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Using the InterMezzo Distributed Filesystem - page 3

Getting Connected in a Disconnected World

  • August 12, 2002
  • By Bill von Hagen

On both clients and servers, InterMezzo uses an existing filesystem to store its data, and tracks filesystem changes in "hidden" directories in those filesystems. (These directories are hidden in the classic Unix/Linux sense, meaning that their names begin with a period.) InterMezzo data is typically stored in journaling filesystems, though ext2s filesystems can also be used. Using a journaling filesystem as the underpinnings of InterMezzo filesystems helps guarantee both that changes to the files in the InterMezzo filesystem(s) won't be lost, and that InterMezzo's log of file changes will always be as accurate as possible, even after a spontaneous reboot.. Rather than providing yet another journaling filesystem (YAJF), InterMezzo relies on a set of wrapper functions that enable it to take advantage of existing journaling filesystems such as ext3, JFS, and ReiserFS. Work on using XFS with InterMezzo is still in progress.

Software-wise, InterMezzo basically consists of kernel components and a server process known as InterSync that synchronizes files on InterMezzo client and server systems. An instance of InterSync runs on each InterMezzo client, keeping cached files on the client system synchronized with the contents of the InterMezzo server's exported filesystem. The InterMezzo server maintains a record of changes made to any files in its experted filesystem(s) in a file known as a "kernel modification log" that is stored in the exported InterMezzo filesystem. Each client's InterSync process periodically polls the server, retrieves this file, and scans it for records related to cached files. If a record indicating a change to a cached file is found, the InterSync server retrieves a fresh copy of the file from the server. All communication between client and server in the latest version of InterMezzo is done using the HTTP protocol.

Only synchronizing multiple clients with the contents of an InterMezzo server and exported filesystem(s) is useful if you simply want to propagate files and directories to client systems in an essentially read-only fashion. However, in real life, it's most useful to synchronize files in both directions. You can therefore also run an InterSync server on the InterMezzo server in order to do active synchronization. Active synchronization guarantees that changes to files on the server are propagated to clients, but also guarantees that changes to cached files on client systems are propagated back to the server. Change to files on the server are then propagated out to all other clients in the standard fashion.

Early releases of InterMezzo were notable because the synchronization server that they used was written in Perl. Though operating-system-level servers written in scripting languages such as Perl are fairly rare, this rapid prototyping approach made it easy to quickly explore a variety of synchronization mechanisms. Earlier InterMezzo synchronization mechanisms relied on the standard Unix/Linux rsync application and protocol rather than HTTP. Using HTTP not only makes InterMezzo compatible with an existing, widely-used protocol that is already available on many servers, but also enables InterMezzo to take advantage of existing HTTP-oriented security mechanisms such as SSL. Because HTTP is the foundation of the Web, it is also likely that increasing amounts of security will be available for HTTP communications, all of which InterMezzo can therefore get for free.

The next few sections describe how to install and start InterMezzo. All of the commands in these sections must be executed as the root user. These sections do not discuss security issues, since InterMezzo itself doesn't do anything special with security. The InterMezzo client and server filesystems described in the next few section are created as publicly writable filesystems for experimentation purposes. You can impose and enforce security on them using standard Linux security mechanisms that are outside the scope of this article.

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