MD(4) Kernel Interfaces Manual MD(4)
md - Multiple Device driver aka Linux Software RAID
The md driver provides virtual devices that are created from one or more independent underlying devices. This array of devices often con-
tains redundancy and the devices are often disk drives, hence the acronym RAID which stands for a Redundant Array of Independent Disks.
md supports RAID levels 1 (mirroring), 4 (striped array with parity device), 5 (striped array with distributed parity information), 6
(striped array with distributed dual redundancy information), and 10 (striped and mirrored). If some number of underlying devices fails
while using one of these levels, the array will continue to function; this number is one for RAID levels 4 and 5, two for RAID level 6, and
all but one (N-1) for RAID level 1, and dependent on configuration for level 10.
md also supports a number of pseudo RAID (non-redundant) configurations including RAID0 (striped array), LINEAR (catenated array), MULTI-
PATH (a set of different interfaces to the same device), and FAULTY (a layer over a single device into which errors can be injected).
Each device in an array may have some metadata stored in the device. This metadata is sometimes called a superblock. The metadata records
information about the structure and state of the array. This allows the array to be reliably re-assembled after a shutdown.
From Linux kernel version 2.6.10, md provides support for two different formats of metadata, and other formats can be added. Prior to this
release, only one format is supported.
The common format -- known as version 0.90 -- has a superblock that is 4K long and is written into a 64K aligned block that starts at least
64K and less than 128K from the end of the device (i.e. to get the address of the superblock round the size of the device down to a multi-
ple of 64K and then subtract 64K). The available size of each device is the amount of space before the super block, so between 64K and
128K is lost when a device in incorporated into an MD array. This superblock stores multi-byte fields in a processor-dependent manner, so
arrays cannot easily be moved between computers with different processors.
The new format -- known as version 1 -- has a superblock that is normally 1K long, but can be longer. It is normally stored between 8K and
12K from the end of the device, on a 4K boundary, though variations can be stored at the start of the device (version 1.1) or 4K from the
start of the device (version 1.2). This metadata format stores multibyte data in a processor-independent format and supports up to hun-
dreds of component devices (version 0.90 only supports 28).
The metadata contains, among other things:
LEVEL The manner in which the devices are arranged into the array (linear, raid0, raid1, raid4, raid5, raid10, multipath).
UUID a 128 bit Universally Unique Identifier that identifies the array that contains this device.
When a version 0.90 array is being reshaped (e.g. adding extra devices to a RAID5), the version number is temporarily set to 0.91. This
ensures that if the reshape process is stopped in the middle (e.g. by a system crash) and the machine boots into an older kernel that does
not support reshaping, then the array will not be assembled (which would cause data corruption) but will be left untouched until a kernel
that can complete the reshape processes is used.
ARRAYS WITHOUT METADATA
While it is usually best to create arrays with superblocks so that they can be assembled reliably, there are some circumstances when an
array without superblocks is preferred. These include:
Early versions of the md driver only supported Linear and Raid0 configurations and did not use a superblock (which is less critical
with these configurations). While such arrays should be rebuilt with superblocks if possible, md continues to support them.
FAULTY Being a largely transparent layer over a different device, the FAULTY personality doesn't gain anything from having a superblock.
It is often possible to detect devices which are different paths to the same storage directly rather than having a distinctive
superblock written to the device and searched for on all paths. In this case, a MULTIPATH array with no superblock makes sense.
RAID1 In some configurations it might be desired to create a raid1 configuration that does not use a superblock, and to maintain the state
of the array elsewhere. While not encouraged for general us, it does have special-purpose uses and is supported.
ARRAYS WITH EXTERNAL METADATA
From release 2.6.28, the md driver supports arrays with externally managed metadata. That is, the metadata is not managed by the kernel by
rather by a user-space program which is external to the kernel. This allows support for a variety of metadata formats without cluttering
the kernel with lots of details.
md is able to communicate with the user-space program through various sysfs attributes so that it can make appropriate changes to the meta-
data - for example to make a device as faulty. When necessary, md will wait for the program to acknowledge the event by writing to a sysfs
attribute. The manual page for mdmon(8) contains more detail about this interaction.
