File System Layout Howto

File System Layout Howto


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	This HowTo will cover general filesystem layout issues to help
newcomers to FreeBSD 4.x/3.x, with an introduction to the partitioning
policies used in FreeBSD and most BSD systems, how they relate to
filesystem layout, and some comparisons with Windows/DOS and Linux
partitioning methodologies.

        1.      Introduction

	        1.1.    Why Multiple Filesystems?
	        1.2.    What are Slices and Partitions?
	2.      What are the Necessary FreeBSD Filesystems?
	        2.1.    What is / for?
        	2.2.    What is /usr for?
        	2.3.	What is /var for?
        	2.4.	What is /home and /tmp for?

        3.      Appendix

	1.	Introduction

	1.1.	Why Multiple Filesystems?

	UNIX operating systems are designed with multiple filesystems in
mind; although, one can circumvent this by using one, large, filesystem
with subdirectories for each taking the place of mount points for the
additional filesystems. Linux-based operating systems tend to default to
the single-filesystem philosophy. Although both approaches work, there are
three significant advantages for the multiple filesystem approach.

	Firstly, multiple filesystems allow one to span an OS easily
across mutiple hard disks. If either one requires more hard disk space
than available in a single hard disk, one can not afford that hard disk,
or finally, one wishes to speed up operations by splitting the OS up among
multiple hard disks, such as in placing an often-used filesystem on a
faster hard disk, the multiple filesystem approach will be adventageous.

	Secondly, reliability issues may compel one to opt for the
multiple filesystem approach. By using a separate filesystem for often and
heavily used directory structures, it minimizes the chance of a filesystem
corruption immobilizing the entire OS. For instance, if an improper
shutdown occurs, without syncing buffered data to the disks and unmounting
the sole filesystem, in a single-filesystem configuration, it can cause
filesystem corruption, render that entire filesystem useless. However, if
the filesystem configuration had utilized multiple filesystems, and the
corruption ocurred in, say, the /tmp filesystem, the problem is localized.
Either spare space or an additional hard disk can be added to support a
new /tmp filesystem, and operations can continue without nearly as much
potential trouble. Data can be backed up off the other filesystems and
saved for rebuilding a new system, or operations can continue with the
emergency /tmp filesystem that was added.

	Thirdly, using the multiple filesystem approach allows an
adminmistrator to tune each filesystem individually, depending on the type
of load, activity, and purpose it fulfills, using utilities such as
tunefs(8). This allows for a higher system performance potential. If, for
instance, a particular filesystem will deal heavily with many tiny files,
the administrator can optimize that filesystem by configuring it with
smaller blocks per cylinder group usage (tunefs -e #). 

	Finally, multiple filesystems allows one to avoid certain DoS
attacks that attempt to fill up a HD with garbage. the /var filesystem is
especially susceptible to such attacks as that is where log files and
email spools are maintained, so, attacks which cause log files to swell or
attempt to fill up a drive with a mail bomb, can easily disable a system's
email or logging facilities by filling the partition to its limit. Keeping
this in mind, one may wish to even have separate filesystems for /var/log
or /var/mail. If one only has a single filesystem on which all of these
are mounted, a mail bomb, for instance, would not only disable mail and
logging, but also cripple any utility that needed to create temporary
files in /tmp, not to mention the effective use of home directories
(especially if users are running bots), etc.

	For these reasons, FreeBSD maintains a default policy of using
multiple filesystems instead of a single, monolithic filesystem. Not
uncommonly has the question been posed by Linux users, who either are
curious, or switching to FreeBSD, as to the reason for the multiple
filesystem approach. It does shine less in desktop oprations, although, it
clearly does not underperform the single filesystem approach. It is a
layout philosophy that is geared toward not only accomodating speed,
reliability, and performance issues both on a hard working workstation,
and production servers.

	1.2.	What are Slices and Partitions?

	The BSD concept of slices and partitions often confuses newcomers.
It is, however, not completely alien from other partitioning approaches.
Related to the BSD partitioning scheme is the DOS/Linux primary/extended
partition analogy. The central point of confusion is terminology. BSD
systems refer to DOS/Linux primary partitions as "slices." Because of
archaic BIOS limitations in PCs, PCs are essentially limited to 4 primary
partitions. Each primary partition is bootable, and can contain a separate
filesystem/OS. Because 4 partitions quickly becomes a crippling
limitation, the concept of "extended" partitions was devised, which
consists of multiple, contiguous logical partitions. An extended partition
replaces one of the four primary partitions, and can have many more
partitions than the crippling 4 primary partition limitation. Each
extended partition is broken into "logical" partitions. Both DOS and Linux
makes use of logical partitions, and indeed, the concept is closely
related to BSD partitions.

