Space allocation in Firebird 2.1 and higher

Vlad Khorsun, 20-OCT-2010

Since the beginning, Firebird had no rules of how to allocate disk space for database file(s). It just writes new allocated pages in not determined order (because of dependencies between pages to serve «careful write» strategy).

This approach is very simple but has some drawbacks:

• because of not determined order of writes, there may be such situation when page cache contains many dirty pages at time when new allocated page must be written but can“t because out of disk space. In such cases often all other dirty pages are lost because administrators prefer to shutdown database before making some space on disk available. This leads to serious corruptions.

• allocating disk space by relatively small chunks may lead to significant file fragmentation at file system level and reduce performance of large scans (for example during backup).


Using new ODS 11.1, Firebird changes its disk space allocation algorithm to avoid corruptions in out of disk space conditions and to give the file system a chance to avoid fragmentation. These changes are described below.


a) Every newly allocated page is written on disk immediately before returning to the engine. If page can“t be written then allocation doesn“t happen, PIP bit is not cleared and appropriate IO error is raised. This error can“t lead to corruptions as we have a guarantee that all dirty pages in cache have disk space allocated and can be written safely.

This change makes one additional write of every newly allocated page compared with old behavior. So performance penalty is expected during the database file growth. To reduce this penalty Firebird groups writes of newly allocated pages up to 128KB at a time and tracks number of «initialized» pages at PIP header.


Note : newly allocated page will be written to disk twice only if this page is allocated first time. I.e. If page was allocated, freed and allocated again it will not be written twice on second allocation.


b) To avoid file fragmentation, Firebird used appropriate file system“s API to preallocate disk space by relatively large chunks. Currently such API exists only in Windows but it was recently added into Linux API and may be implemented in such popular file system“s as ext2, etc in the future. So this feature is currently implemented only in Windows builds of Firebird and may be implemented in Linux builds in the future.

For better control of disk space preallocation, new setting in Firebird.conf was introduced : DatabaseGrowthIncrement. This is upper bound of preallocation chunk size in bytes. Default value is 128MB. When engine needs more disk space it allocates 1/16th of already allocated space but no less than 128KB and no more than DatabaseGrowthIncrement value. If DatabaseGrowthIncrement is set to zero then preallocation is disabled. Space for database shadow files is not preallocated.

Also preallocation is disabled if «No reserve» option is set for database.


Note : preallocation also allows to avoid corruptions in out of disk space condition — in such case there is a big chance that database has enough space preallocated to operate until administrator makes some disk space available.


Author: Vlad Khorsun,