ReiserFS becomes deprecated in Linux Kernel 6.6. Are we near the end of this Filesystem? - šŸ† Managed Server


12 September 2023

ReiserFS becomes deprecated in Linux Kernel 6.6. Are we near the end of this Filesystem?

The marking of ReiserFS as ā€œObsoleteā€ in the Linux 6.6 kernel marks the latest phase of a revolutionary filesystem, whose potential was stunted by the arrest of its creator, Hans Reiser.

The case of ReiserFS represents a complex and troubled history in the world of Linux systems, a microcosm that often reflects the broader dynamics of the open source software industry. To understand the significance of the obsolescence of ReiserFS in the Linux 6.6 kernel, it is essential to retrace the history of the filesystem, the technology it carries, and the tumultuous life of its creator, Hans Reiser.

The dawn of ReiserFS

Born as one of the first journaling filesystems for Linux, ReiserFS represented a significant breakthrough in terms of performance and reliability. This technology was mainly developed by Hans Reiser under his company Namesys, with the support of the developer community. Its introduction in the Linux kernel marked the era of modern filesystems for this operating system, a turning point compared to pre-existing systems such as ext2. Because of its advanced features, such as support for dynamic space allocation and its efficiency in handling small file sizes, ReiserFS quickly became an important component in the Linux ecosystem.

The Adoption and Ascension

During its golden age, ReiserFS was adopted as the default filesystem by several Linux distributions, including SUSE. Its popularity did not only concern the user community but also companies looking for performance and reliability for their servers. ReiserFS seemed destined to dominate the world of Linux filesystems, but everything changed drastically due to events related to the personal life of its creator.

The Fall: The Hans Reiser Case

Hans Reiser was convicted of the murder of his wife, Nina Reiser, in 2008. This tragic event had a devastating impact on the development of ReiserFS. In addition to the 15-year prison sentence Reiser had to serve, his arrest and subsequent conviction brought a setback to the project's progress. Legal uncertainty has also put investment by companies and developers at risk. Added to all this was the decision in 2011 not to reopen the case, virtually marking the end of the project as a vital force in the Linux filesystem landscape.

Hans Reiser murder

Side Effects and Residual Support

Despite the negative notoriety resulting from its creator's court case, support for ReiserFS remained in the Linux kernel. However, with the release of the Linux 6.6 kernel, the filesystem was marked ā€œObsolete,ā€ a label that suggests a transition to permanent removal, scheduled for 2025 by some estimates. This move was met with disappointment by Edward Shishkin and the rest of the Namesys team, who continued to develop and maintain ReiserFS despite the adversity.

The news of the move to "Obosleto" was not taken well by Namesys, the company (still existing) that has always dealt with the developments of ReiserFS. In particular, Edward Shishkin wrote an email reported by ArsTechnica, in which he states his disappointment with the choice:

What does [obsolete] mean compared to [ext4], Btrfs, XFS? I disagree with that qualification. Do those file systems (as well as the mentioned 'modern options') provide better disk space utilization? Surely NO! [ā€¦] admins stated that for some tasks ReiserFS has no alternatives.

What does obsolete mean with respect to ext4, Btrfs and XFS? I don't agree with this title. Do those filesystems (called modern options) provide better disk space utilization? Surely not! [ā€¦] the admins have stated that for certain tasks ReiserFS has no alternatives.

The Obsolescence Debate

The move to mark it as obsolete has raised several questions. Many, including Shishkin, disagree with the label, pointing out that ReiserFS has some unique features that make it a solid choice for certain use cases. However, major Linux kernel developers now seem to be focused on other options such as ext4, Btrfs, and XFS, which offer a broader range of features and a larger, more active developer community.

Conclusion: End of story?

While the ā€œObsoleteā€ label appears to mark the swansong for ReiserFS, there is no denying the impact it has had in shaping the filesystem ecosystem in Linux. However, Hans Reiser's tragic personal story undoubtedly slowed down the development and potential evolution of the project, leaving an indelible stain on his legacy.

Ultimately, ReiserFS represents a story of great promise, brilliant innovation, but also of tragic personal entanglements that have influenced and in some ways marked its rise and fall in the technological landscape. With its marking as ā€œObsolete,ā€ the filesystem looks set to become a footnote in the history of Linux operating systems, an extreme example of how external factors can influence the fate of an open-source project.

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