	But, in the BSD world, the terminology is different. As mentioned
above, a "slice" is a primary partition. In addition, a "partition" is a
logical partition within a slice. Unlike in the DOS/Linux concept of
differing extended and primary partitions, BSD slices are all the same,
and can each contain BSD partitions. An important point of divergence
between the Linux and BSD approach is seen in the area of swap. Linux
utilizes a special primary partition for swap usage, whereas, BSD utilizes
a BSD partition for swap, which is contained within the BSD slice. As
such, BSD can exist completely within a single slice (or primary partition
in DOS/Linux parlance), whereas Linux requires at least two primary
partitions: one for swap, and one for the logical partitions, each
containing a filesystem (although usually, Linux defaults to a single
filesystem approach, as mentioned in the previous section, which often
results in a single logical partition mounted on /).

	For a more clear understanding, consider the following diagrams.
In parentheses you will see the corresponding FreeBSD and Linux IDE HD
device node equivalents; because this HowTo is not specifically on
partitions, their format will not be explained here. Partition entries
with a '-' preceding them indicate either BSD partitions or Linux logical

	FreeBSD (note, the device names in FreeBSD 3.x were wd* not ad*):

	Partition (Slice)	Filesystem
~	-----------------	----------
	1 (ad0s1)		FAT32 
	2 (ad0s2)		FreeBSD
	 - 2a (ad0s2a)		/
	 - 2b (ad0s2b)		Swap
	 - 2e (ad0s2e)		/usr
	 - 2f (ad0s2f)		/var
	 - 2g (ad0s2g)		/tmp


        Partition (Slice)       Filesystem
        -----------------       ----------
	1 (hda0)		FAT32
	2 (hda1)		Linux Swap
	3 (hda2)		/
	 - 5 (hda4)		/usr
	 - 6 (hda5)		/var
	 - 7 (hda6)		/tmp

	Further explanation will not be dealt with here. This HowTo
presents the partitioning approach of BSD systems only so as to give
some foundation information for when a newcomer designs the partition
layout during installation.

	Keep in mind that there can only be one filesystem per BSD
partition, and multiple BSD partitions within a BSD slice. the BSD slice
coresponds to FAT/Linux primary partitions, and due to archaic PC BIOS
limitations, there can only be four BSD slices (same as for FAT/Linux
primary partitions) per system.

	2.	What are the Necessary FreeBSD Filesystems?

	FreeBSD, like Linux, can get away with simply one filesystem: the
/ (root) filesystem (Remember Swap isn't a filesysem, but a special
backstore for dumping anonymous memory for temporary storing - see
Swap-HOWTO at, however, as explained in the first
section, this is not recommended, nor the default policy for FreeBSD

	Under most circumstances, the following filesystems are installed
on a generic FreeBSD system:


	2.1.	What is / for?

	The / (root) filesystem is necessary for seven vital purposes:

	1) Main system configuration files in /etc
	2) Mount points for additionl filesystems
	3) Kernel and boot configuration files
	4) Basic system binaries in /bin and /sbin
	5) Miscellaneous include files in /include 
	6) process "filesystem"
	7) root home directory

	The configuration files found in /etc control daemons and aspects
of the system that come with the base system. The only other places on the
system that comes close in importance in containing configuration files of
similar importance are /usr/local/etc and /usr/X11R6/etc.

	The / filesystem being the base filesystem for all things is
usually the place mount points are made for additional
non-essential filesystems, and is where all of the essential filesystems
(/usr, /var, /home, tmp) are mounted.

	The / filesystem is also the home of the kernel and boot
configuration files in /boot.

	In addition to binaries' directories in /usr, / also contains two
binary directories: /bin and /sbin. /bin contains basic binaries needed to
manage a system in single user mode where /usr may not be mounted, such
as ls(1), ps(1), cd(1) and pwd(1). /sbin contains vital system binaries
that regular users needn't or shouldn't have access to, but administrators
will need to manage a system in single and multi-user mood, such as
mount(8); and that a system itself will need to operate, such as init(8).

	The / filesystem also has miscellaneous include files in /include.

	Next, the / filesystem is the home of the proc filesystem. Any
df(1) listing will show the 'proc' filesystem. It contains special
directories for each process running on the system, each of which contains
vital system statistics and data for each respective process. One rarely
has need to access any file in this filesystem. 

	Finally, the / filesystem holds the root home directory in /root.
This is simply because when the system is booted into single user mode, or
the /home filesystem can not be mounted, the root user can still log on
and work on the system.

	2.2.	What is /usr for?

	The /usr partition is primarily for user-land binaries, libraries,
system/kernel source code, and configuration files. It is the filesystem
that under most circumstances will command the most HD space.

	There are several important directories located under /usr that
should be known. Firstly, the follow binary directories:

	The first is primarily system binaries that many or all users can
or will make use of. The second is primarily system binaries that most or
all users should never have access to. Both directories contain binaries
that come with the base system and will be found on all FreeBSD systems
unless the administrator decides to move them elsewhere.

	Next next major directories to be aware of are:


	/usr/lib is the main library directory which contains dynamically
linked libraries for use with most major binaries on the system.
/usr/libexec contains special binaries, similar to /usr/sbin, not for
regular user use. The directory contains maintenance binaries, such as
locate.updatedb which updates the locate database, and daemon binaries
(for use with inetd, or standalone) such as telnetd, ftpd, and fingerd.
Finally, /usr/libdata will contain some extra data files for use with
various applications. 