Many metadata formats use a single block of metadata to describe a number of different arrays which all use the same set of devices. In
this case it is helpful for the kernel to know about the full set of devices as a whole. This set is known to md as a container. A con-
tainer is an md array with externally managed metadata and with device offset and size so that it just covers the metadata part of the
devices. The remainder of each device is available to be incorporated into various arrays.
A linear array simply catenates the available space on each drive to form one large virtual drive.
One advantage of this arrangement over the more common RAID0 arrangement is that the array may be reconfigured at a later time with an
extra drive, so the array is made bigger without disturbing the data that is on the array. This can even be done on a live array.
If a chunksize is given with a LINEAR array, the usable space on each device is rounded down to a multiple of this chunksize.
A RAID0 array (which has zero redundancy) is also known as a striped array. A RAID0 array is configured at creation with a Chunk Size
which must be a power of two (prior to Linux 2.6.31), and at least 4 kibibytes.
The RAID0 driver assigns the first chunk of the array to the first device, the second chunk to the second device, and so on until all
drives have been assigned one chunk. This collection of chunks forms a stripe. Further chunks are gathered into stripes in the same way,
and are assigned to the remaining space in the drives.
If devices in the array are not all the same size, then once the smallest device has been exhausted, the RAID0 driver starts collecting
chunks into smaller stripes that only span the drives which still have remaining space.
A RAID1 array is also known as a mirrored set (though mirrors tend to provide reflected images, which RAID1 does not) or a plex.
Once initialised, each device in a RAID1 array contains exactly the same data. Changes are written to all devices in parallel. Data is
read from any one device. The driver attempts to distribute read requests across all devices to maximise performance.
All devices in a RAID1 array should be the same size. If they are not, then only the amount of space available on the smallest device is
used (any extra space on other devices is wasted).
Note that the read balancing done by the driver does not make the RAID1 performance profile be the same as for RAID0; a single stream of
sequential input will not be accelerated (e.g. a single dd), but multiple sequential streams or a random workload will use more than one
spindle. In theory, having an N-disk RAID1 will allow N sequential threads to read from all disks.
Individual devices in a RAID1 can be marked as "write-mostly". This drives are excluded from the normal read balancing and will only be
read from when there is no other option. This can be useful for devices connected over a slow link.
A RAID4 array is like a RAID0 array with an extra device for storing parity. This device is the last of the active devices in the array.
Unlike RAID0, RAID4 also requires that all stripes span all drives, so extra space on devices that are larger than the smallest is wasted.
When any block in a RAID4 array is modified, the parity block for that stripe (i.e. the block in the parity device at the same device off-
set as the stripe) is also modified so that the parity block always contains the "parity" for the whole stripe. I.e. its content is equiv-
alent to the result of performing an exclusive-or operation between all the data blocks in the stripe.
This allows the array to continue to function if one device fails. The data that was on that device can be calculated as needed from the
parity block and the other data blocks.
RAID5 is very similar to RAID4. The difference is that the parity blocks for each stripe, instead of being on a single device, are dis-
tributed across all devices. This allows more parallelism when writing, as two different block updates will quite possibly affect parity
blocks on different devices so there is less contention.
This also allows more parallelism when reading, as read requests are distributed over all the devices in the array instead of all but one.
RAID6 is similar to RAID5, but can handle the loss of any two devices without data loss. Accordingly, it requires N+2 drives to store N
drives worth of data.
The performance for RAID6 is slightly lower but comparable to RAID5 in normal mode and single disk failure mode. It is very slow in dual
disk failure mode, however.
RAID10 provides a combination of RAID1 and RAID0, and is sometimes known as RAID1+0. Every datablock is duplicated some number of times,
and the resulting collection of datablocks are distributed over multiple drives.
