- 1 Introduction to block devices
- 2 Designing a partition scheme
- 3 Using parted to partition the disk
- 4 Creating file systems
- 5 Mounting the root partition
Introduction to block devices
Let's take a good look at disk-oriented aspects of Gentoo Linux and Linux in general, including Linux filesystems, partitions, and block devices. Once the ins and outs of disks and filesystems are understood, partitions and filesystems can be established for the Gentoo Linux installation.
To begin, let's look at block devices. The most famous block device is probably the one that represents the first drive in a Linux system, namely /dev/sda. SCSI and Serial ATA drives are both labeled /dev/sd*; even IDE drives are labeled /dev/sd* with the libata framework in the kernel. When using the old device framework, then the first IDE drive is /dev/hda.
The block devices above represent an abstract interface to the disk. User programs can use these block devices to interact with the disk without worrying about whether the drives are IDE, SCSI, or something else. The program can simply address the storage on the disk as a bunch of contiguous, randomly-accessible 512-byte blocks.
Although it is theoretically possible to use a full disk to house your Linux system, this is almost never done in practice. Instead, full disk block devices are split up in smaller, more manageable block devices. On IA64 systems, these are called partitions.
Itanium systems use EFI, the Extensible Firmware Interface, for booting. The partition table format that EFI understands is called GPT, or GUID Partition Table. The partitioning program that understands GPT is called "parted", so that is the tool used below. Additionally, EFI can only read FAT filesystems, so that is the format to use for the EFI boot partition, where the kernel will be installed by "elilo".
The IA64 Installation CDs provide support for LVM2. LVM2 increases the flexibility offered by the partitioning setup. During the installation instructions, we will focus on "regular" partitions, but it is still good to know LVM2 is supported as well.
Designing a partition scheme
How many partitions and how big?
The number of partitions is highly dependent on the environment. For instance, if there are lots of users, then it is advised to have /home/ separate as it increases security and makes backups easier. If Gentoo is being installed to perform as a mail server, then /var/ should be separate as all mails are stored inside /var/. A good choice of filesystem will then maximize the performance. Game servers will have a separate /opt/ as most gaming servers are installed there. The reason is similar for the /home/ directory: security and backups. In most situations, /usr/ is to be kept big: not only will it contain the majority of applications, it typically also hosts the Gentoo ebuild repository (by default located at /var/db/repos/gentoo) which already takes around 650 MiB. This disk space estimate excludes the binpkgs/ and distfiles/ directories that are stored under /var/cache/ by default.
It very much depends on what the administrator wants to achieve. 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 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 disadvantages as well. If not configured properly, the system might have lots of free space on one partition and none on another. Another nuisance is that separate partitions - especially for important mount points like /usr/ or /var/ - often require the administrator to boot with an initramfs to mount the partition before other boot scripts start. This isn't always the case though, so results may vary.
There is also a 15-partition limit for SCSI and SATA unless the disk uses GPT labels.
What about swap space?
There is no perfect value for the swap partition. The purpose of swap 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), freeing memory. Of course, if that memory is suddenly needed, these pages need to be put back in memory (page-in) which will take a while (as disks are very slow compared to internal memory).
When the system is not going to run memory intensive applications or the system has lots of memory available, then it probably does not need much swap space. However, swap space is also used to store the entire memory in case of hibernation. If the system is going to need hibernation, then a bigger swap space is necessary, often at least the amount of memory installed in the system.
Non-default example partition scheme
An example partitioning for a 20GB disk is shown below, used as a demonstration laptop (containing webserver, mailserver, gnome, ...):
Filesystem Type Size Used Avail Use% Mounted on /dev/sda5 ext4 509M 132M 351M 28% / /dev/sda2 ext4 5.0G 3.0G 1.8G 63% /home /dev/sda7 ext4 7.9G 6.2G 1.3G 83% /usr /dev/sda8 ext4 1011M 483M 477M 51% /opt /dev/sda9 ext4 2.0G 607M 1.3G 32% /var /dev/sda1 ext2 51M 17M 31M 36% /boot /dev/sda6 swap 516M 12M 504M 2% <not mounted> (Unpartitioned space for future usage: 2 GB)
/usr/ is rather full (83% used) here, but once all software is installed, /usr/ doesn't tend to grow that much. Although allocating a few gigabytes of disk space for /var/ may seem excessive, remember that portage uses this partition by default for compiling packages. To keep /var/ at a more reasonable size, such as 1GB, alter the PORTAGE_TMPDIR variable in /etc/portage/make.conf to point to the partition with enough free space for compiling extremely large packages such as LibreOffice.
