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Considering rsync used for incremental OS backup creates hardlink farms for all non-differing files, if I use it to backup a large, slowly-changing system regularly to a dedicated volume, I'm worried I'll run out of inodes for the hardlinks ages before I run out of diskspace.

Would it be better to tinker with mke2fs parameters and increase number(density) of inodes for such a disk, or is the default sufficient for backing up typical 'desktop Linux' with a good multimedia library... or maybe a different FS than ext3 would be better?

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A hardlink is by definition a link to an inode. Multiple hardlinks to an inode hence do not need additional inodes...

The only thing that will increase inode usage is that for each "generation" the directory tree itself will be duplicated, so for each directory in each generation an additional inode will be needed, whether files are changed or not. That said, in my experience the default inode allocation is sufficient for an incremental rsync backup system (I use dirvish to automate the backups). Certainly as you're talking about multimedia then the average file size will be larger than what the default inode allocation takes into account.

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