Oct 05, 2014

Simple aufs setup for Arch Linux ARM and boards like RPi, BBB or Cubie

Experimenting with all kinds of arm boards lately (nyms above stand for Raspberry Pi, Beaglebone Black and Cubieboard), I can't help but feel a bit sorry of microsd cards in each one of them.

These are even worse for non-bulk writes than SSD, having less erase cycles plus larger blocks, and yet when used for all fs needs of the board, even typing "ls" into shell will usually emit a write (unless shell doesn't keep history, which sucks).

Great explaination of how they work can be found on LWN (as usual).

Easy and relatively hassle-free way to fix the issue is to use aufs, but as doing it for the whole rootfs requires initramfs (which is not needed here otherwise), it's a lot easier to only use it for commonly-writable parts - i.e. /var and /home in most cases.

Home for "root" user is usually /root, so to make it aufs material as well, it's better to move that to /home (which probably shouldn't be a separate fs on these devices), leaving /root as a symlink to that.

It seem to be impossible to do when logged-in as /root (mv will error with EBUSY), but trivial from any other machine:

# mount /dev/sdb2 /mnt # mount microsd
# cd /mnt
# mv root home/
# ln -s home/root
# cd
# umount /mnt

As aufs2 is already built into Arch Linux ARM kernel, only thing that's left is to add early-boot systemd unit for mounting it, e.g. /etc/systemd/system/aufs.service:




# Remount /home and /var as aufs
ExecStart=/bin/mount -t tmpfs tmpfs /aufs/rw
ExecStart=/bin/mkdir -p -m0755 /aufs/rw/var /aufs/rw/home
ExecStart=/bin/mount -t aufs -o br:/aufs/rw/var=rw:/var=ro none /var
ExecStart=/bin/mount -t aufs -o br:/aufs/rw/home=rw:/home=ro none /home

# Mount "pure" root to /aufs/ro for syncing changes
ExecStart=/bin/mount --bind / /aufs/ro
ExecStart=/bin/mount --make-private /aufs/ro

And then create the dirs used there and enable unit:

# mkdir -p /aufs/{rw,ro}
# systemctl enable aufs

Now, upon rebooting the board, you'll get aufs mounts for /home and /var, making all the writes there go to respective /aufs/rw dirs on tmpfs while allowing to read all the contents from underlying rootfs.

To make sure systemd doesn't waste extra tmpfs space thinking it can sync logs to /var/log/journal, I'd also suggest to do this (before rebooting with aufs mounts):

# rm -rf /var/log/journal
# ln -s /dev/null /var/log/journal

Can also be done via journald.conf with Storage=volatile.

One obvious caveat with aufs is, of course, how to deal with things that do expect to have permanent storage in /var - examples can be a pacman (Arch package manager) on system updates, postfix or any db.
For stock Arch Linux ARM though, it's only pacman on manual updates.

And depending on the app and how "ok" can loss of this data might be, app dir in /var (e.g. /var/lib/pacman) can be either moved + symlinked to /srv or synced before shutdown or after it's done with writing (for manual oneshot apps like pacman).

For moving stuff back to permanent fs, aubrsync from aufs2-util.git can be used like this:

# aubrsync move /var/ /aufs/rw/var/ /aufs/ro/var/

As even pulling that from shell history can be a bit tedious, I've made a simplier ad-hoc wrapper - aufs_sync - that can be used (with mountpoints similar to presented above) like this:

# aufs_sync
Usage: aufs_sync { copy | move | check } [module]
Example (flushes /var): aufs_sync move var

# aufs_sync check
--- ... just does "find /aufs/rw"

# aufs_sync move
--- does "aubrsync move" for all dirs in /aufs/rw

Just be sure to check if any new apps might write something important there (right after installing these) and do symlinks (to something like /srv) for their dirs, as even having "aufs_sync copy" on shutdown definitely won't prevent data loss for these on e.g. sudden power blackout or any crashes.

Member of The Internet Defense League