NFSiostat_plotter V4

I made an update to nfsiostat_plotter_v3 so that the iostat information, which is used for gathering the CPU usage, is optional. This means you don’t have to run iostat while you run nfsiostat. But it also means you won’t get to see the CPU usage plots.

Please go to this page for more details

IOSTAT Plotter V2 – Update

I’ve been updating nfsiostat_plotter and in the process I found a few bugs in iostat_plotter V2.

The first bug was in the way it kept time. If the time stamp ended in “PM” the code adds 12 hours so everything is based on a 24 hour clock. The problem is that if the iostat output is run just after noon, the time reads something like “12:49 PM” which then becomes 24:29. This bug has been fixed.

The second bug was in the plotting routines when doing “combined” plots where all devices are plotted on the same graph. It’s hard to explain but when there two or three plots, one above the other, sometimes the grid didn’t get plotted. And/or one of the graphs was longer than the others. This has been corrected (I hope).

The new version can be found here. The code has the same name as before (sorry about that). Just download the code and run it like you did before.

IOSTAT Plotter V2

I have had several requests for changes/modifications/updates to iostat_plotter so I recently found a little time to update the code. Rather than just replace I created, iostat_plotter_v2.

The two biggest changes made in the code are: (1) moving the legends outside the plots to the top right hand corner, and (2) allowing all of the devices to be included on the same set of plots. The first change makes look nicer (I think). I tried to maximize the width of the plot without getting too crazy. I also shrunk the text size on the legend so you could get more devices in the plots. I think you can get about 12 devices without the legend bleeding over to the plot below it.

The second change allows you to put all of the devices on the same plot if you use the “-c” option with the script. In the previous version you got a set of 11 plots for each device which allows you to clearly examine each device. If you had five devices you got a total of 55 plots (5 devices * 11 plots per device). Using the “-c” option you will now get 11 plots with all of the devices on each of the appropriate plots.

I hope these couple of features are useful. Please le me know if they are or if you want other changes. Thanks!

RIP Nedit

I have been using Nedit for many years for just about every editing need. However, a recent upgrade to Kubuntu 11.04 illustrated that Nedit was on it’s last leg and it was time to switch. RIP Nedit.


I having been using Nedit for many years for just about every editing need I have. I use for writing code (it’s really great in this aspect), and I write these articles using Nedit (I have been for a very long time). it’s really easy to use, I love the split screen capability (but you need lots of vertical space for it to be really effective), I like the ability to edit multiple files and switch between them with a tab (yes – this is an extremely common capability but many years ago this didn’t exist), and I liked the auto-indentation feature (great when writing Python code). Overall I just found it to be a great editor so I started using it full time many years ago on IRIX and continued using it on Linux.

I started to use more features in Nedit and it just became comfortable for me to use. Most people will tell you that once they find a tool that scratches their proverbial itch they are very reluctant to change. I fall into this category. My wife even makes fun of me saying that the reason I don’t switch to anything else is because I don’t like change. Sorry sweety – in this case that isn’t the correct observation. The reason I don’t switch is that it would take me a long time to learn a new tool and become as proficient on it as with Nedit. Is it worth it to go through this process expending time and effort to learn a new editor just because it’s new? It’s highly unlikely that this new tool will make me more productive than with Nedit, so why switch? Switching for the sake of switching is good in some circumstances, but I don’t think this is one of them.

So I soldiered on for many years using Nedit and it worked just great. Whomever built the packages or binaries for the various distro I used (mostly CentOS, Scientific Linux, and Kubuntu) did a great job, presumably using the Lesstif library to build Nedit since it’s built on the Motif toolkit. I didn’t look at how they built the binaries, nor did I really want to know – I was just happy to have Nedit around. And, by the way, if you reading this and you built these binaries and packages, thanks very much. Count me as a happy and very appreciative customer.

Then I upgrade my laptop to Kubuntu 11.04 and installed Nedit. Then I noticed a small problem – when I tried copying and pasting a section of text or code, it would not paste. Instead I got the following message in the terminal window:

NEdit warning:
XmClipboardInquireLength() failed: clipboard locked.

