FreeBSD 14 ZFS warning

Update 27-Nov-23
Additional information has appeared on the FreeBSD mailing list:

The problem can be reproduced regardless of the block cloning settings, and on FreeBSD 13 as well as 14. It’s possible block cloning simply increased the likelihood of hitting it. There’s no word yet about FreeBSD 12, but this FreeBSD’s own ZFS implementation so there’s a chance it’s good

In the post by Ed Maste, a suggested partial workaround is to set the tunable vfs.zfs.dmu_offset_next_sync to zero, which has been on the forums since Saturday. This is a result of this bug:

There’s a discussion of the issue going on here:

I can’t say I’m convinced about any of this.

FreeBSD 14, which was released a couple of days ago, includes OpenZFS 2.2. There’s a lot of suspicion amongst Gentoo¬†Linux users that this has a rather nasty bug in it related to block cloning.

Although this feature is disabled by default, people might be tempted to turn it on. Don’t. Apparently it can lead to lost data.

OpenZFS 2.2.0 was only promoted to stable on 13th October, and in hindsight adding it to a FreeBSD release so soon may seem precipitous. Although there’s a 2.2.1 release you should now be using instead it simply disables it by default rather than fixing the likely bug (and to reiterate, the default is off on FreeBSD 14).

Earlier releases of OpenZFS (2.1.x or earlier) are unaffected as they don’t support block cloning anyway.

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Personally I’ll be steering clear of 2.2 until this has been properly resolved. I haven’t seen conclusive proof as to what’s causing the corruption, although it looks highly suspect. Neither have I seen or heard of it affecting the FreeBSD implementation, but it’s not worth the risk.

Having got the warning out of the way, you may be wondering what block cloning is. Firstly, it’s not dataset cloning. That’s been working fine for years, and for some applications it’s just what’s needed.

Block cloning applies to files, not datasets, and it’s pretty neat – or will be. Basically, when you copy a file ZFS doesn’t actually copy the data blocks – it just creates a new file in the directory structure but it points to the existing blocks. They’re shared between the source and destination files. Each block has a reference count in the on-disk Block Reference Table (BRT), and only when a block in the new file changes does a copy-on-write occur; the new block is linked to the new file and the reference count in the BRT is decremented. In familiar Unix fashion, when the reference count for a block gets to zero it joins the free pool.

This isn’t completely automatic – it must be allowed when the copy is made. For example, the cp utility will request clone files by default. This is done using the copy_file_range() system call with the appropriate runes; simply copying a file with open(), read(), write() and close() won’t be affected.

As of BSDCAN 2023, there was talk about making it work with zvols but this was to come later, although clone blocks in files can exist between datasets as long as they’re using the same encryption (including keys).

One tricky problem here is how it works with the ZIL – for example what’s stopping a block pointer from disappearing from the log? There was a lot to go wrong, and it looks like it has.

Release notes for 2.2.1 may be found here.

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