File Systems and Zoned Block Devices

The dm-zoned device mapper target allows using any file system with host managed zoned block devices by hiding the device sequential write constraints. This is a simple solution to enable a file system use but not necessarily the most efficient due to the potentially high overhead of a block based zone reclaim process.

Supporting zoned block devices directly in a file system implementation can lead to a more efficient zone reclaim processing as the file system metadata and file abstraction provide more information on the usage and validity status of storage blocks compared to the raw block device based approach.

Furthermore, a file system design may lend itself well to the sequential write constraint of host managed zoned block devices. This is the case for log-structured file systems such as f2fs and copy-on-write (CoW) file systems such as Btrfs.


zonefs is a very simple file system exposing each zone of a zoned block device as a file. zonefs is included with the upstream Linux kernel since version 5.6.0.


Unlike a regular POSIX-compliant file system with native zoned block device support (e.g. f2fs), zonefs does not hide the sequential write constraint of zoned block devices to the user. Files representing sequential write zones of the device must be written sequentially starting from the end of the file (append only writes).

As such, zonefs is in essence closer to a raw block device access interface than to a full-featured POSIX file system. The goal of zonefs is to simplify the implementation of zoned block device support in applications by replacing raw block device file accesses with the richer regular file API, avoiding relying on direct block device file ioctls which may be more obscure to developers. One example of this approach is the implementation of LSM (log-structured merge) tree structures (such as used in RocksDB and LevelDB) on zoned block devices by allowing SSTables to be stored in a zone file similarly to a regular file system rather than as a range of sectors of the entire disk. The introduction of the higher level construct "one file is one zone" can help reducing the amount of changes needed in the application as well as introducing support for different application programming languages.

The files representing zones are grouped by zone type, which are themselves represented by sub-directories. This file structure is built entirely using zone information provided by the device and so does not require any complex on-disk metadata structure.

On-Disk Metadata

zonefs on-disk metadata is composed only of an immutable super block which persistently stores a magic number and optional feature flags and values. On mount, zonefs uses the block layer API function blkdev_report_zones() to obtain the device zone configuration and populates the mount point with a static file tree solely based on this information. File sizes come from the device zone type and write pointer position managed by the device itself.

The super block is always written on disk at sector 0. The first zone of the device storing the super block is never exposed as a zone file by zonefs. If the zone containing the super block is a sequential zone, the mkzonefs format tool always "finishes" the zone, that is, it transitions the zone to a full state to make it read-only, preventing any data write.

Zone Type Sub-Directories

Files representing zones of the same type are grouped together under the same sub-directory automatically created on mount.

For conventional zones, the sub-directory "cnv" is used. This directory is however created if and only if the device has usable conventional zones. If the device only has a single conventional zone at sector 0, the zone will not be exposed as a file as it will be used to store the zonefs super block. For such devices, the "cnv" sub-directory will not be created.

For sequential write zones, the sub-directory "seq" is used.

These two directories are the only directories that exist in zonefs. Users cannot create other directories and cannot rename nor delete the "cnv" and "seq" sub-directories.

The size of the directories indicated by the st_size field of struct stat, obtained with the stat() or fstat() system calls, indicates the number of files existing under the directory.

Zone files

Zone files are named using the number of the zone they represent within the set of zones of a particular type. That is, both the "cnv" and "seq" directories contain files named "0", "1", "2", ... The file numbers also represent increasing zone start sector on the device.

All read and write operations to zone files are not allowed beyond the file maximum size, that is, beyond the zone size. Any access exceeding the zone size is failed with the -EFBIG error.

Creating, deleting, renaming or modifying any attribute of files is not allowed.

The number of blocks of a file as reported by stat() and fstat() indicates the size of the file zone, or in other words, the maximum file size.

Conventional Zone Files

The size of conventional zone files is fixed to the size of the zone they represent. Conventional zone files cannot be truncated.

These files can be randomly read and written using any type of I/O operation: buffered I/Os, direct I/Os, memory mapped I/Os (mmap), etc. There are no I/O constraint for these files beyond the file size limit mentioned above.

Sequential zone files

The size of sequential zone files grouped in the "seq" sub-directory represents the file's zone write pointer position relative to the zone start sector.

