NILFS or NILFS2 (New Implementation of a Log-structured File System) is a log-structured file system implementation for the Linux kernel. It is being developed by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) CyberSpace Laboratories and a community from all over the world. NILFS was released under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL).

Developer(s)Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Cyber Space Laboratories
Full nameNew Implementation of a Log-structured File System
Introduced2005 with Linux kernel 2.6.13
File allocationB-tree
Max. volume size8 EiB
Max. file size8 EiB
Max. filename length255 bytes
Supported operating systemsLinux kernel, (ReadOnly for NetBSD)


"NILFS is a log-structured filesystem, in that the storage medium is treated like a circular buffer and new blocks are always written to the end.[…]Log-structured filesystems are often used for flash media since they will naturally perform wear-leveling;[…]NILFS emphasizes snapshots. The log-structured approach is a specific form of copy-on-write behavior, so it naturally lends itself to the creation of filesystem snapshots. The NILFS developers talk about the creation of "continuous snapshots" which can be used to recover from user-initiated filesystem problems[…]."[1]

Using a copy-on-write technique known as "nothing in life is free", NILFS records all data in a continuous log-like format that is only appended to, never overwritten, an approach that is designed to reduce seek times, as well as minimize the kind of data loss that occurs after a crash with conventional file systems. For example, data loss occurs on ext3 file systems when the system crashes during a write operation. When the system reboots, the journal notes that the write did not complete, and any partial data writes are lost.

Some file systems, like UFS-derived file systems used by the Solaris operating system and BSDs, provide a snapshot feature that prevents such data loss, but the snapshot configuration can be lengthy on large file systems. NILFS, in contrast, can "continuously and automatically [save] instantaneous states of the file system without interrupting service", according to NTT Labs.[2]

The "instantaneous states" that NILFS continuously saves can actually be mounted, read-only, at the same time that the actual file system is mounted read-write — a capability useful for data recovery after hardware failures and other system crashes. The "lscp" (list checkpoint) command of an interactive NILFS "inspect" utility is first used to find the checkpoint's address, in this case "2048":

# inspect /dev/sda2
nilfs> listcp
   1     6 Tue Jul 12 14:55:57 2005 MajorCP|LogiBegin|LogiEnd
2048  2352 Tue Jul 12 14:55:58 2005 MajorCP|LogiEnd
nilfs> quit

The checkpoint address is then used to mount the checkpoint:

# mount -t nilfs -r -o cp=2048 /dev/sda2 /nilfs-cp
# df
Filesystem           1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/sda2             70332412   8044540  62283776  12% /nilfs
/dev/sda2             70332412   8044540  62283776  12% /nilfs-cp


NILFS provides continuous snapshotting. In addition to versioning capability of the entire file system, users can even restore files mistakenly overwritten or deleted at any recent time. Since NILFS can keep consistency like conventional LFS, it achieves quick recovery after system crashes.

NILFS creates a number of checkpoints every few seconds or per synchronous write basis (unless there is no change). Users can select significant versions among continuously created checkpoints, and can change them into snapshots which will be preserved until they are changed back to checkpoints.

There is no limit on the number of snapshots until the volume gets full. Each snapshot is mountable as a read-only file system. It is mountable concurrently with a writable mount and other snapshots, and this feature is convenient to make consistent backups during use.

Possible uses of NILFS include versioning, tamper detection, SOX compliance logging, data loss recovery.

The current major version of NILFS is version 2, which is referred to as NILFS2. NILFS2 implements online garbage collection to reclaim disk space with keeping multiple snapshots.

Other NILFS features include:

  • B-tree based file and inode management.
  • Immediate recovery after system crash.
  • 64-bit data structures; support many files, large files and disks.
  • 64-bit on-disk timestamps which are free of the year 2038 problem.
  • Loadable kernel module; no recompilation of the kernel is required.

Current Status

Supported Features

  • Basic POSIX file system features
  • Snapshots
    • Automatically and continuously taken
    • No limit on the number of snapshots until the volume gets full
    • Mountable as read-only file systems
    • Mountable concurrently with the writable mount (convenient to make consistent backups during use)
    • Quick listing
  • Background Garbage Collection
    • Can maintain multiple snapshots
    • Selectable GC Policy, which is given by a userland daemon.
  • Quick crash recovery on-mount
  • Read-ahead for meta data files as well as data files
  • Block sizes smaller than page size (e.g. 1KB or 2KB)
  • Redundant super block
  • Online resizing (since Linux-3.x and nilfs-utils 2.1)
  • Related utilities (by contribution of Jiro SEKIBA)
    • grub2
    • util-linux (blkid, libblkid, uuid mount)
    • udisks, palimpsest
    • Filesystem label (nilfs-tune)

Additional features

  • Fast write and recovery times
  • Minimal damage to file data and system consistency on hardware failure
    • 32-bit checksums (CRC32) on data and metadata for integrity assurance (per block group, in segment summary) [3] [4]
    • Correctly ordered data and meta-data writes
    • Redundant superblock
  • Internal data is processed in 64-bit wide word size
  • Can create and store huge files (8 EiB)

OS Compatibility

Distribution Description
Debian NILFS is available in Debian 5.0 and later.
Ubuntu NILFS is available in Ubuntu 9.10 and later.
CentOS x86 and x86_64 for CentOS 6 and x86_64 for Centos 7 are available on .
Fedora Building and installing nilfs-utils-2.1 is required in order to use NILFS in Fedora 14~16. For Fedora 15 and later, user also needs to build NILFS2 kernel module with explained steps.
openSUSE i586 and x86_64 for openSUSE and SUSE Linux Enterprise are available on openSUSE Build Service.
Gentoo NILFS is available in Gentoo Linux. A boot-cd with NILFS is available on PrRescue
Arch Linux NILFS is available in Arch Linux.
Linux Mint NILFS is available in Linux Mint.
NixOS NILFS is available in NixOS.
  • NILFS was merged into the Linux kernel 2.6.30.[5]
  • On distributions where NILFS is available out-of-the-box, the user needs to download the nilfs-utils package, following the instructions from .

A separate, BSD licensed implementation, currently with read-only support, is included in NetBSD.[6]

Relative Performance

In the January 2015 presentation SD cards and filesystems for embedded systems at, it was stated:[7]


The NILFS2 filesystem utilities are made available under the GNU Public License version 2, with the exception of the lib/nilfs libraries and their header files, which are made available under the GNU Lesser General Public License Version 2.1.


The Japanese primary authors and major contributors to the nilfs-utils who worked or are working at labs of NTT Corporation are:

  • Ryusuke Konishi (Primary maintainer, 02/2008-Present)
  • Koji Sato
  • Naruhiko Kamimura
  • Seiji Kihara
  • Yoshiji Amagai
  • Hisashi Hifumi and
  • Satoshi Moriai.

Other major contributors are:

  • Andreas Rohner [8]
  • Dan McGee
  • David Arendt
  • David Smid
  • dexen deVries
  • Dmitry Smirnov
  • Eric Sandeen
  • Jiro SEKIBA
  • Matteo Frigo
  • Hitoshi Mitake
  • Takashi Iwai
  • Vyacheslav Dubeyko

See also



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