When configuring a RAID10 array, it is necessary to specify the number of replicas of each data block that are required (this will normally
be 2) and whether the replicas should be 'near', 'offset' or 'far'. (Note that the 'offset' layout is only available from 2.6.18).
When 'near' replicas are chosen, the multiple copies of a given chunk are laid out consecutively across the stripes of the array, so the
two copies of a datablock will likely be at the same offset on two adjacent devices.
When 'far' replicas are chosen, the multiple copies of a given chunk are laid out quite distant from each other. The first copy of all
data blocks will be striped across the early part of all drives in RAID0 fashion, and then the next copy of all blocks will be striped
across a later section of all drives, always ensuring that all copies of any given block are on different drives.
The 'far' arrangement can give sequential read performance equal to that of a RAID0 array, but at the cost of reduced write performance.
When 'offset' replicas are chosen, the multiple copies of a given chunk are laid out on consecutive drives and at consecutive offsets.
Effectively each stripe is duplicated and the copies are offset by one device. This should give similar read characteristics to 'far' if
a suitably large chunk size is used, but without as much seeking for writes.
It should be noted that the number of devices in a RAID10 array need not be a multiple of the number of replica of each data block; how-
ever, there must be at least as many devices as replicas.
If, for example, an array is created with 5 devices and 2 replicas, then space equivalent to 2.5 of the devices will be available, and
every block will be stored on two different devices.
Finally, it is possible to have an array with both 'near' and 'far' copies. If an array is configured with 2 near copies and 2 far copies,
then there will be a total of 4 copies of each block, each on a different drive. This is an artifact of the implementation and is unlikely
to be of real value.
MULTIPATH is not really a RAID at all as there is only one real device in a MULTIPATH md array. However there are multiple access points
(paths) to this device, and one of these paths might fail, so there are some similarities.
A MULTIPATH array is composed of a number of logically different devices, often fibre channel interfaces, that all refer the the same real
device. If one of these interfaces fails (e.g. due to cable problems), the multipath driver will attempt to redirect requests to another
The MULTIPATH drive is not receiving any ongoing development and should be considered a legacy driver. The device-mapper based multipath
drivers should be preferred for new installations.
The FAULTY md module is provided for testing purposes. A faulty array has exactly one component device and is normally assembled without a
superblock, so the md array created provides direct access to all of the data in the component device.
The FAULTY module may be requested to simulate faults to allow testing of other md levels or of filesystems. Faults can be chosen to trig-
ger on read requests or write requests, and can be transient (a subsequent read/write at the address will probably succeed) or persistent
(subsequent read/write of the same address will fail). Further, read faults can be "fixable" meaning that they persist until a write
request at the same address.
Fault types can be requested with a period. In this case, the fault will recur repeatedly after the given number of requests of the rele-
vant type. For example if persistent read faults have a period of 100, then every 100th read request would generate a fault, and the
faulty sector would be recorded so that subsequent reads on that sector would also fail.
There is a limit to the number of faulty sectors that are remembered. Faults generated after this limit is exhausted are treated as tran-
The list of faulty sectors can be flushed, and the active list of failure modes can be cleared.
When changes are made to a RAID1, RAID4, RAID5, RAID6, or RAID10 array there is a possibility of inconsistency for short periods of time as
each update requires at least two block to be written to different devices, and these writes probably won't happen at exactly the same
time. Thus if a system with one of these arrays is shutdown in the middle of a write operation (e.g. due to power failure), the array may
not be consistent.
To handle this situation, the md driver marks an array as "dirty" before writing any data to it, and marks it as "clean" when the array is
being disabled, e.g. at shutdown. If the md driver finds an array to be dirty at startup, it proceeds to correct any possibly inconsis-
tency. For RAID1, this involves copying the contents of the first drive onto all other drives. For RAID4, RAID5 and RAID6 this involves
recalculating the parity for each stripe and making sure that the parity block has the correct data. For RAID10 it involves copying one of
the replicas of each block onto all the others. This process, known as "resynchronising" or "resync" is performed in the background. The
array can still be used, though possibly with reduced performance.
