Monthly Archives: May 2015

libblockdev reaches the 1.0 milestone!

A year ago, I started working on a new storage library for low-level operations with various types of block devices — libblockdev. Today, I’m happy to announce that the library reached the 1.0 milestone which means that it covers all the functionality that has been stated in the initial goals and it’s going to keep the API stable.

A little bit of a background

Are you asking the question: "Why yet another code implementing what’s already been implemented in many other places?" That’s, of course, a very good and probably crucial question. The answer is that I and people who were at the birth of the idea think that this is for the first time such thing is implemented in a way that it is usable for a wide range of tools, applications, libraries, etc. Let’s start with the requirements every widely usable implementation should meet:

  1. it should be written in C so that it is usable for code written in low-level languages
  2. it should be a library as DBus is not usable together with chroot() and things like that and running subprocesses is suboptimal (slow, eating lot of random data entropy, need to parse the output, etc.)
  3. it should provide bindings for as many languages as possible, in particular the widely used high-level languages like Python, Ruby, etc.
  4. it shouldn’t be a single monolithic piece required by every user code no matter how much of the library it actually needs
  5. it should have a stable API
  6. it should support all major storage technologies (LVM, MD RAID, BTRFS, LUKS,…)

If we take the candidates potentially covering the low-level operations with blockdev devices — Blivet, ssm and udisks2 (now being replaced by storaged) — we can easily come to a conclusion that none of them meets the requirements above. Blivet 1 covers the functionality in a great way, but it’s written in Python and thus hardly usable from code written in other languages. The same applies to ssm 2 is also written in Python, it’s an application and it doesn’t cover all the technologies (it doesn’t try to). udisks2 3 and now storaged 4 provide a DBus API and don’t provide for example functions related to BTRFS (and even LVM in case of udisks2).

The libblockdev library is:
  • written in C,
  • using GLib and providing bindings for all languages supporting GObject instrospection (Python, Perl, Ruby, Haskell*,…),
  • modular — using separate plugins for all technologies (LVM, Btrfs,…),
  • covering all technologies Blivet supports 5 plus some more,

by which it fulfills all the requirements mentioned above. It’s only a wish, but a strong one, that every new piece of code written for low-level manipulation with block devices 6, should be written as part of the libblockdev library, tested and reused in as many places as possible instead of writing it again and again in many, many places with new, old, weird and surprising and custom bugs.


As mentioned above, the library loads plugins that provide the functionality, each related to one storage technology. Right now, there are lvm, btrfs, swap, loop, crypto, mpath, dm, mdraid, kbd and s390 plugins. 7 The library itself basically only provides a thin wrapper around its plugins so that it can all be easily used via GObject introspection and so that it is easy to setup logging (and probably more in the future). However, each of the plugins can be used as a standalone shared library in case that’s desired. The plugins are loaded when the bd_init() function is called 8 and changes (loading more/less plugins) can later be done with the bd_reinit() function. It is also possible to reload a plugin in a long-running process if it gets updated, for example. If a function provided by a plugin that was not loaded is called, the call fails with an error, but doesn’t crash and thus it is up to the caller code to deal with such situation.

The libblockdev library is stateless from the perspective of the block device manipulations. I.e., it has some internal state (like tracking if the library has been initialized or not), but it doesn’t hold any state information about the block devices. So if you e.g. use it to create some LVM volume groups and then try to create a logical volume in a different, non-existing VG, it just fails creating it at the point where LVM realizes that such volume group doesn’t exist. That makes the library a lot simpler and "almost thread-safe" with the word "almost" being there just because some of the technologies doesn’t provide any other API than running various utilities as subprocesses which cannot generally be considered thread-safe. 9

Scope (provided functionality)

The first goal for the library was to replace the Blivet’s devicelibs subpackage that provided all the low-level functions for manipulations with block devices. That fact also defined the original scope of the library. Later, we realized that we would like to add the LVM cache and bcache support to Blivet and the scope of the library got extended to the current state. The supported technologies are defined by the list of plugins the library uses (see above) and the full list of the functions can be seen either in the project’s features.rst file or by browsing the documentation.

