Storage versioning

Current status

This document describes the practices adopted by the local storage team but implementing these rules has not yet been completed for all storage formats.

Background and requirements

Our on-disk storage systems need to persist across updates and multiple versions of the system may need to interact with this data. There will be some changes that will not be be backwards-compatible and software must avoid changing data it can not full understand. There can also be minor updates to the storage format that are backwards-compatible but may need special handling.

As an example for special handling of different versions of backwards-compatible formats, say there is a minor bug that was corrected that made some previously valid data layout no longer permitted:

  • Old code should still be allowed to use the device since it can still read all of the data and can still write a format understood by newer versions.

  • New code would like to correct the no-longer-valid format to a newer format when it occurs and it should be able to tell when this migration is required.

  • Utilities such as fsck need to know exactly what format to expect. If it sees the invalid structure in a device written only by the newer version of the code, it knows there is a serious error. But if the device was written to by older code, it knows that this is expected and to continue.


  • Major version: The non-backwards-compatible version of the format on device. Different major versions are not compatible. Any non-backwards-compatible changes should increment the major version.

  • Minor version: Backwards-compatible changes to how data is stored on the disk should update the minor version.

  • Oldest minor version: The oldest minor version of the software that has written to the device.


Persistent storage systems should maintain two numbers in the header of their data:

  • Major version.
  • Oldest minor version.

Systems should encode data in a way that allows formats to be added without invalidating older versions when possible. For example, if compression is supported in a filesystem, the compression algorithm should be stored on the file. This allows adding additional compression algorithms without invalidating older data.

To support future updates, there should be some reserved bytes in the metadata if possible, and all reserved regions in metadata should be zero initialized at format time. Unit tests should verify this. Verification tools should be lenient about checking reserved sections i.e. they should not check that reserved sections are zeroed. Similarly, length fields that allow structures to expand should be loosely checked. If it makes sense to do so, consider adding a “strict” option (disabled by default) that performs these checks.

Metrics for the major version and oldest minor version should be available via Cobalt.

Maintaining and using versions

Upon formatting a device

When a device is initially created, the current on-disk format's major and minor version should be written to the header.

Upon opening a device

Software that opens a device should first check the major version. If the major version is larger than expected, the operation should fail and no operations should be attempted with the device.

Software that opens a device for writing should next check the device‘s current oldest minor version. If the software minor version is less than the oldest minor version stored on the device, it should update the device’s oldest minor version to the current software minor version and continue. Software with newer minor versions should not increase the oldest minor version without performing an update.

Upon performing minor updates

Sometimes a migration may need to be done. For the example given in the “Background” section, we may want to check for and correct the newly-invalid format. In this case, the software can check whether the update is required by looking at the oldest minor version of the device. If it is before the minor version with the fix, the software knows that there may be data on the device that has the older format and should perform an update.

If the persistent data is updated so that none of it can be considered to have been written by an older minor version, the oldest minor version value should be update to the current value. This will prevent performing the migration in the future so long as no older minor versions of the software write to the device.

Why keep only the oldest minor version?

Why do we keep the oldest minor version rather than the newest one that has written to the disk? Most systems use only the newest version.

We expect increments to the (backwards-compatible) minor version to be of two general types: additions of new features that older versions of the software can ignore, and increasing the strictness of requirements of the format.

In both of these cases, if an older version of the software writes to the disk, assumptions about the data added in a newer version may become invalid. For example, added tracking information may get out-of-sync because the older version doesn‘t know how to update it, or the older version may re-introduce subsequently disallowed patterns. If version 3.0 writes to a version 3.1 disk, it’s not necessarily version 3.1 any more and we don't want to treat it as such. In these cases, the newer versions of the sofware will want to perform upgrade-specific checks or migrations.

How can a newer version of the software know if something it made exists if the disk has only the oldest version? Say a new data format was added or a new table was added to the metadata, how does the newer version know if the device has these structures? For backwards-compatible additions, it should just check for the presence of the structures which should always be additive. New data should be added in 0-initialized reserved regions so this is always possible. As mentioned earlier, checks on these reserved areas should be lenient. For more subtle changes, bits can be added to the reserved region that indicates a change happened or something might be present.