path: root/Documentation/filesystems/romfs.txt
diff options
Diffstat (limited to 'Documentation/filesystems/romfs.txt')
1 files changed, 187 insertions, 0 deletions
diff --git a/Documentation/filesystems/romfs.txt b/Documentation/filesystems/romfs.txt
new file mode 100644
index 00000000000..2d2a7b2a16b
--- /dev/null
+++ b/Documentation/filesystems/romfs.txt
@@ -0,0 +1,187 @@
+This is a quite dumb, read only filesystem, mainly for initial RAM
+disks of installation disks. It has grown up by the need of having
+modules linked at boot time. Using this filesystem, you get a very
+similar feature, and even the possibility of a small kernel, with a
+file system which doesn't take up useful memory from the router
+functions in the basement of your office.
+For comparison, both the older minix and xiafs (the latter is now
+defunct) filesystems, compiled as module need more than 20000 bytes,
+while romfs is less than a page, about 4000 bytes (assuming i586
+code). Under the same conditions, the msdos filesystem would need
+about 30K (and does not support device nodes or symlinks), while the
+nfs module with nfsroot is about 57K. Furthermore, as a bit unfair
+comparison, an actual rescue disk used up 3202 blocks with ext2, while
+with romfs, it needed 3079 blocks.
+To create such a file system, you'll need a user program named
+genromfs. It is available via anonymous ftp on and
+its mirrors, in the /pub/Linux/system/recovery/ directory.
+As the name suggests, romfs could be also used (space-efficiently) on
+various read-only media, like (E)EPROM disks if someone will have the
+motivation.. :)
+However, the main purpose of romfs is to have a very small kernel,
+which has only this filesystem linked in, and then can load any module
+later, with the current module utilities. It can also be used to run
+some program to decide if you need SCSI devices, and even IDE or
+floppy drives can be loaded later if you use the "initrd"--initial
+RAM disk--feature of the kernel. This would not be really news
+flash, but with romfs, you can even spare off your ext2 or minix or
+maybe even affs filesystem until you really know that you need it.
+For example, a distribution boot disk can contain only the cd disk
+drivers (and possibly the SCSI drivers), and the ISO 9660 filesystem
+module. The kernel can be small enough, since it doesn't have other
+filesystems, like the quite large ext2fs module, which can then be
+loaded off the CD at a later stage of the installation. Another use
+would be for a recovery disk, when you are reinstalling a workstation
+from the network, and you will have all the tools/modules available
+from a nearby server, so you don't want to carry two disks for this
+purpose, just because it won't fit into ext2.
+romfs operates on block devices as you can expect, and the underlying
+structure is very simple. Every accessible structure begins on 16
+byte boundaries for fast access. The minimum space a file will take
+is 32 bytes (this is an empty file, with a less than 16 character
+name). The maximum overhead for any non-empty file is the header, and
+the 16 byte padding for the name and the contents, also 16+14+15 = 45
+bytes. This is quite rare however, since most file names are longer
+than 3 bytes, and shorter than 15 bytes.
+The layout of the filesystem is the following:
+offset content
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 0 | - | r | o | m | \
+ +---+---+---+---+ The ASCII representation of those bytes
+ 4 | 1 | f | s | - | / (i.e. "-rom1fs-")
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 8 | full size | The number of accessible bytes in this fs.
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 12 | checksum | The checksum of the FIRST 512 BYTES.
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 16 | volume name | The zero terminated name of the volume,
+ : : padded to 16 byte boundary.
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ xx | file |
+ : headers :
+Every multi byte value (32 bit words, I'll use the longwords term from
+now on) must be in big endian order.
+The first eight bytes identify the filesystem, even for the casual
+inspector. After that, in the 3rd longword, it contains the number of
+bytes accessible from the start of this filesystem. The 4th longword
+is the checksum of the first 512 bytes (or the number of bytes
+accessible, whichever is smaller). The applied algorithm is the same
+as in the AFFS filesystem, namely a simple sum of the longwords
+(assuming bigendian quantities again). For details, please consult
+the source. This algorithm was chosen because although it's not quite
+reliable, it does not require any tables, and it is very simple.
