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Revision as of 20:14, 22 June 2020 by Ngompa (talk | contribs) (Fix typo)

Make btrfs the default file system for Workstation, KDE, MATE-Compiz, and LXQt


Running out of free space on '/' or '/home' is [ is not fun, but is common on the desktop with the current default partitioning layout. btrfs avoids the problem by providing one big file system, and brings additional features that will benefit Fedora users. The proposal is: make btrfs the default file system on the desktop.


  • Products: Workstation, KDE, Jam, Classroom Lab, Astronomy, Comp Neuro, Design Suite, Robotics Suite, MATE-Compiz, LXQt
  • Responsible WGs: Workstation Working Group, KDE Special Interest Group

Current status

  • Targeted release: Fedora 33
  • Last updated: 2020-06-22
  • FESCo issue: <will be assigned by the Wrangler>
  • Tracker bug: <will be assigned by the Wrangler>
  • Release notes tracker: <will be assigned by the Wrangler>

Detailed Description

Fedora Workstation, KDE, MATE-Compiz, and LXQt will switch to using btrfs as the filesystem by default for new installs. Labs derived from these variants inherit this change, and other labs and spins may opt into this change.

The change is based on the installer's custom partitioning btrfs preset. It's been well tested for 7 years.

Current partitioning
vg/root LV mounted at / and a vg/home LV mounted at /home. These are separate file system volumes, with separate free/used space.

Proposed partitioning
root subvolume mounted at / and home subvolume mounted at /home. Subvolumes don't have size, they act mostly like directories, space is shared.

/boot will be a small ext4 volume. A separate boot is needed to boot dm-crypt sysroot installations; it's less complicated to keep the layout the same, regardless of whether sysroot is encrypted. There will be no automatic snapshots/rollbacks.

Optimizations (Optional)

The detailed description above is the proposal. It's intended to be a minimalist and transparent switch. It's also the same as was proposed (and accepted) for Fedora 16. The following optimizations improve on the proposal, but are not critical. They are also transparent to most users. The general idea is agree to the base proposal first, and then consider these as enhancements.

Boot on btrfs

  • Instead of a 1G ext4 boot, create a 1G btrfs boot.
  • Advantage: Makes it possible to include in a snapshot and rollback regime. GRUB has stable support for btrfs for 10+ years.
  • Scope: Contingent on bootloader and installer team review and approval. blivet should use mkfs.btrfs --mixed.


  • Enable transparent compression using zstd on select directories: /usr /var/lib/flatpak ~/.local/share/flatpak
  • Advantage: Saves space and significantly increase the lifespan of flash-based media by reducing write amplification. It may improve performance in some instances.
  • Scope: Contingent on installer team review and approval to enhance anaconda to perform the installation using mount -o compress=zstd, then set the proper XATTR for each directory. The XATTR can't be set until after the directories are created via: rsync, rpm, or unsquashfs based installation.

Additional subvolumes

  • /var/log/ /var/lib/libvirt/images and ~/.local/share/gnome-boxes/images/ will use separate subvolumes.
  • Advantage: Makes it easier to excluded them from snapshots, rollbacks, and send/receive. (btrfs snapshotting is not recursive, it stops at a nested subvolume.)
  • Scope: Anaconda knows how to do this already, just change the kickstart to add additional subvolumes (minus the subvolume in ~). GNOME Boxes will need enhancement to detect that the user home is on btrfs and create ~/.local/share/gnome-boxes/images/ as a subvolume.


Red Hat doesn't support btrfs? Can Fedora do this?

Red Hat supports Fedora well, in many ways. But Fedora already works closely with, and depends on, upstreams. And this will be one of them. That's an important consideration for this proposal. The community has a stake in ensuring it is supported. Red Hat will never support btrfs if Fedora rejects it. Fedora necessarily needs to be first, and make the persuasive case that it solve more problems than alternatives. Feature owners believe it does, hands down.

The btrfs community has users that have been using it for most of the past decade at scale. It's been in use as the default on openSUSE (and SUSE Linux Enterprise) since 2014, and Facebook has been using for all their OS and data volumes in their data centers for almost as long. btrfs is a mature, well-understood, and battle-tested file system, used on both desktop/container and server/cloud use-cases. We do have developers of the btrfs filesystem maintaining and supporting the code in Fedora, one is a Change owner, so issues that are pinned to btrfs can be addressed quickly.

Why not LVM thin provisioning?

Issue#152 still happens, because the installer won't over provision by default. It requires manual intervention by the user to identify the problem, and resolve it. Upon growing any file system on dm-thin, the pool is over committed, and file system sizes become a fantasy: they don't add up to the total physical storage available. The truth of used and free space is only known by the thin pool, and no CLI or GUI programs are prepared for this. It means desktop integration is required, rather than a nice-to-have.