Using parted to partition the disk
The following parts explain how to create the example partition layout used in the remainder of the installation instructions, namely:
|/dev/sda1||EFI Boot partition|
Change the partition layout according to personal preference.
Viewing the current partition layout
parted is the GNU partition editor. Fire up parted on the disk (in our example, we use /dev/sda):
Once in parted, a prompt that looks like this shows up:
At this point one of the available commands is help, to see the other available commands. Another command is print to display the disk's current partition configuration:
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes Disk label type: gpt Minor Start End Filesystem Name Flags 1 0.017 203.938 fat32 boot 2 203.938 4243.468 linux-swap 3 4243.469 34724.281 ext4
This particular configuration is very similar to the one recommended above. Note on the second line that the partition table is type is GPT. If it is different, then the ia64 system will not be able to boot from this disk. To explain how partitions are created, let's first remove the partitions and recreate them.
Removing all partitions
Unlike fdisk and some other partitioning programs which postpone committing changes until the write instruction is given, parted commands take effect immediately. So once partitions are added or removed, there is no undo.
The easy way to remove all partitions and start fresh, which guarantees that we are using the correct partition type, is to make a new partition table using the mklabel command. This results in an empty GPT partition table.
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes Disk label type: gpt Minor Start End Filesystem Name Flags
Now that the partition table is empty, we're ready to create the partitions. We will use a default partitioning scheme as discussed previously. Of course, don't follow these instructions to the letter but adjust to personal preference.
Creating the EFI boot partition
First create a small EFI boot partition. This is required to be a FAT filesystem in order for the IA64 firmware to read it. Our example makes this 32 MB, which is appropriate for storing kernels and elilo configuration. Expect each IA64 kernel to be around 5 MB, so this configuration leaves some room to grow and experiment.
mkpart primary fat32 0 32
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes Disk label type: gpt Minor Start End Filesystem Name Flags 1 0.017 32.000 fat32
Creating the swap partition
Let's now create the swap partition. The classic size to make the swap partition was twice the amount of RAM in the system. In modern systems with lots of RAM, this is no longer necessary. For most desktop systems, a 512 megabyte swap partition is sufficient. For a server, consider something larger to reflect the anticipated needs of the server.
mkpart primary linux-swap 32 544
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes Disk label type: gpt Minor Start End Filesystem Name Flags 1 0.017 32.000 fat32 2 32.000 544.000
Creating the root partition
Finally, create the root partition. Our configuration will make the root partition to occupy the rest of the disk. We default to ext4, but it is possible to use ext2, jfs, reiserfs or xfs. The actual filesystem is not created in this step, but the partition table contains an indication of what kind of filesystem is stored on each partition, and it's a good idea to make the table match the intentions.
mkpart primary ext4 544 34732.890
Disk geometry for /dev/sda: 0.000-34732.890 megabytes Disk label type: gpt Minor Start End Filesystem Name Flags 1 0.017 32.000 fat32 2 32.000 544.000 3 544.000 34732.874
To quit from parted, type quit. There's no need to take a separate step to save the partition layout since parted has been saving it all along. Parted will give a reminder to update the /etc/fstab file, which is done later in the installation instructions.
Information: Don't forget to update /etc/fstab, if necessary.
Creating file systems
Now that the partitions are created, it is time to place a filesystem on them. In the next section the various file systems that Linux supports are described. Readers that already know which filesystem to use can continue with Applying a filesystem to a partition. The others should read on to learn about the available filesystems...
Several filesystems are available. Some of them are found stable on the ia64 architecture - it is advised to read up on the filesystems and their support state before selecting a more experimental one for important partitions.
- A next generation filesystem that provides many advanced features such as snapshotting, self-healing through checksums, transparent compression, subvolumes and integrated RAID. A few distributions have begun to ship it as an out-of-the-box option, but it is not production ready. Reports of filesystem corruption are common. Its developers urge people to run the latest kernel version for safety because the older ones have known problems. This has been the case for years and it is too early to tell if things have changed. Fixes for corruption issues are rarely backported to older kernels. Proceed with caution when using this filesystem!