	Next we have: 


	The first, clearly, is the directory that contains the ports
system. For further information on the ports system, check out the
handbook at The /usr/man directory contains
manual pages for some system binaries The /usr/doc directory contains some
additional miscellaneous documentation that various ports may install in
addition to manual antries. Finally, the /usr/share directory contains
various files and directories of files that are to be shared by various
programs run by users. Some of the more important directories under
/usr/share are:

	/usr/share/zoneinfo (contains time zone information)
	/usr/share/man (manual pages for most system binaries)
	/usr/share/skel (skeleton of files to be copied into new accounts)
	/usr/share/examples (contains example configuration files for
			     various utilities)

	Next, we have:


	/usr/obj will contain the object files from any 'make world.'
Generally, if one hasn't rebuilt the system it will be empty. /usr/src
will contain the source code for the base system and kernel if the
administrator has installed the source. The /usr/include directory will
contain include files vital to compiling both console and X apps in
FreeBSD/usr/compat will contain compatibility files for Linux emulation,
if installed, and finally, /usr/X11R6 will contain X system files if X had
been installed. If X has been installed, there are several important
directories under /usr/X11R6 that one should be aware of:


	The first directory will contains apps for X window managers that
comply with the GNUstep standards. The second, /usr/X11R6/etc, will
contain X initialization config files. The next two, /usr/X11R6/man and
/usr/X11R6/share will both contain important X documentation. The former
will contain manual pages for various X binaries and system compotents
while the latter will contain files that will be shared among various X
apps and users, such as X app documentation and themes.

	/usr/X11R6/lib and /usr/X11R6/include will contain X dynamic
libraries and X include files vital for compiling X apps, respectively,
and /usr/X11R6/bin will have various X binaries for use by regular X

	Finally, we have /usr/local, which contains a number of important


	The /usr/local directory is primarily for the purpose of holding
binaries installed to augment the base system. Things such as games,
additional word processors, graphics utilities, etc, are usually installed
in /usr/local. Relatively large apps often get their own subdir under
/usr/local while others tend to get installed in either /usr/local/bin or
/usr/local/sbin. /usr/local/bin contains binaries primarily for
public use by users whereas /usr/local/sbin primarily contains
binaries that most users needn't or shouldn't have access to.

	/usr/local/lib will contain dynamic libraries for use by binaries
that are not part of the base system; that is, binaries installed later by
the adminstrator. /usr/local/libexec, like /usr/libexec, will contain
binaries usually not for general user use (there are exceptions such as
the IRC client sirc) and mostly system daemons, such as tcpd, installed
later by the adminstrator.

	Next, /usr/local/include will contain include files added by
various programs and libraries suites (such as Qt) installed later by the
administrator, and finally, /usr/local/etc will contain configuration
files for utilities and daemons also installed later by the
administrator, especially, /usr/local/etc/rc.d/ which is the primary place
for system startup scripts to start daemons such as sshd and mysqld.

	When deciding on partition sizes for the various filesystems
during installation, it is usually best to leave as much as possible for
the /usr filesystem. Several size considerations one must keep in mind

	/usr/src will require roughly 250M
	/usr/obj will require roughly 200M
	The previous values will be considerablly smaller if one does not
intend to do a 'make world' ever.

	/usr/X11R6 will require roughly 300M
	Obviously, if one does not install X then one can subtract that
value from /usr space considerations. Finally, a default install, minus X
and system source will require roughly 200M for the /usr filesystem. If
one wishes to install X and all system source code, then one should set
aside roughly 1GB for the /usr filesystem for installation. In addition,
to accomodate additional applications, utilities, and file storage space,
one should add additional space to that 1GB accordingly. 

	2.3.	What is /var for?

	The /var filesystem is used for several important tasks in any
FreeBSD system. Two vital system operations handled by /var are:

	1) mail
	2) system databases

	Mail for each user is maintained in /var/mail.

	Important system databases such as the locate database, and
package information for each port installed on the system are maintained
in /var/db and /var/db/pkg respecitvely.

	Other important areas of the /var filesystem are:


	Pretty clearly, the former is for maintaning mail and printer
spool data, while the latter is for maintaining the anonymous ftp
chroot(8) environment.

	Finally, some additional important directories that we have under 
/var are:


	The first is for maintaining user cron tabs. The next is for
maintaining system and session accounting data used by last(1), accton(8),
lastcomm(1), and sa(8). Finally, the last is used for maintaining pid
files for various running processes; that is, files that contain the
process ID of certain daemons.

	2.4.	What is /home and /tmp for?

	Because the purpose for these filesystems is relatively
straight-foward, they have been combined into one section. The former is
the default place for maintining the home directories for users other than
root, and the latter is a temporary-file filesystem used for holding
anything that is not vital to the system and can be deleted soon after its
use. Examples are files holding temporary data by daemons or unnamed and
unsaved documents in word processors.

	3.	Appendix

	Swap-HOWTO @ and
	FreeBSD Handbook @

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