A little googling found recent post that indicates that Nedit isn’t really working on Ubuntu anymore. I’m not sure if it’s a Nedit problem or a Motif library (presumably Lesstif or OpenMotif) but the result is that Nedit no longer works for me on Kubuntu 11.04 (Note: it works fine on CentOS 5.5 and older Ubuntu versions such as 8.04, but not the more recent versions). The only solution is to save any work, exit from Nedit, and start again.

If you couple this problem with comments from my friend Joe Landman, and I had to start looking for a new editor.


I tried all kinds of editors including Kate, Kedit, geany, JuffEd, and gedit. I’m a KDE kind of guy because I really loath Gnome (and the recent interfaces haven’t made me want to use it) but then again, the whole KDE 4.0 thing was a mess and not until KDE 4.6 or so, was it useable again.

Kate was fine and I used for some work but I found the interface to be a bit clunky. The same for Kedit, although Kedit moved up my list fairly rapidly. I ended up settling on gedit.

Gedit doesn’t have all the features I want especially being able to split the window so I can see two different parts of the code at the same time, but given the choice between an editor that doesn’t really work but has all the features, and an editor that works but doesn’t have all the features, I think I’ll chose the later. This is what gedit does for me.

If you have any ideas or suggestions for visual editors please don’t hesitate to suggest something.

Extended File Attributes Rock!


I think it’s a given that the amount of data is increasing at a fairly fast rate. We now have lots of multimedia on our desktops, and lots of files on our servers at work, and we’re starting to put lots of data into the cloud (e.g. Facebook). One question that affects storage design and performance is if these files are large or small and how many of them are there?

At this year’s FAST (USENIX Conference on File System and Storage Technologies) the best paper went to “A Study of Practical Deduplication” by William Bolosky from Microsoft Research, and Dutch Meyer from the University of British Columbia. While the paper didn’t really cover Linux (it covered Windows) and it was more focused on desktops, and it was focused on deduplication, it did present some very enlightening insights on file systems from 2000 to 2010. Some of the highlights from the paper are:

  1. The median file size isn’t changing
  2. The average file size is larger
  3. The average file system capacity has tripled from 2000 to 2010

To fully understand the difference between the first point and the third point you need to remember some basic statistics. The average file size is computed by summing the size of every file and dividing by the number of files. But the median file size is found by ordering the list from the smallest to largest of the file size of every file. The median file size is the one in the middle of the ordered list. So, with these working definitions, the three observations previously mentioned indicate that perhaps desktops have a few really large files that drive up the average file size but at the same time there are a number of small files that makes the median file size about the same despite the increase in the number of files and the increase in large files.

The combination of the observations previously mentioned mean that we have many more files on our desktops and we are adding some really large files and about the same number of small files.

Yes, it’s Windows. Yes, it’s desktops. But these observations are another good data point that tell us something about our data. That is, the number of files is getting larger while we are adding some very large files and a large number of small files. What does this mean for us? One thing that it means to me is that we need to pay much more attention to managing our data.

Data Management – Who’s on First?

One of the keys to data management is being able to monitor the state of your data which usually means monitoring the metadata. Fortunately, POSIX gives us some standard metadata for our files such as the following:

  • File ownership (User ID and Group ID)
  • File permissions (world, group, user)
  • File times (atime, ctime, mtime)
  • File size
  • File name
  • Is it a true file or a directory?

There are several others (e.g. links) which I didn’t mention here.

With this information we can monitor the basic state of our data. We can compute how quickly our data is changing (how many files have been modified, created, deleted in a certain period of time). We can also determine how our data is “aging” – that is how old is the average file, the median file, and we can do this for the entire file system tree or certain parts of it. In essence we can get a good statistical overview of the “state of our data”.

All of this capability is just great and goes far beyond anything that is available today. However, with the file system capacity increasing so rapidly and the median file size staying about the same, we have a lot more files to monitor. Plus we keep data around for longer than we ever have. Perhaps over time it is easy to forget what a file name means or what is contained in a cryptic file name. Since POSIX is good enough to give some basic metadata wouldn’t it be nice to have the ability to add our own metadata? Something that we control that would allow is to add information about the data?