Btrfs solves the problems that need solving, with fewer side effects for the general use case. And includes more features: compression, integrity, and IO isolation. But if you know thin provisioning meets your use case better, of course you should use it instead.

What about UI/UX and integration in the desktop?

If btrfs isn't the default file system, there's no commitment, nor reason to work on any UI/UX integration. There are ideas to make certain features discoverable: selective compression; systemd-homed may take advantage of either btrfs online resize, or near-term planned native encryption, which could make it possible to live convert non-encrypted homes to encrypted; and system snapshot and rollbacks.

Anaconda already has sophisticated btrfs integration.

What btrfs features are recommended and supported?

This is the upstream btrfs feature status page

Fedora is a community project. What is supported within Fedora depends on what the community decides to put forward in terms of resources.

When in doubt, use defaults. Be patient with yourself, and each other. There are few things you must learn about btrfs, but the toy box is full. It can be overwhelming. Features that sound familiar, like raid1, don't work the same as other implementations you're familiar with. There is lots of jargon. Take your time. No one needs to go from 0 kph to 100 kph overnight.

What is possible but not supported?

No btrfs features will be disabled. The full box of toys is available. It is possible to get into trouble.

Benefit to Fedora

Problems btrfs helps solve:

  • Users running out of free space on either / or /home Workstation issue #152
    • "one big file system": no hard barriers like partitions or logical volumes
    • transparent compression: significantly reduces write amplification, improves lifespan of storage hardware
    • reflinks and snapshots are more efficient for use cases like containers (Podman supports both)
  • Poor desktop responsiveness when under pressure Workstation issue #154
    • Currently only btrfs has proper IO isolation capability via cgroups2
    • Completes the resource control picture: memory, cpu, IO isolation
  • Storage devices betray users, resulting in data corruption
    • Everything is checksummed and verified on every read
    • Corrupt data results in EIO, instead of resulting in application confusion, and isn't replicated into backups and archives
  • File system resize
    • Online shrink and grow are fundamental to the design
  • Complex storage setups are... complicated
    • Simple and comprehensive command interface. One master command
    • Simpler to boot, all code is in the kernel, no initramfs complexities
  • Simple and efficient filesystem replication with btrfs send and btrfs receive
    • Incremental backups are easy and cheap
    • Snapshotting of the filesystem can be done only on the backup device if desired


  • Proposal owners:
    • Submit PR's for Anaconda to change default_scheme = BTRFS to the proper product files.
    • Multiple test days: build community support network
    • Aid with documentation
  • Other developers:
    • Anaconda, review PRs and merge
    • Bootloader team, review PRs and merge
    • Recommended optimization chattr +C set on the containing directory for virt-manager and GNOME Boxes.
  • Policies and guidelines: N/A
  • Trademark approval: N/A

Upgrade/compatibility impact

Change will not affect upgrades.

Documentation will be provided for existing btrfs users to "retrofit" their setups to that of a default btrfs installation (base plus any approved options).

How To Test

Do a custom partitioning installation; change the scheme drop-down menu to btrfs; click the blue "automatically create partitions"; and install.
Fedora 31, 32, Rawhide, on x86_64 and ARM.

Once change lands
It should be simple enough to test, just do a normal install.

User Experience


  • Mostly transparent
  • Space savings from compression
  • Longer lifespan of hardware, also from compression.
  • Utilities for used and free space, CLI and GUI, are expected to behave the same. No special commands are required.
  • More detailed information can be revealed by btrfs specific commands.

Enhancement opportunities

updatedb does not index /home when /home is a bind mount Also can affected rpm-ostree installations, including Silverblue.

GNOME Usage: Incorrect numbers when using multiple btrfs subvolumes This isn't btrfs specific, happens with "one big ext4" volume as well.

GNOME Boxes, RFE: create qcow2 with 'nocow' option when on btrfs /home This is btrfs specific, and is a recommended optimization for both GNOME Boxes and virt-manager.

containers/libpod: automatically use btrfs driver if on btrfs



Contingency Plan

  • Contingency mechanism: Owner will revert changes back to LVM+ext4
  • Contingency deadline: Beta freeze
  • Blocks release? Yes
  • Blocks product? Workstation and KDE


Strictly speaking no documentation is required reading. But there will be some Fedora documentation to help get the ball rolling.

For those who want to know more:

btrfs wiki main page and full feature list.

man 5 btrfs contains: mount options, features, swapfile support, checksum algorithms, and more
man btrfs contains an overview of the btrfs subcommands
man btrfs <subcommand> will show the man page for that subcommand

NOTE: The btrfs command will accept partial subcommands, as long as it's not ambiguous. These are equivalent commands:
btrfs subvolume snapshot
btrfs sub snap
btrfs su sn

You'll discover your own convention. It might be preferable to write out the full command on forums and lists, but then maybe some folks don't learn about this useful shortcut?

Release Notes

The default file system is btrfs.