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Is a journaling filesystem needed in today's desktop world?

A good OS doesn't kernel panic every month, and if we are using a laptop, then there aren't any power outages, so why shouldn't we use ext2 as the standard filesystem on a desktop or laptop?

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Also, I remember thinking that a linux box with ext2 just flew through file reads and writes in comparison to whatever I had at the time, probably a NeXT slab. Does ext3/4 add a lot of overhead, or are they faster? – Bruce Ediger Sep 11 '11 at 2:14
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Hardware can still randomly glitch or fail from time-to-time. There are so many components involved in writing a file to storage - CPU, RAM, HDD, I/O BUS, etc. It's not just power-outages or reboots that can cause file-system corruption.

That said, it's still okay to use EXT2, just don't complain if something goes wrong. I would only use it for non-critical things like transporting data on a USB stick.

For my critical data, I use data mirroring on top of EXT3/4.

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to be honest, i wouldn't like to use a filesystem such as ext2 on a usb drive, as it's very likely to be yanked out while mounted or writing. – Sirex Sep 16 '11 at 12:17
but that's okay, as long as the data is non-critical. the original copies are still somewhere else. and don't yank it out! – sybreon Sep 17 '11 at 2:07

There are many other advantageous features of ext3 and ext4 over ext2, other than journaling. If you are sure that your kernel won't crash, and you won't loose power, then you may choose to disable the journal, which you can do with ext4 and still keep the other benefits, rather than go back to ext2. The journal doesn't cost much though, so generally isn't worth the bother and risk to disable.

The other advantages ext4 without a journal has over ext2 include:

  1. Online expansion of the fs
  2. Faster mkfs time, especially on very large filesystems
  3. Faster fsck times, which is nice if you do crash and have to do so
  4. Faster handling of very large directories
  5. More efficient handling of large files
  6. Better block allocation algorithms ( less fragmentation )
  7. Online file defragmentation
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  • I would not blindly rely on what you call good OS that doesn't do kernel panic in each month. The fact is, as systems grow and become more and more complex, there will always be times when some new bugs make their way to the mainline. And I believe this is true for any type of OS or program. Linux may have great stability reputation (as Linus' law about bugs suggests), but still it is a matter of "sooner or later".

  • Don't just assume that only a critical bug that triggers kernel panic can lead to a crash between actions like 1 and 2 described here. You might not even know that a corruption occurred and was fixed by fsck at boot time thanks to the journal. Worse than this, you might not now that your non-journaling file system got corrupted until at some point in time some program starts to crash because of that.

  • Look at Comparison of file systems - there is a reason why even the latest file system types use some form of journaling or equivalent safety mechanism, don't you think? And that all "normal" distros use it by default.

In other words: sure, you can try to be smarter than filesystem and linux distribution developers or just test how far you can go without features like journaling - but be ready not to cry when at some point things do go bad.

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