Extended File Attributes

What many people don’t realize is that there actually is a mechanism for adding your own metadata to files that is supported by most Linux file systems. This is called Extended File Attributes. In Linux, many file systems support it such as the following: ext2, ext3, ext4, jfs, xfs, reiserfs, btrfs, ocfs2 (2.1 and greater), and squashfs (kernel 2.6.35 and greater or a backport to an older kernel). Some of the file systems have restrictions on extended file attributes, such as the amount of data that can be added, but they do allow for the addition of user controlled metadata.

Any regular file that uses one of the previously mentioned extended file attributes may have a list of extended file attributes. The attributes have a name and some associated data (the actual attribute). The name starts with what is called a namespace identifier (more on that later), followed by a dot “.”, and then followed by a null-terminated string. You can add as many names separated by dots as you like to create “classes” of attributes.

Currently on Linux there are four namespaces for extended file attributes:

  1. user
  2. trusted
  3. security
  4. system

This article will focus on the “user” namespace since it has no restrictions with regard to naming or contents. However, the “system” namespace could be used for adding metadata controlled by root.

The system namespace is used primarily by the kernel for access control lists (ACLs) and can only be set by root. For example, it will use names such as “system.posix_acl_access” and “system.posix_acl_default” for extended file attributes. The general wisdom is that unless you are using ACLs to store additional metadata, which you can do, you should not use the system namespace. However, I believe that the system namespace is a place for metadata controlled by root or metadata that is immutable with respect to the users.

The security namespace is used by SELinux. An example of a name in this namespace would be something such as “security.selinux”.

The user attributes are meant to be used by the user and any application run by the user. The user namespace attributes are protected by the normal Unix user permission settings on the file. If you have write permission on the file then you can set an extended attribute. To give you an idea of what you can do for “names” for the extended file attributes for this namespace, here are some examples:

  • user.checksum.md5
  • user.checksum.sha1
  • user.checksum.sha256
  • user.original_author
  • user.application
  • user.project
  • user.comment

The first three example names are used for storing checksums about the file using three different checksum methods. The fourth example lists the originating author which can be useful in case multiple people have write access to the file or the original author leaves and the file is assigned to another user. The fifth name example can list the application that was used to generate the data such as output from an application. The sixth example lists the project that the data with which the data is associated. And the seventh example is the all-purpose general comment. From these few examples, you see that you can create some very useful metadata.

Tools for Extended File Attributes

There are several very useful tools for manipulating (setting, getting) extended attributes. These are usually included in the attr package that comes with most distributions. So be sure that this package is installed on the system.

The second thing you should check is that the kernel has attribute support. This should be turned on for almost every distribution that you might use, although there may be some very specialized ones that might not have it turned on. But if you build your own kernels (as yours truly does), be sure it is turned on. You can just grep the kernel’s “.config” file for any “ATTR” attributes.

The third thing is to make sure that the libattr package is installed. If you installed the attr package then this package should have been installed as well. But I like to be thorough and check that it was installed.

Then finally, you need to make sure the file system you are going to use with extended attributes is mounted with the user_xattr option.

Assuming that you have satisfied all of these criteria (they aren’t too hard), you can now use extended attributes! Let’s do some testing to show the tools and what we can do with them. Let’s begin by creating a simple file that has some dummy data in it.

$ echo "The quick brown fox" > ./test.txt
$ more test.txt
The quick brown fox

Now let’s add some extended attributes to this file.

$ setfattr -n user.comment -v "this is a comment" test.txt

This command sets the extended file attribute to the name “user.comment”. The option “-v” is the value of the attribute followed by that value. The final option for the command is the name of the file.

You can determine the extended attributes on a file with a simple command, getfattr as in the following example,

$ getfattr test.txt
# file: test.txt

Notice that this only lists what extended attributes are defined for a particular file not the values of the attributes. Also notice that it only listed the “user” attributes since the command was done as a regular user. If you ran the command as root and there were system or security attributes assigned you would see those listed.

