Wednesday, March 4, 2015

create a large dummy file on Linux

# fallocate -l 256M

This is a common question -- especially in today's environment of virtual environments. Unfortunately, the answer is not as straight-forward as one might assume.

dd is the obvious first choice, but dd is essentially a copy and that forces you to write every block of data (thus, initializing the file contents)... And that initialization is what takes up so much I/O time. (Want to make it take even longer? Use /dev/random instead of /dev/zero! Then you'll use CPU as well as I/O time!) In the end though, dd is a poor choice (though essentially the default used by the VM "create" GUIs).

truncate is another choice -- and is likely the fastest... But that is because it creates a "sparse file". Essentially, a sparse file is a section of disk that has a lot of the same data, and the underlying filesystem "cheats" by not really storing all of the data, but just "pretending" that it's all there. Thus, when you use truncate to create a 20 GB drive for your VM, the filesystem doesn't actually allocate 20 GB, but it cheats and says that there are 20 GB of zeros there, even though as little as one track on the disk may actually (really) be in use.

fallocate is the final -- and best -- choice for use with VM disk allocation, because it essentially "reserves" (or "allocates" all of the space you're seeking, but it doesn't bother to write anything. So, when you use fallocate to create a 20 GB virtual drive space, you really do get a 20 GB file (not a "sparse file", and you won't have bothered to write anything to it -- which means virtually anything could be in there -- kind of like a brand new disk!)


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