Server performance tuning for Linux and Unix

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General notes

There are several good web sites and books about how to setup subversion, but I couldn't find anything about how to optimize performance. This is a guide to understanding and improving the performance of subversion when it is served using svnserve or HTTP (via apache).

Much of the operating system tuning is similar to what would be done for a database or e-mail server. It can be useful to search those areas for additional advice

These notes have a lot of Linux specific details, but the concepts should apply to most Unix based systems. Feel free to add details for other flavors of Unix here. Non-posix tuning notes should probably go on another page.

The repository can be stored as either a Berkeley DB database or in the FSFS repository formats. This is hidden from users. FSFS is generally considered to be faster.

Making reads cheaper

The Unix concept of "file access time" (commonly call atime) is a performance problem. When filesystem semantics were being defined, it seemed like a good idea to know when a file was last accessed. The down side is that every file open call now causes a disk write. A few utilities use this information (e.g. tmpwatch and mail), but subversion never uses atime. Subversion performance is improved by avoiding the access time writes.

For a local filesystem, you can disable this behavior with mount options. On Linux, it's the 'noatime' and 'nodiratime' options. On a NFS filesystem, the atime recording happens on the server and must be disabled in the server's configuration.

A lazy atime approach called "relatime" was introduced in Linux-2.6.20 and mount-2.13. This eliminates most atime writes without breaking the few utilities that need it. This is most useful if the repository must be on the same partition as the mail spool and/or temporary files. See: and

Making writes cheaper

Subversion uses uses the fsync() call (or the equivalent on non-Unix operating systems) to tell the operating system to write data to disk. Up until that point, the data is usually only memory and the operating system will write it to disk "when it gets around to it".

By calling fsync() before finishing a commit, subversion is trying to guarantee that everything it said had been done would be there when the machine re-boots. Waiting for data to write out to disk is often the slowest part of a commit.

However, the operating system doesn't always hold up its end of the bargain. On Linux, fsync() only ensures that the data is on its way to the disk "as soon as possible". If write cache is enabled on the drive, then it doesn't actually wait for the data to hit the disk platter before returning. This means there is a window of time that a power loss can cause the disk state to not match what subversion returned.

One way to significantly increase fsync() performance is to use a RAID controller with a battery backed write cache. The cache is treated as part of the disk system. As soon as the data is in the cache, the fsync() can safely return. This means you don't have to wait for the disk head seek or the data transfer. If power is interrupted, the RAID controller will finish writing out the cache when power is restored.

A newer way to avoid this problem is a flash based disk. There is no latency from head movement or waiting for the disk to rotate. This becomes more significant when writing many small files (like many FSFS writes). The current downsides of flash disks are high cost, limited capacity, and low write bandwidth (but these problems are improving).

Reducing the number of writes

As of subversion-1.5, transactions can be built up on a different filesystem than the one holding the repository. This is valuable when the repository lives on a slower filesystem like NFS.

To implement this, do the following:

 stop all servers that can write to the repository
 cd REPO_PATH/db
 mv transactions /LOCAL/DISK/PATH/
 ln -s /LOCAL/DISK/PATH/transactions .
 start the servers

Reduce directory index size

The subversion-1.5 repository format allows the revisions to be stored in subdirectories that don't grow past a specified size. This allows repositories to store many more revisions than can (efficiently) be stored in one directory.

Modern filesystems can handle hundreds of thousands of files in a single directory. However, performance can suffer as the directory index starts to use multiple levels of indirection. Some administration tools may also have trouble with very large directories. Splitting the revision store into sub-directories avoids all these problems.

The shard size can by adjusted by editing the "layout sharded" line in "db/format" after 'svnadmin create' but before populating the repository. The default is 1000 revisions per subdirectory. Non-sharded repositories can be loaded into a new, sharded, repository using "svnadmin load" or "svnsync".

Optimize write-once files on NFS

If the repository is on a NFS filesystem, then a cache consistency check is made every time a file is opened. Since the revision files in a FSFS repository never change, it is worthwhile to skip the cache checks on these files. The subversion-1.5 repository format store immutable files in specific subdirectories so that this can be done.

The NFS cache check can be disabled on Linux by passing the 'nocto' option to the mount command (note: the man page claims this is ignored, but it isn't on linux-2.6). You need coherency for some files, so the NFS volume is also mounted without the option on a different mount point. Symbolic links are made from the cache coherent mount point to the 'nocto' mount for these directories: revs and txn-protorevs.