Tests and reliability

Right now, there are 135 tests run manually and by a Jenkins instance hooked up to the project’s Git repository. The tests use loop devices to test vast majority of the functions the library provides 10. They must be run as root, but that’s unavoidable if they should really test the functionality and not just some mocked up stubs that we would believe behave like a real system.

The library is used by Fedora 22’s installation process as F22’s Blivet has been ported to use libblockdev before the Beta release. There have been few bugs reported against the library (majority of them were related to FW RAID setups) with all bugs being fixed and covered by tests for those particular use cases (based on data gathered from the logs in bug reports).

Future plans

Although the initial goals are all covered by the version 1.0 of the library there are already many suggestions for additional functionality and also extensions for some of the functions that are already implemented (extra arguments, etc.). The most important goal for the near future is to fix reported bugs in the current version and promote the library as much as possible so that the wish mentioned above gets fulfilled. The plan for a bit further future (let’s say 6-8 months) is to work on additional functionality targetting version 2.0 that will break the API for the purpose of extending and improving it.

To be more concrete, for example one of the planned new plugins is the fs plugin that will provide various functions related to file systems. One of such functions will definitely be the mkfs() function that will take a list (or dictionary) of extra options passed to the particular mkfs utility on top of the options constructed by the implementation of the function. The reason for that is the fact that some file systems support many configuration options during their creation and it would be cumbersome to cover them all with function parameters. In relation to that, at least some (if not all) of the LVM functions will also get such extra argument so that they are useful even in very specific use cases that require fine-tuning of the parameters not covered by functions’ arguments.

Another potential feature is to add some clever and nice way of progress reporting to some functions that are expected to take a lot of time to finish –like lvresize(), pvmove(), resizefs() and others. It’s not always possible to track the progress because even the underlying tools/libraries don’t report it, but where possible, libblockdev should be able to pass that information to its callers ideally in some unified way.

So a lot of work behind, much more ahead. It’s a challenging world, but I like taking challenges.

  1. a python package used by the Anaconda installer as a storage backend

  2. System Storage Manager

  3. daemon used by e.g. gnome-disks and the whole GNOME "storage stack"

  4. a fork of udisks2 adding an LVM API and being actively developed

  5. the first goal for the library was to replace Blivet’s devicelibs subpackage

  6. at higher than the most low-level layers, of course

  7. I hope that with the exception of kbd which stands for Kernel Block Devices the related technologies are clear, but don’t hesitate to ask in the comments if not.

  8. or e.g. BlockDev.init(plugins) in Python over the GObject introspection

  9. use Google and "fork shared library" for further reading

  10. 119 out of 132 to be more precise

Snakes++: Anaconda goes Python 3

Anaconda is the OS installer used by Fedora and RHEL GNU/Linux
distributions and all their derivatives. It’s written in the Python programming
language and many people say it’s one of the biggest and most complex pieces of
software written in this dynamic programming language. At the same time it is
one oldest big Python projects. [1]

[1] the first commit in Anaconda’s git repository is from Apr 24 1999, but
that’s the beginning of the GUI code being developed so the core actually
predates even these "IT-old times"

Fedora, Anaconda, Python 3

Over the time, the Python language has been evolving and so has been Anaconda’s
codebase getting not only new features and bug fixes, but also code improvements
using new language features. [2] Such evolution have been happening in small
steps over the time, but in recent years the community around the Python
language have been slowly migrating to a new backwards-incompatible version of
the language — Python 3. Python 3 is the version of Python that will get
future improvements and generally the vast majority of focus and work. There
will only be bugfixes for Python 2 in the future. [3] Users of Fedora may have
noticed that there was a proposal for a major Python 3 as Default change that
suggested migrating core components (more or less everything that’s available on
a live media) to Python 3 for Fedora 22. Since some developers and partially
also QA ignored it (intentionally or not), the deadline was missed and the
change was postponed to Fedora 23. And together with this Anaconda’s deadline
for the "Python 3 switch" (see below) was postponed to the time when Fedora 22
gets released as we identified three key facts during the discussions about the
original feature proposal (for F22):

