What is XFS good for?

XFS (Extents File System) is a high-performance 64-bit journaling file system that was originally designed and implemented by Silicon Graphics in 1993. XFS excels at parallel I/O operations and large filesystems, making it well-suited for certain use cases.

What is XFS and how does it work?

XFS utilizes extent-based allocation instead of block-based allocation which helps reduce fragmentation and makes it possible to support very large files and filesystems. An extent is a contiguous area of storage reserved for a file, while traditional UNIX filesystems like ext4 allocate disk space in blocks. By allocating storage in large contiguous extents, XFS avoids having to track hundreds or thousands of blocks per file. This makes metadata operations faster and more efficient.

XFS also employs B+ trees to index and organize filesystem data structures like inodes, free extents, and directories. This allows quick lookup and retrieval of file metadata. The on-disk format of XFS is also more efficient than traditional filesystems. For example, it doesn’t store empty unused space in inodes which saves disk space.

As a journaling filesystem, XFS ensures filesystem consistency by tracking filesystem changes in a log or journal. This helps quickly recover from crashes or power failures. However, it does not offer the same robust journaling capabilities as filesystems like ZFS.

When is XFS a good choice?

XFS works well in situations where there are:

  • Very large filesystems and files
  • Large number of sub-directories and files in a single directory
  • High percentage of large files with contiguous allocation requirements
  • Applications that require parallel I/O performance
  • Workloads dominated by reads rather than writes

The extent-based allocation and B+ tree indexing make XFS an exceptional choice for managing large filesystems while maintaining performance and efficiency. It can scale to support petabyte-sized filesystems and files sizes up to 9 million terabytes.

XFS also demonstrates very good IOPS performance, especially for concurrent read operations. Benchmarks show XFS outperforming ext4 by large margins on parallel read workloads. This makes it well-suited for applications that require high I/O throughput like media streaming servers, HPC storage backends, and big data analytics.

When should other filesystems be considered?

While XFS has strengths, other filesystems may be better choices in certain use cases:

  • ext4: More mature on Linux, stable code base, and richer filesystem tools/utilities support.
  • Btrfs: Offers advanced features like snapshots, copy-on-write, checksums, and transparent compression.
  • ZFS: Provides even more advanced features, robust integrity checking, and great scalability like XFS.
  • XFS: Specifically designed for Solaris and older UNIX/Linux systems, not as actively developed.

For smaller filesystems or general purpose use cases on Linux, ext4 is likely the better choice. If advanced snapshots and data integrity features are required, Btrfs or ZFS have more robust offerings in those areas. And for older UNIX/Linux systems, UFS may be preferable due to better support and stability.

When is XFS not recommended?

There are a few scenarios where XFS is not the best file system choice:

  • Transaction-heavy workloads with lots of small files being created, deleted, and modified frequently. The extent allocation model is less efficient for these use cases compared to block-based file systems.
  • Systems with extremely limited storage space. XFS can be less space efficient than file systems like ext4.
  • Older systems and distributions. XFS versions and maturity can vary across Linux kernels and UNIX variants. Compatibility is better with newer Linux kernels.
  • Smaller deployments like root filesystems. The performance and scaling benefits don’t outweigh ext4’s maturity here.
  • Workloads that need fast fsync() operations. XFS prioritizes throughput over fsync() latency.

In most cases where XFS is not the best choice, ext4 provides a robust alternative without sacrificing much performance or features for Linux-based systems. The exceptions may be older UNIX systems where UFS support is better, or specialized needs like ZFS/Btrfs snapshots and compression.

XFS Use Cases

Here are some common use cases where XFS can be advantageous:

Media Serving and Streaming

XFS delivers excellent IOPS performance for concurrent reads, making it very well-suited for multimedia servers delivering high volumes of audio and video streams to clients. CDNs and video streaming platforms often utilize XFS.

Genomics and Bioinformatics

Genomics databases and sequencing platforms require storing and accessing huge numbers of small files. XFS provides scalability to manage massive genomic datasets while delivering high throughput to applications analyzing DNA and RNA data.

High Performance Computing

HPC storage systems need to simultaneously serve large amounts of data to many compute nodes quickly. XFS provides the throughput and parallel I/O capabilities high-end computing clusters and supercomputers require.

Big Data

Big data platforms like Apache Hadoop rely on economies of scale to process massive datasets efficiently. XFS allows these systems to scale to petabyte filesystem sizes to store huge data lakes and provides high bandwidth for big data analytics.

Virtualization and Cloud Storage

XFS makes an excellent backend filesystem for KVM and Xen hypervisors as well as OpenStack cloud storage systems. It enables efficiently managing large disk images and virtual machine storage volumes.

Large Databases

High performance databases need filesystems that can keep pace with SSD speeds and handle enormous datasets. XFS fits by delivering scalability, efficient metadata operations, and parallelization database servers require.


XFS excels at specific workloads like media streaming, HPC, big data, and large databases where high scalability, throughput for concurrent reads, and efficient metadata operations are critical. It is less optimal for highly transactional workloads involving lots of small files or systems with minimal storage space.

For general purpose use cases on Linux servers, ext4 provides better all-around performance. But for specialized applications that manage enormous volumes of data and require fast parallel I/O, XFS is a top choice thanks to its extent-based allocation, B+ tree indexing, and I/O concurrency capabilities.