Sequential zone files can only be written sequentially, starting from the file end, that is, write operations can only be append writes. Zonefs makes no attempt at accepting random writes and will fail any write request that has a start offset not corresponding to the end of the file, or to the end of the last write issued and still in-flight (for asynchronous I/O operations).

Since dirty page writeback by the page cache does not guarantee a sequential write pattern, zonefs prevents buffered writes and writeable shared mappings on sequential files. Only direct I/O writes are accepted for these files. zonefs relies on the sequential delivery of write I/O requests to the device implemented by the block layer elevator (See Write Command Ordering).

There are no restrictions on the type of I/O used for read operations in sequential zone files. Buffered I/Os, direct I/Os and shared read mappings are all accepted.

Truncating sequential zone files is allowed only down to 0, in which case, the zone is reset to rewind the file zone write pointer position to the start of the zone, or up to the zone size, in which case the file's zone is transitioned to the FULL state (finish zone operation).

Format options

Several optional features of zonefs can be enabled at format time.

IO error handling

Zoned block devices may fail I/O requests for reasons similar to regular block devices, e.g. due to bad sectors. However, in addition to such known I/O failure pattern, the standards governing zoned block devices behavior define additional conditions that can result in I/O errors.

All I/O errors detected by zonefs are notified to the user with an error code return for the system call that triggered or detected the error. The recovery actions taken by zonefs in response to I/O errors depend on the I/O type (read vs write) and on the reason for the error (bad sector, unaligned writes or zone condition change).

zonefs minimal I/O error recovery may change a file size and file access permissions.

Further action taken by zonefs I/O error recovery can be controlled by the user with the "errors=xxx" mount option. The table below summarizes the result of zonefs I/O error processing depending on the mount option and on the zone conditions.

mount option
device zone
remount-ro good fixed yes no yes yes
remount-ro read-only as is yes no yes no
remount-ro offline 0 no no no no
zone-ro good fixed yes no yes yes
zone-ro read-only as is yes no yes no
zone-ro offline 0 no no no no
zone-offline good 0 no no yes yes
zone-offline read-only 0 no no yes no
zone-offline offline 0 no no no no
repair good fixed yes yes yes yes
repair read-only as is yes no yes no
repair offline 0 no no no no

Further notes:

Mount options

zonefs define the "errors=" mount option to allow the user to specify zonefs behavior in response to I/O errors, inode size inconsistencies or zone condition changes. The defined behaviors are as follow:

The run-time I/O error actions defined for each behavior are detailed in the previous section. Mount time I/O errors will cause the mount operation to fail. The handling of read-only zones also differs between mount-time and run-time. If a read-only zone is found at mount time, the zone is always treated in the same manner as offline zones, that is, all accesses are disabled and the zone file size set to 0. This is necessary as the write pointer of read-only zones is defined as invalib by the ZBC and ZAC standards, making it impossible to discover the amount of data that has been written to the zone. In the case of a read-only zone discovered at run-time, as indicated in the previous section. the size of the zone file is left unchanged from its last updated value.

Zonefs User Space Tools

The mkzonefs tool is used to format zoned block devices for use with zonefs. This tool is available on GitHub.

zonefs-tools also includes a test suite which can be run against any zoned block device, including nullblk block device created with zoned mode.


The following formats a 15TB host-managed SMR HDD with 256 MB zones with the conventional zones aggregation feature enabled::

# mkzonefs -o aggr_cnv /dev/sdX
# mount -t zonefs /dev/sdX /mnt
# ls -l /mnt/
total 0
dr-xr-xr-x 2 root root     1 Nov 25 13:23 cnv
dr-xr-xr-x 2 root root 55356 Nov 25 13:23 seq

The size of the zone files sub-directories indicate the number of files existing for each type of zones. In this example, there is only one conventional zone file (all conventional zones are aggregated under a single file).