  1. no matter how much the target is clear, people ignore it if things are not broken (at which point they start complaining :-P)
  2. it’s hard and inefficient to maintain both Python 2 and Python 3 versions of such big project as anaconda is
  3. QA has not enough capacity to test both versions and thus switching between them during the release would make things broken moving the whole process at least few weeks back
[2] an interesting fact is that the beginning of history of the Anaconda’s
sources predate the existence of True and False (boolean) values
in Python

"Python 3 only" vs. "Python 2/3 compa­tible"

Python 3 is a major step and making some code compatible with both Python 2 and
Python 3 usually requires adding if s checking which version of Python the
code is run in and doing one or another thing based on such check. There is a
very useful module called six [5] that provides many functions, lists and
checks that hide the if s, but even when using this module, the code gets
more complicated, worse readable and harder to debug (and thus maintain) by
making it Python 2/3 compatible. While for libraries (or more precisely python
packages), it is worth it as it makes them usable for a wider variety of user
code, for applications written in Python 2, it is easier and in many ways better
to just switch to Python 3.


For the reasons described above the Red Hat’s Installer team as the group of
Anaconda’s developers and maintainers decided to make all their libraries Python
2/3 compatible and to move Anaconda to Python 3. The only exception is the
pyblock (CPython) library that was developed in 2005 to provide quite a wide
range of functionality (not only) for the Anaconda installer, but which has been
over time getting more and more replaced by other libraries, utilities and other
means and become only used by the installer. Thus instead of porting the whole
library to Python 3 we decided to drop it and implement the few required
functions in the (new) libblockdev library [6] that was being born at that

[6] using GLib and GObject introspection as shown in some of my other
posts and thus being both Python 2 and Python 3 compatible

Yum vs. DNF

Not everything used by the Anaconda installer is, of course, developed and
maintained by the Installer team. There were few "external" python libraries
that were required to be made Python 2/3 compatible and then there was Yum,
used by Anaconda for one of the key things — package installation. Yum is
usually used as the yum utility, but it is also a Python package which is
the way Anaconda has been making use of it. However, Yum has been being slowly
replaced by a new project called DNF that started as a fork of Yum and that
has been replacing Yum code with either new code or calls to newly born (C)
libraries. It has been decided that Yum will never get the Python 3 support as
it will stay in the maintainance mode with new features and development being
focused on DNF. A result for Anaconda was that with the switch to Python 3 it
will also have to say "good bye" to Yum and use DNF instead. Fortunately, the
author and first maintainer of DNF — Aleš Kozumplík — gave his former team
great help and wrote the vast majority of the Anaconda’s DNFPayload
class. Still, the switch from Yum to DNF [7] in the installer was expected to
be a problematic thing and was one of the "official reasons" why the switch to
Python 3 was postponed to Fedora 23. [8]

[7] by default (previously only activated by the inst.dnf=1 boot option
[8] although so far the DNFPayload seems to be working great with only
few smaller (non-key) features being missing and added over time and
being the default for Fedora 22 (with inst.nodnf turning it off)

We need you

As can be seen from the above there are lots of things behing something that
might look like "just a switch to a newer version of Python". And where there is
lot of stuff behing something there’s also a lot of stuff that can go wrong. Be
it the Anaconda’s code (no, the 2to3 utility really doesn’t do it all
magically) or any of the libraries it uses, there is quite a lot to test and
check. That’s why we decided to give us a head start and did the switch to
Python 3 in a separate branch of the project using Copr to do unofficial
builds and composes. [9] At first, we had only been creating Rawhide composes,
but that turned out to be not enough as we spent the same time hitting and
debugging Python 3 related issues as with unrelated Rawhide issues. That’s why
we decided to spent extra time on it, ported the f22-branch code to Python 3
and started creating F22 Python 3 composes that are stable and do not suffer
with issues caused by unstable Rawhide packages.

The images are at
and we would like to encourage everybody having some free "testing time" to
download and test them by doing various more or less weird Fedora 22
installations. Please report issues at Anaconda’s GitHub project page and if
you have a patch, please a submit pull requests against our development

Last but not least, big THANKS for any help!