To see the values of the attributes you have to use the following command:

$ getfattr -n user.comment test.txt
# file: test.txt
user.comment="this is a comment"

With the “-n” option it will list the value of the extended attribute name that you specify.

If you want to remove an extended attribute you use the setfattr command but use the “-x” option such as the following:

$ setfattr -x user.comment test.txt
$ getfattr -n user.comment test.txt
test.txt: user.comment: No such attribute

You can tell that the extended attribute no longer exists because of the return from the setfattr command.


Without belaboring the point, the amount of data is growing at a very rapid rate even on our desktops. A recent study also pointed out that the number of files is also growing rapidly and that we are adding some very large files but also a large number of small files so that the average file size is growing while the median file size is pretty much staying the same. All of this data will result in a huge data management nightmare that we need to be ready to address.

One way to help address the deluge of data is to enable a rich set of metadata that we can use in our data management plan (whatever that is). An easy way to do this is to use extended file attributes. Most of the popular Linux file systems allow you to add to metadata to files, and in the case of xfs, you can pretty much add as much metadata as you want to the file.

There are four “namespaces” of extended file attributes that we can access. The one we are interested as users is the user namespace because if you have normal write permissions on the file, you can add attributes. If you have read permission on the file you can also read the attributes. But we could use the system namespace as administrators (just be careful) for attributes that we want to assign as root (i.e. users can’t change or query the attributes).

The tools to set and get extended file attributes come with virtually every Linux distribution. You just need to be sure they are installed with your distribution. Then you can set, retrieve, or erase as many extended file attributes as you wish.

Extended file attributes can be used to great effect to add metadata to files. It is really up to the user to do this since they understand the data and have the ability to add/change attributes. Extended attributes give a huge amount of flexibility to the user and creating simple scripts to query or search the metadata is fairly easy (an exercise left to the user). We can even create extended attributes as root so that the user can’t change or see them. This allows administrators to add really meaningful attributes for monitoring the state of the data on the file system. Extended file attributes rock!

How do you Know TRIM is Working With Your SSD in Your System?

Now that you have your shiny new SSD you want to take full advantage of it which can include TRIM support to improve performance. In this article I want to talk about how to tell if TRIM is working on your system (I’m assuming Linux of course).


Answering the question, “does TRIM work with my system?” is not as easy as it seems. The are several levels to this answer beginning with, “does my SSD support TRIM?”. Then we have to make sure the kernel supports TRIM. After that we need to make sure that the file system supports TRIM (or what is referred to as “discard”). If we’re using LVM (the device-mapper or dm layer) we have to make sure dm supports discards. And finally if we’re using software RAID (md: multi-device), we have to make sure that md supports discards. So answering the simple question, “does TRIM work with my system?” has a simple answer of “it depends upon your configuration” but it has a longer answer if you want details.

In the following sections I’ll talk about these various levels starting with the question of whether your SSD supports TRIM.

Does my SSD support TRIM?

While this is a seemingly easy question – it either works or it doesn’t – in actuality it can be something of a complicated question. The first thing to do with your distribution is to determine if your SSD supports TRIM, is to upgrade your hdparm package. The reason for this is that hdparm has fairly recently added some capability for enumerating if the hardware can support TRIM. As of the writing of this article, version 9.37 is the current version of hdparm. It’s pretty easy to build the code for yourself (in your user directory) or as root. If you look at the makefile you will see that by default hdparm is installed in /sbin. To install it locally just modify the makefile so that “binprefix” variable at the top, points to the base directory where you want to install it. For example, if I installed it in my home directory I would change binprefix to /home/laytonjb/binary (I install all applications in a subdirectory called “binary”). Then you simply do, ‘make’, ‘make install’ and you’re ready.

Once the updated hdparm is installed, you can test it on your SSD using the following command:

# /sbin/hdparm -I /dev/sdd

where /dev/sdd is the device corresponding to the SSD. If your SSD supports TRIM then you should see something like the following in the output somewhere:

*   Data Set Management TRIM supported

I tested this on a SandForce 1222 SSD that I’ve recently been testing. Rather than stare at all of the output, I like to pipe the output through grep.