If a RAID4, RAID5 or RAID6 array is degraded (missing at least one drive, two for RAID6) when it is restarted after an unclean shutdown, it
cannot recalculate parity, and so it is possible that data might be undetectably corrupted. The 2.4 md driver does not alert the operator
to this condition. The 2.6 md driver will fail to start an array in this condition without manual intervention, though this behaviour can
be overridden by a kernel parameter.
If the md driver detects a write error on a device in a RAID1, RAID4, RAID5, RAID6, or RAID10 array, it immediately disables that device
(marking it as faulty) and continues operation on the remaining devices. If there are spare drives, the driver will start recreating on
one of the spare drives the data which was on that failed drive, either by copying a working drive in a RAID1 configuration, or by doing
calculations with the parity block on RAID4, RAID5 or RAID6, or by finding and copying originals for RAID10.
In kernels prior to about 2.6.15, a read error would cause the same effect as a write error. In later kernels, a read-error will instead
cause md to attempt a recovery by overwriting the bad block. i.e. it will find the correct data from elsewhere, write it over the block
that failed, and then try to read it back again. If either the write or the re-read fail, md will treat the error the same way that a
write error is treated, and will fail the whole device.
While this recovery process is happening, the md driver will monitor accesses to the array and will slow down the rate of recovery if other
activity is happening, so that normal access to the array will not be unduly affected. When no other activity is happening, the recovery
process proceeds at full speed. The actual speed targets for the two different situations can be controlled by the speed_limit_min and
speed_limit_max control files mentioned below.
SCRUBBING AND MISMATCHES
As storage devices can develop bad blocks at any time it is valuable to regularly read all blocks on all devices in an array so as to catch
such bad blocks early. This process is called scrubbing.
md arrays can be scrubbed by writing either check or repair to the file md/sync_action in the sysfs directory for the device.
Requesting a scrub will cause md to read every block on every device in the array, and check that the data is consistent. For RAID1 and
RAID10, this means checking that the copies are identical. For RAID4, RAID5, RAID6 this means checking that the parity block is (or blocks
If a read error is detected during this process, the normal read-error handling causes correct data to be found from other devices and to
be written back to the faulty device. In many case this will effectively fix the bad block.
If all blocks read successfully but are found to not be consistent, then this is regarded as a mismatch.
If check was used, then no action is taken to handle the mismatch, it is simply recorded. If repair was used, then a mismatch will be
repaired in the same way that resync repairs arrays. For RAID5/RAID6 new parity blocks are written. For RAID1/RAID10, all but one block
are overwritten with the content of that one block.
A count of mismatches is recorded in the sysfs file md/mismatch_cnt. This is set to zero when a scrub starts and is incremented whenever a
sector is found that is a mismatch. md normally works in units much larger than a single sector and when it finds a mismatch, it does not
determin exactly how many actual sectors were affected but simply adds the number of sectors in the IO unit that was used. So a value of
128 could simply mean that a single 64KB check found an error (128 x 512bytes = 64KB).
If an array is created by mdadm with --assume-clean then a subsequent check could be expected to find some mismatches.
On a truly clean RAID5 or RAID6 array, any mismatches should indicate a hardware problem at some level - software issues should never cause
such a mismatch.
However on RAID1 and RAID10 it is possible for software issues to cause a mismatch to be reported. This does not necessarily mean that the
data on the array is corrupted. It could simply be that the system does not care what is stored on that part of the array - it is unused
The most likely cause for an unexpected mismatch on RAID1 or RAID10 occurs if a swap partition or swap file is stored on the array.
When the swap subsystem wants to write a page of memory out, it flags the page as 'clean' in the memory manager and requests the swap
device to write it out. It is quite possible that the memory will be changed while the write-out is happening. In that case the 'clean'
flag will be found to be clear when the write completes and so the swap subsystem will simply forget that the swapout had been attempted,
and will possibly choose a different page to write out.