- This is the tried and true Linux filesystem but doesn't have metadata journaling, which means that routine ext2 filesystem checks at startup time can be quite time-consuming. There is now quite a selection of newer-generation journaled filesystems that can be checked for consistency very quickly and are thus generally preferred over their non-journaled counterparts. Journaled filesystems prevent long delays when the system is booted and the filesystem happens to be in an inconsistent state.
- The journaled version of the ext2 filesystem, providing metadata journaling for fast recovery in addition to other enhanced journaling modes like full data and ordered data journaling. It uses an HTree index that enables high performance in almost all situations. In short, ext3 is a very good and reliable filesystem.
- Initially created as a fork of ext3, ext4 brings new features, performance improvements, and removal of size limits with moderate changes to the on-disk format. It can span volumes up to 1 EB and with maximum file size of 16TB. Instead of the classic ext2/3 bitmap block allocation ext4 uses extents, which improve large file performance and reduce fragmentation. Ext4 also provides more sophisticated block allocation algorithms (delayed allocation and multiblock allocation) giving the filesystem driver more ways to optimize the layout of data on the disk. Ext4 is the recommended all-purpose all-platform filesystem.
- The Flash-Friendly File System was originally created by Samsung for the use with NAND flash memory. As of Q2, 2016, this filesystem is still considered immature, but it is a decent choice when installing Gentoo to microSD cards, USB drives, or other flash-based storage devices.
- IBM's high-performance journaling filesystem. JFS is a light, fast and reliable B+tree-based filesystem with good performance in various conditions.
- A B+tree-based journaled filesystem that has good overall performance, especially when dealing with many tiny files at the cost of more CPU cycles. ReiserFS appears to be less maintained than other filesystems.
- A filesystem with metadata journaling which comes with a robust feature-set and is optimized for scalability. XFS seems to be less forgiving to various hardware problems.
- Also known as FAT32, is supported by Linux but does not support any permission settings. It is mostly used for interoperability with other operating systems (mainly Microsoft Windows) but is also a necessity for some system firmware (like UEFI).
- This "New Technology" filesystem is the flagship filesystem of Microsoft Windows. Similar to vfat above it does not store permission settings or extended attributes necessary for BSD or Linux to function properly, therefore it cannot be used as a root filesystem. It should only be used for interoperability with Microsoft Windows systems (note the emphasis on only).
When using ext2, ext3, or ext4 on a small partition (less than 8GB), then the file system must be created with the proper options to reserve enough inodes. The mke2fs (mkfs.ext2) application uses the "bytes-per-inode" setting to calculate how many inodes a file system should have. On smaller partitions, it is advised to increase the calculated number of inodes.
On ext2, ext3 and ext4, this can be done using one of the following commands, respectively:
mkfs.ext2 -T small /dev/<device>
mkfs.ext3 -T small /dev/<device>
mkfs.ext4 -T small /dev/<device>
This will generally quadruple the number of inodes for a given file system as its "bytes-per-inode" reduces from one every 16kB to one every 4kB. This can be tuned even further by providing the ratio:
mkfs.ext2 -i <ratio> /dev/<device>
Applying a filesystem to a partition
To create a filesystem on a partition or volume, there are user space utilities available for each possible filesystem. Click the filesystem's name in the table below for additional information on each filesystem:
|Filesystem||Creation command||On minimal CD?||Package|
For instance, to have the root partition (/dev/sda3) in ext4 as used in the example partition structure, the following commands would be used:
Now create the filesystems on the newly created partitions (or logical volumes).
Activating the swap partition
mkswap is the command that is used to initialize swap partitions:
To activate the swap partition, use swapon:
Create and activate the swap with the commands mentioned above.
Mounting the root partition
Now that the partitions are initialized and are housing a filesystem, it is time to mount those partitions. Use the mount command, but don't forget to create the necessary mount directories for every partition created. As an example we mount the root partition:
mount /dev/sda3 /mnt/gentoo
If /tmp/ needs to reside on a separate partition, be sure to change its permissions after mounting:
chmod 1777 /mnt/gentoo/tmp
Later in the instructions the proc filesystem (a virtual interface with the kernel) as well as other kernel pseudo-filesystems will be mounted. But first we install the Gentoo installation files.