[root@test64 laytonjb]# /sbin/hdparm -I /dev/sdd | grep -i TRIM
           *    Data Set Management TRIM supported (limit 1 block)
           *    Deterministic read data after TRIM

Below in Figure 1 is a screenshot of the output (the top portion has been chopped off).


Figure 1: Screenshot of hdparm Output (Top section has been Chopped Off)

Does the kernel support TRIM?

This is one of the easier questions to answer in this article to some degree. However, I’ll walk through the details so you can determine if your kernel works with TRIM or not.

TRIM support is also called “discard” in the kernel. To understand what kernels support TRIM a small kernel history is in order:

  • The initial support for discard was in the 2.6.28kernel
  • In the 2.6.29kernel, swap was modified to use discard support in case people put their swap space on an SSD
  • In kernel 2.6.30, the ability for the GFS2 file system to generate discard (TRIM) requests was added
  • In the 2.6.32kernel, the btrfs file system obtained the ability to generate TRIM (discard) requests.
  • In 2.6.33, believe it or not, the FAT file system got a “discard” mount option. But more importantly, in the 2.6.33 kernel, libata (i.e. the SATA driver library) added support for the TRIM command. So really at this point, kernels 2.6.33 and greater can support TRIM commands. Also, ext4 addedthe ability is used discard as a mount option for supporting the ability to use the TRIM command.
  • In 2.6.36 ext4 added discard support when there is no journal using the “discard” mount option. Also, in 2.6.36 discard support for the delay, linear, mpath, and dm stripe targets were added to the dm layer. Support was also added for secure discard. NILFS2 got a “nodiscard”option since NILFS2 had discard capability when it was added to the kernel in 2.6.30 but no way to turn it off prior to this kernel version.
  • In 2.6.37 ext4 gained the ability for batched discards. This was addedas an ioctl called FITRIM to the core code.
  • In the 2.6.38 version, RAID-1 support of discard was added to the dm. Also, xfs added manual support for FITRIM, and ext3 added support for batched discards (FITRIM).
  • In 2.6.39 xfs will add the ability to do batched discards.

So in general any kernel 2.6.33 or later should have TRIM capability in the kernel up to the point of the file system. This means the block device layer and the SATA library (libata) support TRIM.

However, you have to be very careful because I’m talking about the kernels. Distributions will take patches from more recent kernels and back-port them to older kernels. So please check with your distribution if they are using a 2.6.32 or older kernel (before 2.6.33) but have TRIM support added to the SATA library. You might be in luck.

Does the file system support TRIM?

At this point we know if the hardware supports TRIM and if the kernel supports TRIM, but before it becomes usable we need to know if the file system can use the TRIM (discard) command. Again, this depends upon the kernel so I will summarize the kernel version and the file systems that are supported.

  • 2.6.33: GFS2, nilfs2, btrfs, ext4, fat
  • 2.6.33: GFS2, nilfs2, btrfs, ext4 (including no journal mode), fat
  • 2.6.37: GFS2, nilfs2, btrfs, ext4 (including no journal mode and batched discard), fat
  • 2.6.38: GFS2, nilfs2, btrfs, ext4 (including no journal mode and batched discard), fat, xfs, ext3

So if you have hardware that supports TRIM, a kernel that supports TRIM, then you can look up if your file system is capable of issuing TRIM commands (even batched TRIM).

Does the dm layer support TRIM?

The dm layer (device mapper) is a very important layer in Linux. You probably encounter this layer when you are using LVM with your distribution. So if you want to use LVM with your SSD(s), then you need to make sure that the TRIM command is honored starting at the top with the file system, then down to the dm layer, then down to the the block layer, then down to the driver layer (libata), and finally down to the drives (hardware). The good news is that in the 2.6.36 kernel, discard support was added to the dm layer! So any kernel 2.6.36 or later will support TRIM.

Does the MD layer support TRIM?

The last aspect we’ll examine is support of software RAID via MD (multi-device) in Linux. However, I have some bad news that currently TRIM is not really supported in the md layer (yet). So if you’re using md for software RAID within Linux, the TRIM command is not supported at this time.