If the swap device was on RAID1 (or RAID10), then the data is sent from memory to a device twice (or more depending on the number of
devices in the array). Thus it is possible that the memory gets changed between the times it is sent, so different data can be written to
the different devices in the array. This will be detected by check as a mismatch. However it does not reflect any corruption as the block
where this mismatch occurs is being treated by the swap system as being empty, and the data will never be read from that block.
It is conceivable for a similar situation to occur on non-swap files, though it is less likely.
Thus the mismatch_cnt value can not be interpreted very reliably on RAID1 or RAID10, especially when the device is used for swap.
BITMAP WRITE-INTENT LOGGING
From Linux 2.6.13, md supports a bitmap based write-intent log. If configured, the bitmap is used to record which blocks of the array may
be out of sync. Before any write request is honoured, md will make sure that the corresponding bit in the log is set. After a period of
time with no writes to an area of the array, the corresponding bit will be cleared.
This bitmap is used for two optimisations.
Firstly, after an unclean shutdown, the resync process will consult the bitmap and only resync those blocks that correspond to bits in the
bitmap that are set. This can dramatically reduce resync time.
Secondly, when a drive fails and is removed from the array, md stops clearing bits in the intent log. If that same drive is re-added to
the array, md will notice and will only recover the sections of the drive that are covered by bits in the intent log that are set. This
can allow a device to be temporarily removed and reinserted without causing an enormous recovery cost.
The intent log can be stored in a file on a separate device, or it can be stored near the superblocks of an array which has superblocks.
It is possible to add an intent log to an active array, or remove an intent log if one is present.
In 2.6.13, intent bitmaps are only supported with RAID1. Other levels with redundancy are supported from 2.6.15.
From Linux 2.6.14, md supports WRITE-BEHIND on RAID1 arrays.
This allows certain devices in the array to be flagged as write-mostly. MD will only read from such devices if there is no other option.
If a write-intent bitmap is also provided, write requests to write-mostly devices will be treated as write-behind requests and md will not
wait for writes to those requests to complete before reporting the write as complete to the filesystem.
This allows for a RAID1 with WRITE-BEHIND to be used to mirror data over a slow link to a remote computer (providing the link isn't too
slow). The extra latency of the remote link will not slow down normal operations, but the remote system will still have a reasonably up-
to-date copy of all data.
Restriping, also known as Reshaping, is the processes of re-arranging the data stored in each stripe into a new layout. This might involve
changing the number of devices in the array (so the stripes are wider), changing the chunk size (so stripes are deeper or shallower), or
changing the arrangement of data and parity (possibly changing the raid level, e.g. 1 to 5 or 5 to 6).
As of Linux 2.6.17, md can reshape a raid5 array to have more devices. Other possibilities may follow in future kernels.
During any stripe process there is a 'critical section' during which live data is being overwritten on disk. For the operation of increas-
ing the number of drives in a raid5, this critical section covers the first few stripes (the number being the product of the old and new
number of devices). After this critical section is passed, data is only written to areas of the array which no longer hold live data --
the live data has already been located away.
md is not able to ensure data preservation if there is a crash (e.g. power failure) during the critical section. If md is asked to start
an array which failed during a critical section of restriping, it will fail to start the array.
To deal with this possibility, a user-space program must
o Disable writes to that section of the array (using the sysfs interface),
o take a copy of the data somewhere (i.e. make a backup),
o allow the process to continue and invalidate the backup and restore write access once the critical section is passed, and
o provide for restoring the critical data before restarting the array after a system crash.
mdadm versions from 2.4 do this for growing a RAID5 array.
For operations that do not change the size of the array, like simply increasing chunk size, or converting RAID5 to RAID6 with one extra
device, the entire process is the critical section. In this case, the restripe will need to progress in stages, as a section is suspended,
backed up, restriped, and released; this is not yet implemented.
