Ext2/3/4 Filesystem

The Extended Filesystem is popular in distributions of the linux kernel where it as created. Most BSD variants have at least some support for it and there are userland (fuse) drivers as well. This page serves to keep some notes related to FreeBSD's kernel implementation that supports the original ext2 and sufficient features to support newer versions of the popular filesystem.

The Extended Filesystem was designed, with much inspiration on UFS, to replace the MINIX filesystem used in early versions of Linux. The filesystem is known to be very fast and continues to be very popular despite the availability of other interesting filesystems (JFS, reiserfs, XFS, etc).

In general Ext2fs is very similar to UFS but lacks support for fragments and as a consequence attempting to use bigger blocksizes penalizes the wasted space and also makes fragmentation a problem. The Linux developers have also opted for supporting the faster async mode and compensate the eventual risks with more robust filechecking tools (fsck). The ext2 developers have tried to counter the weaknesses of the filesystem by adding new features in ext3 (journalling) and ext4 (extents) but the basic design seems to be exhausted and its designers are apparently considering more recent designs like btrfs. For freebsd supporting ext2fs and it variants is still important for interoperability and as a general experimentation tool.

The initial FreeBSD ext2fs implementation was based on the BSD Lites version by Godmar Back. The initial approach was to reuse the BSD interfaces and the similarities between UFS and ext2 and merge the specific block management routines from Linux. NetBSD did a complete reimplementation from UFS sources.

While on NetBSD the ext2fs implementation shares code with UFS, in FreeBSD the code is independent and has it's own sys/fs/ext2fs area in the kernel. Opengrok is a great alternative to study the code.

Coding guidelines

As the rest of the FreeBSD kernel code, we follow style(9). We do try to keep the code in sync where possible with UFS/FFS to ensure new UFS fixes and features can be applied to Ext2. When implementing new features it is important to give a thought on the layout: the preference should always be to avoid invasive changes in the files that are shared to some extent with UFS and add new functionality in new files.

The Linux driver is, of course, copyleft, so code cannot be generally copied from one implementation to the other. Luckily our implementation is completely different and much more similar to UFS but developers are encouraged to read the existing (public) documentation before starting to work on new features.

Main developments

During a long time, NetBSD's and FreeBSD's implementations were maintained independently and while they basically worked, development was stuck. The main difference between both implementations was basically the cleaner license in NetBSD implementation and the relatively good performance of the FreeBSD implementation. In both cases, running the BSD implementations in async mode (the default in Linux) is considerably slower in the BSDs compared to the Linux implementation.

On year 2009, there was a Google SOC project:

Improving Second Extended File system (ext2fs) and making it GPL free

This merged the block allocation code from NetBSD and a process of merging bugfixes and enhancements from FreeBSD's UFS1 begun. Notably the filesystem was made MPsafe and a feature called "Orlov allocator" (known also as the dirpref changes in UFS circles) were brought in.

Ext2fs development on FreeBSD is now much easier thanks to the similarities with the traditional UFS and merging features and fixes from UFS is an ongoing process.

In year 2010, a second Google SoC Project took place:

Enhance ext2fs to support preallocation and read ext4 file systems

Preallocation was implemented but after extensive testing it was determined that block reallocation was a better alternative and was implemented based on UFS code. Read-only support for (extents-based) ext4fs was also developed but was only brought into the tree until 2013. Simultaneously to this project the merging of fixes from UFS1 was finished. This brought basic O_DIRECT support for async mode mounting and several adjustments.

In year 2012, NetBSD has a different Google Summer of Code project:

HTree directory indexing for Ext3

ZhengLiu did a port of Vyacheslav Matyushin's HTree implementation for NetBSD's GSoC. The HTree code in Linux requires a lot of workarounds for the possibility of a hash collision which were not considered for the FreeBSD port. The code was unstable for a while but finally got fixed on SVN r294504.

More recent additions include support for nanosecond/birthtime timestamps (2012), the benefit of a generic SEEK_DATA/SEEK_HOLE lseek() extension (2013), the support for sparse files from ext4 (DamjanJovanovic 2016) and support for Extended Attributes, Ext4 write support, uninit_gb, flex_bg and checksumming (FedorUporov 2017).


In FreeBSD ext2, ext3 and ext4 are not different filesystems: ext2 is the base filesystem and some features from ext3 and ext4 are supported. All features in FreeBSD's implementation follow UFS semantics and this can sometimes impose important differences.

NOTE: If you are trying to mount Ext4 partitions, and we don't yet support writing on your particular release, remember to specifically mount the filesystem read-only.

Known issues

Future Projects

Depending on developer's interest there are some possibilities for future development:


The most update information for the Ext4 implementation is available through the kernel project itself: Ext4 (and Ext2/Ext3) Wiki

Some documentation for the Linux implementation:

Patent: US Patent 20100057755 A1, File system with flexible inode structures. (Red Hat has extended its patent promise to all open-source licenses).

For FreeBSD's specific ext2fs driver the general documentation for UFS is useful.

The BSDCan talk in May 2014 gave an overview of the FreeBSD implementation.

Ext2fs (last edited 2024-05-18T18:04:01+0000 by EdMaste)