Implementation example (not complete, just an outline of the key steps):

 stop all servers that can write to the repository
 sudo mount -t nfs nfs_server:/mount_point /mnt/svn -o \
 sudo mount -t nfs nfs_server:/mount_point /mnt/svn-nocto -o \
 cd /mnt/svn/repo_path
 mv revs revs-nocto
 mv txn-protorevs txn-protorevs-nocto
 ln -s /mnt/svn-nocto/repo_path/db/revs-nocto revs
 ln -s /mnt/svn-nocto/repo_path/db/txn-protorevs-nocto txn-protorevs
 start the servers

Increase NFS caching timeout

On Linux, metadata on files from NFS is only kept for a finite period of time. This can be changed by passing the actimeo option to the mount command. The man page claims the default is 60 (seconds), but some experimentation suggests it may be higher than that. For a 'nocto' mount point, this value can be raised to something much larger (e.g. 3600). See the above example.

Distributing CPU load

The subversion communicates with the clients by transmitting differences in state, so the CPU load to calculate the difference can be significant. By storing the repository on NFS, you can have multiple "front end" (FE) systems that share the computational load and provide redundancy. A network load balancer makes all front ends (FEs) appear as one server to users.

The FEs can either run svnserve or http-DAV. If DAV is used, you need to ensure that the load balancer keeps an entire transaction on the same FE (to allow transactions to be built up on local disk). The load balancer must be configured with "machine affinity" set, so that all HTTP connections from a client will be routed to the same server. You should also configure apache to keep a single TCP connection for the entire transaction (see example below).

Apache configuration to maintain a TCP connection:

 # 1. Enable HTTP persistent connections so a single transaction can
 #    be built up over a single connection.
 KeepAlive             on
 # 2. Allow as many KeepAlives as required (0 => infinite) to keep
 #    the same connection alive.
 MaxKeepAliveRequests  0
 # 3. Limit a child to serving only this 1 connection.
 MaxRequestsPerChild   1

The last one is counter-intuitive, but see the "Note" at

High storage system reliability

The purpose of a version control system is to store a sequence of file/directory versions so you can retreive them in the future. None of this matters if the storage system fails.

The simplest step is to do periodic backups of the repository. This limits the loss to the changes that happened since the last backup. If the repository is large and the commit rate is high, it may be impossible to backup frequently enough to prevent significant data loss. For example, if your repository gets one commit per second and you do a backup every hour, you may lose 3600 revisions if the disk fails. This is a large scale example, but the point is to gather your own numbers and figure out how much you might lose.

The next step is to make the disk system redundant using RAID technology. This allows one (and sometimes more) disks to fail without losing data. This still won't help if additional disks fail during recovery or the entire array is lost due to fire, theft, etc.

Advanced NFS servers can be configured to do synchronous mirroring and/or asynchronous mirroring (also known as snapshot replication). These capabilities are available in some commercial servers, or you can find various free alternatives by searching for "NFS server high availability" or "NFS server snapshot replication".

Synchronous mirroring sends every write to two independent storage systems and requires a high bandwidth network (e.g. gigabit ethernet). It reduces performance, but the caching optimizations listed above can help. The primary and slave systems are usually located in different rooms (or buildings) and on different electrical circuits.

Asynchronous mirroring periodically updates a second storage system with changes from the master. It periodically makes a "snapshot" of the system every few minutes and then transmits the difference between the previous snapshot and the current one to the slave. This uses less bandwidth, but lags the main filesystem by a several minutes. It can allow a backup filesystem to be located in another geographic region.

Another approach is to use subversion tools to maintain a mirror. Setup svnsync to periodically sync a back up server off the main one. This can lag behind by the polling interval, but it is simple to setup.

You can eliminate the lag by setting up a post-commit script that runs "svnadmin dump --incremental -r N" of that commit onto a separate partition/server. This creates a transaction log of commits that can be replayed on a recent backup to restore full state.

Watch your entropy

When servers handled lots of queries, certain protocols can deplete the entropy pool. The svn:// protocol (served by svnserve) and SASL cyphers read from /dev/random for every new connection. If the entropy pool becomes depleted, then the service will become very slow.

The pool should have 100+ bits in it for good operation. You can check the entropy pool size on linux like this:

 sysctl kernel.random.entropy_avail

This should not be a problem if APR was configured with "--with-devrandom=/dev/urandom". Sasl has a similar configuration option (called???). You may need to check how the packages supplied with you OS are configured.

(TODO: reference the SVN benchmarking capabilities in mstone

Dchristian 13:42, 30 May 2008 (PDT)