+The following bytes are now part of the file system; each file header
+must begin on a 16 byte boundary.
+offset content
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 0 | next filehdr|X| The offset of the next file header
+ +---+---+---+---+ (zero if no more files)
+ 4 | | Info for directories/hard links/devices
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 8 | size | The size of this file in bytes
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ 12 | checksum | Covering the meta data, including the file
+ +---+---+---+---+ name, and padding
+ 16 | file name | The zero terminated name of the file,
+ : : padded to 16 byte boundary
+ +---+---+---+---+
+ xx | file data |
+ : :
+Since the file headers begin always at a 16 byte boundary, the lowest
+4 bits would be always zero in the next filehdr pointer. These four
+bits are used for the mode information. Bits 0..2 specify the type of
+the file; while bit 4 shows if the file is executable or not. The
+permissions are assumed to be world readable, if this bit is not set,
+and world executable if it is; except the character and block devices,
+they are never accessible for other than owner. The owner of every
+file is user and group 0, this should never be a problem for the
+intended use. The mapping of the 8 possible values to file types is
+the following:
+ mapping means
+ 0 hard link link destination [file header]
+ 1 directory first file's header
+ 2 regular file unused, must be zero [MBZ]
+ 3 symbolic link unused, MBZ (file data is the link content)
+ 4 block device 16/16 bits major/minor number
+ 5 char device - " -
+ 6 socket unused, MBZ
+ 7 fifo unused, MBZ
+Note that hard links are specifically marked in this filesystem, but
+they will behave as you can expect (i.e. share the inode number).
+Note also that it is your responsibility to not create hard link
+loops, and creating all the . and .. links for directories. This is
+normally done correctly by the genromfs program. Please refrain from
+using the executable bits for special purposes on the socket and fifo
+special files, they may have other uses in the future. Additionally,
+please remember that only regular files, and symlinks are supposed to
+have a nonzero size field; they contain the number of bytes available
+directly after the (padded) file name.
+Another thing to note is that romfs works on file headers and data
+aligned to 16 byte boundaries, but most hardware devices and the block
+device drivers are unable to cope with smaller than block-sized data.
+To overcome this limitation, the whole size of the file system must be
+padded to an 1024 byte boundary.
+If you have any problems or suggestions concerning this file system,
+please contact me. However, think twice before wanting me to add
+features and code, because the primary and most important advantage of
+this file system is the small code. On the other hand, don't be
+alarmed, I'm not getting that much romfs related mail. Now I can
+understand why Avery wrote poems in the ARCnet docs to get some more
+feedback. :)
+romfs has also a mailing list, and to date, it hasn't received any
+traffic, so you are welcome to join it to discuss your ideas. :)
+It's run by ezmlm, so you can subscribe to it by sending a message
+to, the content is irrelevant.
+Pending issues:
+- Permissions and owner information are pretty essential features of a
+Un*x like system, but romfs does not provide the full possibilities.
+I have never found this limiting, but others might.
+- The file system is read only, so it can be very small, but in case
+one would want to write _anything_ to a file system, he still needs
+a writable file system, thus negating the size advantages. Possible
+solutions: implement write access as a compile-time option, or a new,
+similarly small writable filesystem for RAM disks.
+- Since the files are only required to have alignment on a 16 byte
+boundary, it is currently possibly suboptimal to read or execute files
+from the filesystem. It might be resolved by reordering file data to
+have most of it (i.e. except the start and the end) laying at "natural"
+boundaries, thus it would be possible to directly map a big portion of
+the file contents to the mm subsystem.
+- Compression might be an useful feature, but memory is quite a
+limiting factor in my eyes.
+- Where it is used?
+- Does it work on other architectures than intel and motorola?
+Have fun,
+Janos Farkas <>