Handbook:Alpha/Blocks/Disks

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Slices

Although it is theoretically possible to use a full disk to house a Linux system, this is almost never done in practice. Instead, full disk block devices are split up in smaller, more manageable block devices. On Alpha systems, these are called slices.

Note
In further sections, the installation instructions will use the example partitioning for the ARC/AlphaBIOS setup. Please adjust to personal preference!

Designing a partition scheme

How many partitions and how big?

The design of disk partition layout is highly dependent on the demands of the system and the file system(s) applied to the device. If there are lots of users, then it is advised to have /home on a separate partition which will increase security and make backups and other types of maintenance easier. If Gentoo is being installed to perform as a mail server, then /var should be a separate partition as all mails are stored inside the /var directory. Game servers may have a separate /opt partition since most gaming server software is installed therein. The reason for these recommendations is similar to the /home directory: security, backups, and maintenance.

In most situations on Gentoo, /usr and /var should be kept relatively large in size. /usr hosts the majority of applications available on the system and the Linux kernel sources (under /usr/src). By default, /var hosts the Gentoo ebuild repository (located at /var/db/repos/gentoo) which, depending on the file system, generally consumes around 650 MiB of disk space. This space estimate excludes the /var/cache/distfiles and /var/cache/binpkgs directories, which will gradually fill with source files and (optionally) binary packages respectively as they are added to the system.

How many partitions and how big very much depends on considering the trade-offs and choosing the best option for the circumstance. Separate partitions or volumes have the following advantages:

  • Choose the best performing filesystem for each partition or volume.
  • The entire system cannot run out of free space if one defunct tool is continuously writing files to a partition or volume.
  • If necessary, file system checks are reduced in time, as multiple checks can be done in parallel (although this advantage is realized more with multiple disks than it is with multiple partitions).
  • Security can be enhanced by mounting some partitions or volumes read-only, nosuid (setuid bits are ignored), noexec (executable bits are ignored), etc.


However, multiple partitions have certain disadvantages as well:

  • If not configured properly, the system might have lots of free space on one partition and little free space on another.
  • A separate partition for /usr/ may require the administrator to boot with an initramfs to mount the partition before other boot scripts start. Since the generation and maintenance of an initramfs is beyond the scope of this handbook, we recommend that newcomers do not use a separate partition for /usr/.
  • There is also a 15-partition limit for SCSI and SATA unless the disk uses GPT labels.
Note
If you intend to uses Systemd, /usr/ must be available on boot, either as part of the root filesystem or mounted via an initramfs.

What about swap space?

There is no perfect value for swap space size. The purpose of the space is to provide disk storage to the kernel when internal memory (RAM) is under pressure. A swap space allows for the kernel to move memory pages that are not likely to be accessed soon to disk (swap or page-out), which will free memory in RAM for the current task. Of course, if the pages swapped to disk are suddenly needed, they will need to be put back in memory (page-in) which will take considerably longer than reading from RAM (as disks are very slow compared to internal memory).

When a system is not going to run memory intensive applications or has lots of RAM available, then it probably does not need much swap space. However do note in case of hibernation that swap space is used to store the entire contents of memory (likely on desktop and laptop systems rather than on server systems). If the system requires support for hibernation, then swap space larger than or equal to the amount of memory is necessary.

As a general rule, the swap space size is recommended to be twice the internal memory (RAM). For systems with multiple hard disks, it is wise to create one swap partition on each disk so that they can be utilized for parallel read/write operations. The faster a disk can swap, the faster the system will run when data in swap space must be accessed. When choosing between rotational and solid state disks, it is better for performance to put swap on the SSD. Also, swap files can be used as an alternative to swap partitions; this is mostly interesting for systems with very limited disk space.


Using fdisk to partition a disk (SRM only)

The following parts explain how to create the example slice layout for the SRM:

Slice Description
/dev/sda1 Swap slice
/dev/sda2 Root slice
/dev/sda3 Full disk (required)

Change the slice layout according to personal preference.

Identifying available disks

To figure out what disks are running in the system, use the following commands:

For IDE disks:

root #dmesg | grep 'drive$'

For SCSI disks:

root #dmesg | grep 'scsi'

The output will show what disks were detected and their respective /dev/ entry. In the following parts we assume that the disk is a SCSI disk on /dev/sda.

Now fire up fdisk:

root #fdisk /dev/sda

Deleting all slices

If the hard drive is completely blank, then first create a BSD disklabel.

Command (m for help):b
/dev/sda contains no disklabel.
Do you want to create a disklabel? (y/n) y
A bunch of drive-specific info will show here
3 partitions:
#       start       end      size     fstype   [fsize bsize   cpg]                                    
  c:        1      5290*     5289*    unused        0     0

We start with deleting all slices except the 'c'-slice (a requirement for using BSD disklabels). The following shows how to delete a slice (in the example we use 'a'). Repeat the process to delete all other slices (again, except the 'c'-slice).

Use p to view all existing slices. d is used to delete a slice.

BSD disklabel command (m for help):p
8 partitions:
#       start       end      size     fstype   [fsize bsize   cpg]                                    
  a:        1       235*      234*    4.2BSD     1024  8192    16
  b:      235*      469*      234*      swap
  c:        1      5290*     5289*    unused        0     0
  d:      469*     2076*     1607*    unused        0     0
  e:     2076*     3683*     1607*    unused        0     0
  f:     3683*     5290*     1607*    unused        0     0
  g:      469*     1749*     1280     4.2BSD     1024  8192    16
  h:     1749*     5290*     3541*    unused        0     0
BSD disklabel command (m for help):d
Partition (a-h): a

After repeating this process for all slices, a listing should show something similar to this:

BSD disklabel command (m for help):p
3 partitions:
#       start       end      size     fstype   [fsize bsize   cpg]                                    
  c:        1      5290*     5289*    unused        0     0

Creating the swap slice

On Alpha based systems there is no need for a separate boot slice. However, the first cylinder cannot be used as the aboot image will be placed there.