Testing for TRIM Support

The last thing I want to mention is how you can test your system for TRIM support beyond just looking at the previous lists to see if TRIM support is there. I used the procedure in this article to test if TRIM was actually working.

The first logical step is to make sure the SSD isn’t being used during these tests (i.e. it’s quiet). Also be sure that the SSD supports TRIM using hdparm as previously mentioned (I’m using a SandForce 1222 based SSD that I’ve written about previously). Also be sure your file system uses TRIM. For this article I used ext4 and mounted it with the “discard” option as show in Figure 2 below.


Figure 2: Screenshot of /etc/fstab File Showing discard mount option

Then, as root, create a file on the SSD drive. The command is,

[root@test64 laytonjb]# cd /dev/sdd
[root@test64 laytonjb]# dd if=/dev/urandom of=tempfile count=100 bs=512k oflag=direct


Below in Figure 3 is the screenshot of this on my test system.


Figure 3: Screenshot of first command
The next step is to get the device sector of the tempfile just created and copy the first sector information after value 0. It sounds like a mouth full but it isn’t hard. The basic command is,

[root@test64 laytonjb]# /sbin/hdparm --fibmap tempfile


Below in Figure 4 is the screenshot of this on my test system.


Figure 4: Screenshot of Sector Information for Temporary File

So the beginning LBA for this file that we are interested in, is at sector 271360.

We can read that sector of the file using this location to show that there is data written there. The basic command is,

[root@test64 laytonjb]# /sbin/hdparm --read-sector 271360 /dev/sdb


Below in Figure 5 is the screenshot of this on my test system.


Figure 5: Screenshot of Sector Information for Temporary File

Since the data is not all zeros, that means there is data there.

The next step is to erase the file, tempfile, and sync the system to make sure that the file is actually erased. Figure 6 below illustrates this.


Figure 6: Screenshot of Erasing Temporary File and Syncing the Drive

I ran the sync command three times just to be sure (I guess this shows my age since the urban legend was to always run sync several times to flush all buffers).

Finally, we can repeat reading the sector 271360 to see what happened to the data there.

[root@test64 laytonjb]# /sbin/hddparm --read-sector 271360 /dev/sdb


Below in Figure 7 is the screenshot of this on my test system.


Figure 7: Screenshot of Sector Information for Temporary File After File was Erased

Since the data in that sector is now a bunch of zeros, you can see that the drive has “trimmed” the data. This requires a little more explanation.

Before the TRIM command existed, the SSD wouldn’t necessarily erase the block right away if the data is erased. The next time it needed the block it would erase it prior to using it. This means that the file deletion performance is very good since the SSD just marked the block as empty and returned to the kernel. However, the next time that block was used, it first had to be erased, potentially slowing down the write performance.

Alternatively, the block could be erased when the data was deleted but this means that the file delete performance isn’t very good. However, this can help write performance because the blocks are always erased and ready to be used.

TRIM offers the opportunity for the operating system (file system) to tell the SSD that it is done with the block even if the SSD isn’t sure the block isn’t being used. So when the SSD receives a trim command, it marks the block as empty and when it gets a chance, when the SSD perhaps isn’t as busy, it will erase the empty blocks (i.e. “trim” them or “discard” their contents). This means that the “erase” cycle isn’t affecting write performance or file delete performance, improving the apparent overall performance. This sounds great and this usually works really well for desktops where we can take a break periodically so the SSD has time to erase trimmed blocks. However, if the SSD is being used quite a bit, then the SSD may not have an opportunity to erase the blocks so we’re back to the behavior without TRIM. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but just a limitation of what TRIM can do for SSD performance.


I hope you have found this article useful. It is a little convoluted in answering the question “does my Linux box support TRIM”? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t simple and you have to step through all of the layers to fully understand if TRIM is supported. A good way to start is to look at the last list about which file systems support TRIM, select the one you like, and see which kernel version you need. If you need dm support for LVM then you have to use at least 2.6.36. If you use MD with your SSDs then I’m afraid you are out of luck with TRIM support.