HDFS Concepts - Hadoop


A disk has a block size, which is the minimum amount of data that it can read or write. Filesystems for a single disk build on this by dealing with data in blocks, which are an integral multiple of the disk block size. Filesystem blocks are typically a few kilobytes in size, while disk blocks are normally 512 bytes. This is generally transparent to the filesystem user who is simply reading or writing a file of whatever length. However, there are tools to perform filesystem maintenance, such as df and fsck, that operate on the filesystem block level.

HDFS, too, has the concept of a block, but it is a much larger unit 64 MB by default. Like in a filesystem for a single disk, files in HDFS are broken into block-sized chunks, which are stored as independent units. Unlike a filesystem for a single disk, a file in HDFS that is smaller than a single block does not occupy a full block’s worth of underlying storage. When unqualified, the term “block” in this book refers to a block in HDFS.

Why Is a Block in HDFS So Large?

DFS blocks are large compared to disk blocks, and the reason is to minimize the cost of seeks. By making a block large enough, the time to transfer the data from the disk can be made to be significantly larger than the time to seek to the start of the block. Thus the time to transfer a large file made of multiple blocks operates at the disk transfe rate.

A quick calculation shows that if the seek time is around 10 ms, and the transfer rate is 100 MB/s, then to make the seek time 1% of the transfer time, we need to make the block size around 100 MB. The default is actually 64 MB, although many HDFS installations use 128 MB blocks. This figure will continue to be revised upward as transfer speeds grow with new generations of disk drives.

This argument shouldn’t be taken too far, however. Map tasks in MapReduce normally operate on one block at a time, so if you have too few tasks (fewer than nodes in the cluster), your jobs will run slower than they could otherwise.

Having a block abstraction for a distributed filesystem brings several benefits. The first benefit is the most obvious: a file can be larger than any single disk in the network. There’s nothing that requires the blocks from a file to be stored on the same disk, so they can take advantage of any of the disks in the cluster. In fact, it would be possible, if unusual, to store a single file on an HDFS cluster whose blocks filled all the disks in the cluster.

Second, making the unit of abstraction a block rather than a file simplifies the storage subsystem. Simplicity is something to strive for all in all systems, but is especially important for a distributed system in which the failure modes are so varied. The storage subsystem deals with blocks, simplifying storage management (since blocks are a fixed size, it is easy to calculate how many can be stored on a given disk) and eliminating metadata concerns (blocks are just a chunk of data to be stored file metadata such as permissions information does not need to be stored with the blocks, so another system can handle metadata separately).

Furthermore, blocks fit well with replication for providing fault tolerance and availability. To insure against corrupted blocks and disk and machine failure, each block is replicated to a small number of physically separate machines (typically three). If a block becomes unavailable, a copy can be read from another location in a way that is transparent to the client. A block that is no longer available due to corruption or machine failure can be replicated from its alternative locations to other live machines to bring the replication factor back to the normal level. (See “Data Integrity” for more on guarding against corrupt data.) Similarly, some applications may choose to set a high replication factor for the blocks in a popular file to spread the read load on the cluster.

Like its disk filesystem cousin, HDFS’s fsck command understands blocks. For example, running:

Namenodes and Datanodes

An HDFS cluster has two types of node operating in a master-worker pattern: a namenode (the master) and a number of datanodes (workers). The namenode manages the filesystem namespace. It maintains the filesystem tree and the metadata for all the files and directories in the tree. This information is stored persistently on the local disk in the form of two files: the namespace image and the edit log. The namenode also knows the datanodes on which all the blocks for a given file are located, however, it does not store block locations persistently, since this information is reconstructed from datanodes when the system starts.

A client accesses the filesystem on behalf of the user by communicating with the namenode and datanodes. The client presents a POSIX-like filesystem interface, so the user code does not need to know about the namenode and datanode to function.

Datanodes are the workhorses of the filesystem. They store and retrieve blocks when they are told to (by clients or the namenode), and they report back to the namenode periodically with lists of blocks that they are storing.

Without the namenode, the filesystem cannot be used. In fact, if the machine running the namenode were obliterated, all the files on the filesystem would be lost since there would be no way of knowing how to reconstruct the files from the blocks on the datanodes. For this reason, it is important to make the namenode resilient to failure, and Hadoop provides two mechanisms for this.

The first way is to back up the files that make up the persistent state of the filesystem metadata. Hadoop can be configured so that the namenode writes its persistent state to multiple filesystems. These writes are synchronous and atomic. The usual configuration choice is to write to local disk as well as a remote NFS mount.

It is also possible to run a secondary namenode, which despite its name does not act as a namenode. Its main role is to periodically merge the namespace image with the edit log to prevent the edit log from becoming too large. The secondary namenode usually runs on a separate physical machine, since it requires plenty of CPU and as much memory as the namenode to perform the merge. It keeps a copy of the merged namespace image, which can be used in the event of the namenode failing. However, the state of the secondary namenode lags that of the primary, so in the event of total failure of the primary, data loss is almost certain. The usual course of action in this case is to copy the namenode’s metadata files that are on NFS to the secondary and run it as the new primary.

See “The filesystem image and edit log” for more details

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