Each block device appears as a directory in sysfs (which is usually mounted at /sys). For MD devices, this directory will contain a subdi-
rectory called md which contains various files for providing access to information about the array.
This interface is documented more fully in the file Documentation/md.txt which is distributed with the kernel sources. That file should be
consulted for full documentation. The following are just a selection of attribute files that are available.
This value, if set, overrides the system-wide setting in /proc/sys/dev/raid/speed_limit_min for this array only. Writing the value
system to this file will cause the system-wide setting to have effect.
This is the partner of md/sync_speed_min and overrides /proc/sys/dev/raid/spool_limit_max described below.
This can be used to monitor and control the resync/recovery process of MD. In particular, writing "check" here will cause the array
to read all data block and check that they are consistent (e.g. parity is correct, or all mirror replicas are the same). Any dis-
crepancies found are NOT corrected.
A count of problems found will be stored in md/mismatch_count.
Alternately, "repair" can be written which will cause the same check to be performed, but any errors will be corrected.
Finally, "idle" can be written to stop the check/repair process.
This is only available on RAID5 and RAID6. It records the size (in pages per device) of the stripe cache which is used for syn-
chronising all write operations to the array and all read operations if the array is degraded. The default is 256. Valid values
are 17 to 32768. Increasing this number can increase performance in some situations, at some cost in system memory. Note, setting
this value too high can result in an "out of memory" condition for the system.
memory_consumed = system_page_size * nr_disks * stripe_cache_size
This is only available on RAID5 and RAID6. This variable sets the number of times MD will service a full-stripe-write before ser-
vicing a stripe that requires some "prereading". For fairness this defaults to 1. Valid values are 0 to stripe_cache_size. Set-
ting this to 0 maximizes sequential-write throughput at the cost of fairness to threads doing small or random writes.
The md driver recognised several different kernel parameters.
This will disable the normal detection of md arrays that happens at boot time. If a drive is partitioned with MS-DOS style parti-
tions, then if any of the 4 main partitions has a partition type of 0xFD, then that partition will normally be inspected to see if
it is part of an MD array, and if any full arrays are found, they are started. This kernel parameter disables this behaviour.
These are available in 2.6 and later kernels only. They indicate that autodetected MD arrays should be created as partitionable
arrays, with a different major device number to the original non-partitionable md arrays. The device number is listed as mdp in
This tells md to start all arrays in read-only mode. This is a soft read-only that will automatically switch to read-write on the
first write request. However until that write request, nothing is written to any device by md, and in particular, no resync or
recovery operation is started.
As mentioned above, md will not normally start a RAID4, RAID5, or RAID6 that is both dirty and degraded as this situation can imply
hidden data loss. This can be awkward if the root filesystem is affected. Using this module parameter allows such arrays to be
started at boot time. It should be understood that there is a real (though small) risk of data corruption in this situation.
This tells the md driver to assemble /dev/md n from the listed devices. It is only necessary to start the device holding the root
filesystem this way. Other arrays are best started once the system is booted.
In 2.6 kernels, the d immediately after the = indicates that a partitionable device (e.g. /dev/md/d0) should be created rather than
the original non-partitionable device.
This tells the md driver to assemble a legacy RAID0 or LINEAR array without a superblock. n gives the md device number, l gives the
level, 0 for RAID0 or -1 for LINEAR, c gives the chunk size as a base-2 logarithm offset by twelve, so 0 means 4K, 1 means 8K. i is
ignored (legacy support).
Contains information about the status of currently running array.
A readable and writable file that reflects the current "goal" rebuild speed for times when non-rebuild activity is current on an
array. The speed is in Kibibytes per second, and is a per-device rate, not a per-array rate (which means that an array with more
disks will shuffle more data for a given speed). The default is 1000.
A readable and writable file that reflects the current "goal" rebuild speed for times when no non-rebuild activity is current on an
array. The default is 200,000.