# ls -l /mnt/cnv
total 137101312
-rw-r----- 1 root root 140391743488 Nov 25 13:23 0

This aggregated conventional zone file can be used as a regular file::

# mkfs.ext4 /mnt/cnv/0
# mount -o loop /mnt/cnv/0 /data

The "seq" sub-directory grouping files for sequential write zones has in this example 55356 zones::

# ls -lv /mnt/seq
total 14511243264
-rw-r----- 1 root root 0 Nov 25 13:23 0
-rw-r----- 1 root root 0 Nov 25 13:23 1
-rw-r----- 1 root root 0 Nov 25 13:23 2
-rw-r----- 1 root root 0 Nov 25 13:23 55354
-rw-r----- 1 root root 0 Nov 25 13:23 55355

For sequential write zone files, the file size changes as data is appended at the end of the file, similarly to any regular file system::

# dd if=/dev/zero of=/mnt/seq/0 bs=4096 count=1 conv=notrunc oflag=direct
1+0 records in
1+0 records out
4096 bytes (4.1 kB, 4.0 KiB) copied, 0.00044121 s, 9.3 MB/s

# ls -l /mnt/seq/0
-rw-r----- 1 root root 4096 Nov 25 13:23 /mnt/seq/0

The written file can be truncated to the zone size, preventing any further write operation::

# truncate -s 268435456 /mnt/seq/0
# ls -l /mnt/seq/0
-rw-r----- 1 root root 268435456 Nov 25 13:49 /mnt/seq/0

Truncation to 0 size allows freeing the file zone storage space and restart append-writes to the file::

# truncate -s 0 /mnt/seq/0
# ls -l /mnt/seq/0
-rw-r----- 1 root root 0 Nov 25 13:49 /mnt/seq/0

Since files are statically mapped to zones on the disk, the number of blocks of a file as reported by stat() and fstat() indicates the size of the file zone::

# stat /mnt/seq/0
File: /mnt/seq/0
Size: 0             Blocks: 524288     IO Block: 4096   regular empty file
Device: 870h/2160d  Inode: 50431       Links: 1
Access: (0640/-rw-r-----)  Uid: (    0/    root)   Gid: (    0/    root)
Access: 2019-11-25 13:23:57.048971997 +0900
Modify: 2019-11-25 13:52:25.553805765 +0900
Change: 2019-11-25 13:52:25.553805765 +0900
Birth: -

The number of blocks of the file ("Blocks") in units of 512B blocks gives the maximum file size of 524288 * 512 B = 256 MB, corresponding to the device zone size in this example. Of note is that the "IO block" field always indicates the minimum I/O size for writes and corresponds to the device physical sector size.


The Flash-Friendly File System (f2fs) was designed on a basis of a log-structured file system approach but modified to avoid the classical problems of the traditional log-structured approach (e.g. The snowball effect of wandering trees and the high cleaning overhead).

f2fs supports various parameters not only for configuring on-disk layout but also for selecting allocation and cleaning algorithms.

Zoned Block Device Support

Zoned block device support was added to f2fs with kernel 4.10. Since f2fs uses a metadata block on-disk format with fixed block location, only zoned block devices which include conventional zones can be supported. Zoned devices composed entirely of sequential zones cannot be used with f2fs as a standalone device and require a multi-device setup to place metadata blocks on a randomly writable storage. f2fs supports multi-device setup where multiple block device address spaces are linearly concatenated to form a logically larger block device. The dm-linear device mapper target can also be used to create a logical device composed of conventional zones and sequential zones suitable for f2fs.

f2fs zoned block device support was achieved using the following principles.

  1. Section Alignment In f2fs, a section is a group of fixed size segments (2 MB). The number of segments in a section is determined to match the zoned device zone size. For instance, with a 256 MB zone size, a section contains 128 segments of 2MB.
  2. Forced LFS mode By default, f2fs tries to optimize block allocation to avoid excessive append write by allowing some random writes within segments. The LFS mode forces sequential writes to segments and the sequential use of segments within sections, resulting in full compliance with zoned block devices write constraint.
  3. Zone reset as discard operation Block discard (or trim) used to indicate to a device that a block or range of blocks are no longer in use is replaced with execution of a zone write pointer reset command when all blocks of all segments of a section are free, allowing the section to be reused.


f2fs uses 32 bits block number with a block size of 4 KB. This results in a maximum volume size of 16 TB. Any device with a total capacity larger than 16 TB cannot be used with f2fs.

