How to Copy Files


Yang Zhan, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Huawei; Alexander Conway, Rutgers University; Yizheng Jiao and Nirjhar Mukherjee, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ian Groombridge, Pace University; Michael A. Bender, Stony Brook University; Martin Farach-Colton, Rutgers University; William Jannen, Williams College; Rob Johnson, VMWare Research; Donald E. Porter, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Jun Yuan, Pace University


Making logical copies, or clones, of files and directories is critical to many real-world applications and workflows, including backups, virtual machines, and containers. An ideal clone implementation meets the following performance goals: (1) creating the clone has low latency; (2) reads are fast in all versions (i.e., spatial locality is always maintained, even after modifications); (3) writes are fast in all versions; (4) the overall system is space efficient. Implementing a clone operation that realizes all four properties, which we call a nimble clone, is a long-standing open problem.

This paper describes nimble clones in BetrFS, an open-source, full-path-indexed, and write-optimized file system. The key observation behind our work is that standard copy-on-write heuristics can be too coarse to be space efficient, or too fine-grained to preserve locality. On the other hand, a write-optimized key-value store, as used in BetrFS or an LSM-tree, can decouple the logical application of updates from the granularity at which data is physically copied. In our write-optimized clone implementation, data sharing among clones is only broken when a clone has changed enough to warrant making a copy, a policy we call copy-on-abundant-write.

We demonstrate that the algorithmic work needed to batch and amortize the cost of BetrFS clone operations does not erode the performance advantages of baseline BetrFS; BetrFS performance even improves in a few cases. BetrFS cloning is efficient; for example, when using the clone operation for container creation, BetrFS outperforms a simple recursive copy by up to two orders-of-magnitude and outperforms file systems that have specialized LXC backends by 3-4×

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@inproceedings {246194,
author = {Yang Zhan and Alexander Conway and Yizheng Jiao and Nirjhar Mukherjee and Ian Groombridge and Michael A. Bender and Martin Farach-Colton and William Jannen and Rob Johnson and Donald E. Porter and Jun Yuan},
title = {How to Copy Files},
booktitle = {18th USENIX Conference on File and Storage Technologies (FAST 20)},
year = {2020},
isbn = {978-1-939133-12-0},
address = {Santa Clara, CA},
pages = {75--89},
url = {},
publisher = {USENIX Association},
month = feb

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