XFS vs ZFS: File Storage Systems Compared


XFS vs ZFS: File Storage Systems Compared

Key Points:
  • XFS is a 64-bit journaling file system known for its high performance and efficient execution of parallel input/output (I/O) operations.
  • The maximum total size of a ZFS file system is exbibytes minus one byte. However, Linux limits ZFS file system capacity to 16 tebibytes.
  • ZFS can complete volume-related tasks like managing tiered storage and caching devices.

File systems underpin the function of a computer’s operating system by providing the method and structure for data storage and retrieval. For an operating system to have coherent and quickly accessible data, the type of file system a computer uses is critical. In this article, we will compare xfs vs zfs file systems to understand their function, assess their performance, and see which is the best for your computing needs.

XFS vs ZFS: Side by Side Comparison

What it is 64-bit journaling file system file system and volume manager 
Primary UseOperating systemOperating system 
Written in C / C++
Max volume size8 Ebytes256 trillion yobibytes (2 128 bytes)
Max file size8 Ebytes16 exbibytes (2 64 bytes)
Max file name size255 ASCII characters255 ASCII characters
Max number of files unlimitedunlimited
Copy on writeWhen necessary Yes
Initial Release May 2000June 2006
Influential Developers Steve LordSilicon GraphicsLinuxFreeBSDCentOSRed HatInternational Organization for Standardization 
Open formatYesYes (OpenZFS)
Technologies influencedFreeBSD, Linux, SSDs, Mac OS X, IRIX, NASA Advanced Supercomputing DivisionOpenSolaris, illumos distributions, OpenIndiana, FreeBSD, Mac OS X Server, NetBSD, Linux

XFS vs ZFS: 8 Need to Know Facts

Redhat logo on the the company's headquarters
As a premium add-on, XFS is part of Red Hat’s scalable file system.
  • XFS is a journaling file system that can keep track of temporal changes that are not yet filed in the main part of the system.
  • The XFS file system is 64-bit with a maximum file size of 8 exbibytes, depending on the host operating system.
  • XFS is optimized for handling huge file sizes and is used by supercomputers such as those in NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division.
  • Within an XFS file system are allocation groups (AG), each with its allocation and free space management. 
  • ZFS was previously called the Zettabyte file system.
  • Open ZFS is a 128-bit file system.
  • ZFS was part of The Solaris operating system before being published under an open-source license in 2005.
  • XFS and ZFS support character file names of only 255 characters.

What is XFS?

XFS is a 64-bit journaling file system known for its high performance and efficient execution of parallel input/output (I/O) operations. Developed in the 1990s by Silicon Graphics, Inc (SGI), it is SGI’s IRIX operating system’s default file system. XFS has since been ported to Linux and is now used as the default file system of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

XFS file system’s design is based on allocation groups (AGs). These sub-volumes within the XFS file system can maintain their file data meaning that the file system can run multiple simultaneous I/O operations across numerous AGs. This facilitates XFS extreme scalability and system bandwidth, enabling the handling of large files across multiple storage devices. 

XFS also uses metadata journaling and write barriers to control data allocation and prevent fragmentation. Extents create the space necessary for data storage, arranging data in B+ trees and enhancing the file system’s performance, even with large files. Delayed allocation assists in the prevention of file system fragmentation and support online defragmentation. 

History of XFS

Here is a brief timeline of the development and launches of the XFS file system:

  • Silicon Graphics, Inc. developed XFS in 1993 but delayed its release.
  • In May 2000, XFS was released under a GNU General Public License (GPL). 
  • In 2001, a team at SGI ported XFS to Linux.
  • By 2004, XFS was available on all Linux systems.
  • Between December 2005 and June 2006, FreeBSD added read and write support for XFS.
  • Oracle Linux 6 included an option for using XFS with its 2011 release.
  • XFS is the default file system for RHEL 7.0 used on servers and workstations.

Key features of XFS

ZFS has several outstanding features that make it the preferred file system for servers, networks and supercomputers. These include: 

Massive capacity

The maximum total size of a ZFS file system is exbibytes minus one byte. However, Linux limits ZFS file system capacity to 16 tebibytes.

