Re: Disk (block) write strangeness

From: Itai Nahshon (
Date: Wed Aug 07 2002 - 06:43:30 EST

On Monday 05 August 2002 21:49 pm, Jakob Oestergaard wrote:
> Hello all,
> While investigating how various disks handle power-loss during writes, I
> came across something *very* strange.
> It seems that
> *) Either the disk writes backwards (no I don't believe that)
> *) Or the kernel is writing 256 B blocks (AFAIK it can't)
> *) The disk has some internal magic that cause a power-loss during
> a full block write to leave the first half of the block intact with
> old data, and update the second half of a block correctly with new
> data. (And I don't believe that either).
> The scenario is: I wrote a program that will write a 50 MB block with
> O_SYNC to /dev/hdc. The block is full of 32-bit integers, initialized
> to 0. For every full block write (the block is written with one single
> write() call), the integers are incremented once.
> So first I have 50 MB of 0's. Then 50 MB of 1's. etc.
> During this write cycle, I pull the power cable. I get the machine
> back online and I dump the 50 MB block.
> What I found was a 50 MB block holding:
> 11668992 times "0x00000002"
> 231168 times "0x00000003"
> 1174528 times "0x00000002"
> 32512 times "0x00000003"
> Please note that 32512 is *not* a multiple of 512. And please note that
> the 3's are written *after* the 2's, so actually there is a 512 byte
> block on the disk which contains 2's in the first half, and 3's in the
> second half!

Integers are 32 bit, so a 512 byte disk block contains 128 such integers...
Indeed, All the values above are divisible by 128, so you have:
11668992/128 = 91164 blocks of "0x00000002"
231168/128 = 1806 blocks of "0x00000003"
1174528/128 = 9176 blocks of "0x00000002"
32512/128 = 254 blocks of "0x00000003"

This does not prove, neither disprove anything about your
main concern, that writes are non-atomic in the block level.

> How on earth could that happen ?
> Why does the kernel not write from beginning to end ? Or why doesn't
> the disk ?
> And does the elevator cause the writes to be shuffled around like that -
> I would have expected the kernel to write from beginning to end every
> single time...

I would not expect writes to be in order.
A simple elevator algorithm could write fragments (cylinder sized?)
in reverse order. On-disk write scheduling could start writing at any
sector (to minimize rotational latency).

Knowing the disk geometry and parameters could help with understanding
your results.

> The kernel is 2.4.18 on some i686 box
> The disk is a Quantum Fireball 1GB IDE (from way back then ;)
> The IDE chipset is an I820 Camino 2
> I can submit the test program or do further tests, if anyone is
> interested.
> Thank you,

-- Itai

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