Die, buggerheads, Die!")[edit]

[This is not strictly about inode caching, but doesn't fit into other areas of development as closely as it does to inode caching optimisations.]

XFS is extent based. The Linux page cache is block based. Hence for every cached page in memory, we have to attach a structure for mapping the blocks on that page back to to the on-disk location. In XFs, we also use this to hold state for delayed allocation and unwritten extent blocks so the generic code can do the right thing when necessary. We also use it to avoid extent lookups at various times within the XFS I/O path.

However, this has a massive cost. While XFS might represent the disk mapping of a 1GB extent in 24 bytes of memory, the page cache requires 262,144 bufferheads (assuming 4k block size) to represent the same mapping. That's roughly 14MB of memory neededtoo represent that.

Chris Mason wrote an extent map representation for page cache state and mappings for BTRFS; that code is mostly generic and could be adapted to XFS. This would allow us to hold all the page cache state in extent format and greatly reduce the memory overhead that it currently has. The tradeoff is increased CPU overhead due to tree lookups where structure lookups currently are used. Still, this has much lower overhead than xfs_bmapi() based lookups, so the penalty is going to be lower than if we did these lookups right now.

If we make this change, we would then have three levels of extent caching:

- the BMBT buffers - the XFS incore inode extent tree (iext*) - the page cache extent map tree

Effectively, the XFS incore inode extent tree becomes redundant - all the extent state it holds can be moved to the generic page cache tree and we can do all our incore operations there. Our logging of changes is based on the BMBT buffers, so getting rid of the iext layer would not impact the transaction subsystem at all.

Such integration with the generic code will also allow development of generic writeback routines for delayed allocation, unwritten extents, etc that are not specific to a given filesystem.

Demand Paging of Large Inode Extent Maps[edit]

Currently the inode extent map is pinned in memory until the inode is reclaimed. Hence an inode with millions of extents will pin a large amount of memory and this can cause serious issues in low memory situations. Ideally we would like to be able to page the extent map in and out once they get to a certain size to avoid this problem. This feature requires more investigation before an overall approach can be detailed here.

It should be noted that if we move to an extent-based page cache mapping tree, the associated extent state tree can be used to track sparse regions. That is, regions of the extent map that are not in memory can be easily represented and acceesses to an unread region can then be used to trigger demand loading.

Food For Thought (Crazy Ideas)[edit]

If we are not using inode buffers for logging changes to inodes, we should consider whether we need them at all. What benefit do the buffers bring us when all we will use them for is read or write I/O? Would it be better to go straight to the buftarg page cache and do page based I/O via submit_bio()?