System Administration Guide, Volume 1

Why Inconsistencies Might Occur

Every working day hundreds of files might be created, modified, and removed. Each time a file is modified, the operating system performs a series of file system updates. These updates, when written to the disk reliably, yield a consistent file system.

When a user program does an operation to change the file system, such as a write, the data to be written is first copied into an in-core buffer in the kernel. Normally, the disk update is handled asynchronously; the user process is allowed to proceed even though the data write might not happen until long after the write system call has returned. Thus at any given time, the file system, as it resides on the disk, lags behind the state of the file system represented by the in-core information.

The disk information is updated to reflect the in-core information when the buffer is required for another use or when the kernel automatically runs the fsflush daemon (at 30-second intervals). If the system is halted without writing out the in-core information, the file system on the disk might be in an inconsistent state.

A file system can develop inconsistencies in several ways. The most common causes are operator error and hardware failures.

Problems might result from an unclean shutdown, if a system is shut down improperly, or when a mounted file system is taken offline improperly. To prevent unclean shutdowns, the current state of the file systems must be written to disk (that is, "synchronized") before halting the CPU, physically taking a disk pack out of a drive, or taking a disk offline.

Inconsistencies can also result from defective hardware. Blocks can become damaged on a disk drive at any time, or a disk controller can stop functioning correctly.