To overcome this limit, the dm-linear device mapper target can be used to partition a zoned block device into serviceable smaller logical devices. This configuration must ensure that each logical device created is assigned a sufficient amount of conventional zones to store f2fs fixed location metadata blocks.

Usage Example

To format a zoned block device with mkfs.f2fs, the option -m must be specified.

# mkfs.f2fs -m /dev/sdb

    f2fs-tools: mkfs.f2fs Ver: 1.12.0 (2018-11-12)

Info: Disable heap-based policy
Info: Debug level = 0
Info: Trim is enabled
Info: [/dev/sdb] Disk Model: HGST HSH721415AL
Info: Host-managed zoned block device:
      55880 zones, 524 randomly writeable zones
      65536 blocks per zone
Info: Segments per section = 128
Info: Sections per zone = 1
Info: sector size = 4096
Info: total sectors = 3662151680 (14305280 MB)
Info: zone aligned segment0 blkaddr: 65536
Info: format version with
  "Linux version 5.0.16-300.fc30.x86_64 ( (gcc version 9.1.1 20190503 (Red Hat 9.1.1-1) (GCC)) #1 SMP Tue May 14 19:33:09 UTC 2019"
Info: [/dev/sdb] Discarding device
Info: Discarded 14305280 MB
Info: Overprovision ratio = 0.600%
Info: Overprovision segments = 86254 (GC reserved = 43690)
Info: format successful

The formatted zoned block device can now be directly mounted without any other setup necessary.

# mount /dev/sdb /mnt

Compared to the dm-zoned device mapper target solution, performance of f2fs does not suffer from zone reclaim overhead as writes are always sequential and do not require on-disk temporary buffering. f2fs garbage collection (segment cleanup) will generate performance overhead only for workloads frequently deleting file or modifying files data.


Btrfs is a file system based on the copy-on-write (CoW) principle resulting in any block update to never be written in-place. Work is ongoing to add native ZBD support by changing the block allocation algorithm and block IO issuing code.

Block Allocation Changes

Btrfs block management relies on grouping of blocks into block groups, with each group composed of one or more device extent. The device extents of a block group may belong to different devices (e.g. In the case of a RAID volume). ZBD support changes the default device extent size to the size of the device zones so that all device extents are always aligned to a zone.

Allocation of blocks within a block group is changed so that the allocation is always sequential from the beginning of the block group. To do so, an allocation pointer is added to block groups and used as the allocation hint. The changes also ensure that block freed below the allocation pointer are ignored, resulting in sequential block allocation within each group regardless of the block group usage.

I/O Management

While the introduction of the allocation pointer ensures that blocks are allocated sequentially within groups, so sequentially within zones, I/Os to write out newly allocated blocks may be issued out of order causing errors when writing to sequential zones. This problem is solved by introducing a write I/O request staging list to each block group. This list is used to delay the execution of unaligned write requests within a block group.

The zones of a block group are reset to allow rewriting only when the block group is being freed, that is, when all the blocks within the block group are unused.

For Btrfs volumes composed of multiple disks, restrictions are added to ensure that all disks have the same zone model and in the case of zoned block devices, the same zone size. This matches the existing Btrfs constraint that all device extents in a block group must have the same size.

Upstream Contribution

Btrfs zoned block device support is still in development and will be available in stable releases after the usual upstream review process completes.


XFS currently does not support zoned block devices. The dm-zoned device mapper target must be used to enable zoned device use with XFS.

An early design document discussed the development work necessary to support host aware and host managed disks with XFS. Parts of this design have already been implemented and included into the kernel stable releases (e.g. Per inode reverse block mapping b-trees feature). However, more work is necessary to fully support zoned block devices.


This article describes attempts at improving ext4 performance with host aware zoned block devices using changes to the file system journal management. The changes are small and succeed in maintaining good performance. However, support for host managed zoned block devices is not provided as some fundamental ext4 design aspects cannot be easily changed to match host managed device constraints.

These optimizations for host aware zoned block devices is a research work and is not included in ext4 stable kernel releases. ext4 also does not support host managed disks. Similarly to XFS, the ext4 file system can however be used together with the dm-zoned device mapper target.