Direct I/O

XFS has direct I/O implementation, which enables the direct application of non-cached I/O operations to the userspace using direct memory access. The file system also has a guaranteed-rate I/O system. This allows individual applications to reserve I/O bandwidth to the file system, with XFS providing hard or soft assurances that the guarantees can be supported.

XFS transfers data between the buffer of the application and the disk using DMA, which allows access to the full I/O bandwidth of the underlying disk devices.

Extent-based allocation

XFS has an extent-oriented file system that uses paired B+ trees to manage space allocation and indexing. XFS manages the blocks on its file systems using variable length extents, consisting of one or more contiguous blocks. This approach shortens the list of blocks that each file uses. 

Extended attributes

XFS file systems use extended file attributes, a feature that associates computer files with a range of metadata not normally interpreted by the filesystem. Examples of metadata include author details, digital certificates, and character encoding. The file system limits these extended attributes to a size smaller than the maximum file size. 

What is ZFS?

OpenZFS logo
ZFS was created for storage systems used in servers and workstations.

ZFS is a file system and volume manager that comes in two versions OpenZFS (free) and a commercial version supported by Oracle Inc. It can manage the physical volume block storage devices like hard drives and memory cards and organize them into logical block devices for use by the operating system. In addition, like other file systems, ZFS manages the stored data and files.

This unification of functions is exceptional and equips ZFs with comprehensive knowledge of the available physical disk status, condition, and volumes. ZFS can also safeguard data stored on the disks from errors or misprocessing, optimizing storage system performance, and correcting errors where necessary.

ZFS has a snapshot function. It can create multiple snapshots in succession without degrading its performance. The snapshots protect against data loss from errors, malicious activity, or risky procedures. ZFS can then review previous snapshots and file system states, with rollback to a previous system state if necessary. 

History of ZFS

Sun Microsystems developed ZFS in 2001 as part of its Solaris operating system. When the Solaris OS was published under an open-source license in 2005, ZFS became open-source. In 2010, ZFS became closed-source when Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems. During the initial open-source period, ZFS was ported to Linux, macOS, and Free BSD, continuing as OpenZFS. OpenZFS is being actively developed with support from its community to meet current and future industry standards.

Key features of ZFS

Here is a list of some of the key features of the ZFS file system:

  • ZFS can complete volume-related tasks like managing tiered storage and caching devices.
  • It can also complete data compression and deduplication, which reduces demand on the `RAM.
  • ZFS is capable of near-infinite scaling of its data store without data loss.
  • ZFS undertakes hierarchical checksumming of the entire storage system, with the checksum held separately to the stored data. Checksum separation prevents data loss and corruption and ensure data verification.
  • If there are errors or inconsistencies, ZFS will automatically roll back recent changes to the file system.
  • ZFS can also self-heal data inconsistencies and write failures that it detects by reconstructing data using its checksums and snapshots.
  • There are ZFS-specific layouts for RAID (redundant array of independent disks) known as RAID-Z. RAID-Z improves efficiency by only striping data of the disks required rather than striping indiscriminately across all devices.

XFS vs. ZFS: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Use?

XFS and ZFS are two leading file systems with considerable capacity and speed. The choice of either file system depends on user requirements. If capacity is a priority for you, go for the XFS. However, if data integrity is your main concern, OpenZFS is the obvious choice. It has greater functionality and development scope and can support a wider range of applications. 

Up Next…

Frequently Asked Questions

Is OpenZFS compatible with Mac?

OpenZFS for OS X was first released in 2014 and is available for use by Mac users. You can run it natively with OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) and OS X 10.9 (Mavericks).

What is B+ tree?

B+ tree is a type of data structure that consists of a root, internal nodes, and leaves. It provides high-capacity storage as can store many child nodes on each node. XFS uses B+ tree data storage because it offers efficient data retrieval in file systems.

What is RAID?

Redundant Array of Independent Disks (RAID) is an arrangement of two or more hard drives that facilitates the protection of data, or enhancement of speed and performance. It is usually used in performance computing applications like servers. ZFS has it own RAID layouts for managing data efficiently. 

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