Ext4 and Debian/Lenny

I want to use the Ext4 filesystem on Xen DomUs. The reason for this is that the problem of fsck times on ext4 (as described in my previous post about Ext4 [1]) is compounded if you have multiple DomUs running fsck at the same time.

One issue that makes this difficult is the fact that it is very important to be able to mount a DomU filesystem in the Dom0 and it is extremely useful to be able to fsck a DomU filesystem from a Dom0 (for example when you want to resize the root filesystem of the DomU).

I have Dom0 systems running CentOS5, RHEL5, and Debian/Lenny, and I have DomU systems running CentOS5, RHEL4, Debian/Lenny, and Debian/Unstable. So to get Ext4 support on all my Xen servers I need it for Debian/Lenny and RHEL4 (Debian/Unstable has full support for Ext4 and RHEL5 and CentOS5 have been updated to support it [2]).

The Debian kernel team apparently don’t plan to add kernel support for Ext4 in Lenny (they generally don’t do such things) and even doesn’t have a version of e2fsprogs that supports ext4. So getting Lenny going with Ext4 requires a non-default kernel and a back-port of the utilities. In the past I’ve used CentOS and RHEL kernels to run Debian systems and that has worked reasonably well. I wouldn’t recommend doing so for a Dom0 or a non-virtual install, but for a DomU it works reasonably well and it’s not too difficult to recover from problems. So I have decided to upgrade most of my Lenny virtual machines to a CentOS 5 kernel.

When installing a CentOS 5 kernel to replace a Debian/Lenny kernel you have to use “console=tty0” as a kernel parameter instead of “xencons=tty“, you have to use /dev/xvc0 as the name of the terminal for running a getty (IE xvc0 is a parameter to getty) and you have to edit /etc/rc.local (or some other init script) to run “killall -9 nash-hotplug” as a nash process from the Red Hat initrd goes into an infinite loop. Of course upgrading a CentOS kernel on a Debian system is a little more inconvenient (I upgrade a CentOS DomU and then copy the kernel modules to the Debian DomUs and the vmlinuz and initrd to the Dom0).

The inconvenience of this can be an issue in an environment where multiple people are involved in running the systems, if a sysadmin who lacks skills or confidence takes over they may be afraid to upgrade the kernel to solve security issues. Also “apt-get dist-upgrade” won’t show that a CentOS kernel can be updated, so a little more management effort is required in tracking which machines need to be upgraded.

deb lenny misc

To backport the e2fsprogs package I first needed to backport util-linux, debhelper, libtool, xz-utils, base-files, and dpkg. This is the most significant and invasive back-port I’ve done. The above apt repository has all the packages for AMD64 and i386 architectures.

For a Debian system after the right kernel is installed and e2fsprogs (and it’s dependencies) are upgraded the command “tune2fs -O flex_bg,uninit_bg /dev/xvda” can be used to enable the ext4 filesystem. At the next reboot the system will prompt for the root password and allow you to manually run “e2fsck -y /dev/xvda” to do the real work of transitioning the filesystem (unlike Red Hat based distributions which do this automatically).

So the state of my Debian systems running this is that the DomUs run the CentOS kernel and my backported utilities while the Dom0 just runs the backported utilities with the Lenny kernel. Thus the Debian Dom0 can’t mount filesystems from the DomUs – which makes things very difficult when there is a problem that needs to be fixed in a DomU, I have to either mount the filesystem from another DomU or boot with “init=/bin/bash“.

10 comments to Ext4 and Debian/Lenny

  • tim

    I’m sure there’s a good answer, but why not use a testing or unstable kernel (since they are “only” DomU’s anyway?)

  • Redhat started this really cool project called libguestfs. They have a commandline utility named guestfish. In the same spirit as libvirtd, it abstracts the storage type and lets you access guest filesystems from the host.

    Rick Jones, the same guy who wrote it also wrote a tool named febootstrap. It is the Redhat-ey equivalent of debootstrap. Cool stuff.

  • I only needed to backport e2fsprogs and nothing else:
    Just rebuilding with UTIL_LINUX_NG=no.

  • I’m awaiting tytso’s response before uploading my backport to

  • etbe

    tim: Debian Testing and Unstable don’t have an i386 kernel that can boot on the i386 version of Xen. I’ve been running a Debian/Unstable DomU on AMD64 for a while and it works well with an Unstable kernel. I’m not sure how well the latest Unstable kernel works on AMD64.

    Jeff: Thanks for that. However libguestfs seems to only support KVM at this time. I’m sure that it wouldn’t be THAT difficult to port it to Xen, but it’s going to take more effort than I could spare on it.

    Julian: Thanks for your work in that regard.

  • Sergiy

    e2fsprogs in Lenny does support ext4

    You just need the 2.6.30 kernel from backports

  • leeph

    +1 for Sergiy – stable ext4 fs on a HP DL385 running Debian Lenny but using 2.6.32-bpo.5-amd64 backported kernel. Lenny e2fsprogs definitely has full ext4 support.

  • tk

    There is many different information about ext4 support in lenny (kernel and userspace). Maybe somebody can give link to correct documentation.
    Lenny has e2fsprogs 1.41.3, some say that minimum 1.41.6 is required.
    I have installed 2.6.32 kernel from backports but userspace is mostly from lenny.
    It let me create and convert filesystems to ext4 but when I converted root fs to ext4, boot failed because early boot system tried to mount / fs as ext3 that failed.
    Can somebody help what packages I must upgrade and should initrd be upgraded too?

  • tk
    I think that that bug is to blame for bad ext4 root fs support in lenny.

  • etbe

    Yes bug #510758 is the cause of such problems, the “rootfstype=ext4” kernel parameter has been working for me for a while.