We will create a swap slice starting at the third cylinder, with a total size of 1 GB. Use n to create a new slice. After creating the slice, we will change its type to 1 (one), meaning swap.

BSD disklabel command (m for help):n
Partition (a-p): a
First cylinder (1-5290, default 1): 3
Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (3-5290, default 5290): +1024M
BSD disklabel command (m for help):t
Partition (a-c): a
Hex code (type L to list codes): 1

After these steps a layout similar to the following should be shown:

BSD disklabel command (m for help):p
3 partitions:
#       start       end      size     fstype   [fsize bsize   cpg]                                    
  a:        3      1003      1001       swap
  c:        1      5290*     5289*    unused        0     0

Creating the root slice

We will now create the root slice, starting from the first cylinder after the swap slice. Use the p command to view where the swap slice ends. In our example, this is at 1003, making the root slice start at 1004.

Another problem is that there is currently a bug in fdisk making it think the number of available cylinders is one above the real number of cylinders. In other words, when asked for the last cylinder, decrease the cylinder number (in this example: 5290) with one.

When the slice is created, we change the type to 8, for ext2.

BSD disklabel command (m for help):n
Partition (a-p): b
First cylinder (1-5290, default 1): 1004
Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (1004-5290, default 5290): 5289
BSD disklabel command (m for help):t
Partition (a-c): b
Hex code (type L to list codes): 8

The resulting slice layout should now be similar to this:

BSD disklabel command (m for help):p
3 partitions:
#       start       end      size     fstype   [fsize bsize   cpg]                                    
  a:        3      1003      1001       swap
  b:     1004      5289      4286       ext2
  c:        1      5290*     5289*    unused        0     0

Save the slice layout and exit

Exit the fdisk application by typing w. This will also save the slice layout.

Command (m for help):w

Using fdisk to partition the disk (ARC/AlphaBIOS only)

The following parts explain how to create the example partition layout for ARC/AlphaBIOS:

Partition Description
/dev/sda1 Boot partition
/dev/sda2 Swap partition
/dev/sda3 Root partition

Change the partition layout according to personal preference.

Identifying the available disks

To figure out what disks are running, use the following commands:

For IDE disks:

root #dmesg | grep 'drive$'

For SCSI disks:

root #dmesg | grep 'scsi'

From this output it should be easy to see what disks were detected and their respective /dev/ entry. In the following parts we assume that the disk is a SCSI disk on /dev/sda.

Now fire up fdisk:

root #fdisk /dev/sda

Deleting all partitions

If the hard drive is completely blank, then first create a DOS disklabel.

Command (m for help):o
Building a new DOS disklabel.

We start with deleting all partitions. The following shows how to delete a partition (in the example we use '1'). Repeat the process to delete all other partitions.

Use p to view all existing partitions. d is used to delete a partition.

command (m for help):p
Disk /dev/sda: 9150 MB, 9150996480 bytes
64 heads, 32 sectors/track, 8727 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 2048 * 512 = 1048576 bytes
  
   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1               1         478      489456   83  Linux
/dev/sda2             479        8727     8446976    5  Extended
/dev/sda5             479        1433      977904   83  Linux Swap
/dev/sda6            1434        8727     7469040   83  Linux
command (m for help):d
Partition number (1-6): 1

Creating the boot partition

On Alpha systems which use MILO to boot, we have to create a small vfat boot partition.

Command (m for help):n
Command action
  e   extended
  p   primary partition (1-4)
p
Partition number (1-4): 1
First cylinder (1-8727, default 1): 1
Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (1-8727, default 8727): +16M
Command (m for help):t
Selected partition 1
Hex code (type L to list codes): 6
Changed system type of partition 1 to 6 (FAT16)

Creating the swap partition

We will create a swap partition with a total size of 1 GB. Use n to create a new partition.

Command (m for help):n
Command action
  e   extended
  p   primary partition (1-4)
p
Partition number (1-4): 2
First cylinder (17-8727, default 17): 17
Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (17-8727, default 8727): +1000M
Command (m for help):t
Partition number (1-4): 2
Hex code (type L to list codes): 82
Changed system type of partition 2 to 82 (Linux swap)

After these steps a layout similar to the following is shown:

Command (m for help):p
Disk /dev/sda: 9150 MB, 9150996480 bytes
64 heads, 32 sectors/track, 8727 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 2048 * 512 = 1048576 bytes
  
   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1               1          16       16368    6  FAT16
/dev/sda2              17         971      977920   82  Linux swap

Creating the root partition

We will now create the root partition. Again, just use the n command.

Command (m for help):n
Command action
  e   extended
  p   primary partition (1-4)
p
Partition number (1-4): 3
First cylinder (972-8727, default 972): 972
Last cylinder or +size or +sizeM or +sizeK (972-8727, default 8727): 8727

After these steps a layout similar to the following should be shown:

Command (m for help):p
Disk /dev/sda: 9150 MB, 9150996480 bytes
64 heads, 32 sectors/track, 8727 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 2048 * 512 = 1048576 bytes
  
   Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sda1               1          16       16368    6  FAT16
/dev/sda2              17         971      977920   82  Linux swap
/dev/sda3             972        8727     7942144   83  Linux

Save the partition layout and exit

Save the changes made in fdisk by typing w.

Command (m for help):w

Now that the partitions are created, continue with Creating filesystems.