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Discussion of system crash behaviours

From: Yanyan Jiang
Subject: Discussion of system crash behaviours
Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2015 17:10:45 -0400

I am currently working on the file system reliability issues. I have a disk 
driver that is able to simulate crash disk sites after injected power failures 
(inspired by two OSDI'14 papers about crash sites, and they found interesting 
bugs in many production systems like database). This disk is compatible with 
the Linux block driver semantics (refer to  
and may create many crash sites that pending blocks are partially flushed into 
the disk.

Our tool finds that a typical compiler (e.g., gcc) may suffer the issue of 
crash inconsistency. Specifically, there is a chance that for the binary output 
file (e.g., a .o file):

1. its timestamp is updated and gmake considers this file is up-to-date.
2. its actual data is not persisted to the disk.

On an ext4 filesystem (default setting) of a typical Linux distribution, we 
observed that there is a chance of leaving a 0-byte output file whose timestamp 
is updated. In more relaxed settings (e.g., old-time filesystems), a system 
crash would leave partially corrupted file in the filesystem with timestamp 
updated (e.g., several blocks are missing but with a correct header).

Note that this is NOT a defect for gcc or gmake as they have nothing to do with 
the crash semantics. However, if the user continues the incremental build after 
system crash, the entire thing would proceed, gmake will consider the generated 
.o file is up-to-date and proceed into the next stages, finally leading to 
incorrect outputs.

Though it is not a software defect, and is expected to be very rarely in 
practice. Neverthless, gmake is supposed to be general and to run on any 
platform. I am wondering if we should make users aware of this phenomenon 
(e.g., adding a section in the document).

Yanyan Jiang 蒋炎岩
Institute of Computer Software,
Dept. of Computer Science, Nanjing University

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