disk space allocation (part 4: allocating an extent)

For XFS, in normal operation, an extent is only allocated when data has to be written to disk. This is called delayed allocation. If we are extending a file by 50MB – that space is deducted from the total free space on the filesystem, but no decision on where to place that data is made until we start writing it out – due to memory pressure or the kernel automatically starts writing the dirty pages out (the sync once every 5 seconds on linux).

When an extent needs to be allocated, XFS looks it up in one of two b+trees it has of free space. There is one sorted by starting block number (so you can search for “an extent near here”) and one by size (so you can search for “an extent of x size”).

The ideal situation being that you want as large an extent as possible as close to the tail end of the file as possible (i.e. just making the current extent bigger).

The worst-case scenario is having to allocate extents to multiple files at once with all of them being written out synchronously (O_SYNC or memory pressure) as this will cause lots of small extents to be created.

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