Could I get ZFS to work properly in Linux?

Are there any caveats / limitations?


ZFS is not in the official Linux kernel, and never will be unless Oracle relicenses the code under something compatible with the GPL.

This incompatibility is disputed. The main arguments in favor of ZFS being allowed on Linux systems revolve around the so-called "arm's length" rule. That rule applies in this case only if ZFS is provided as a separate module from the kernel, the two communicate only through published APIs, and both code bases can function independently of each other. The claim then is that neither code base's license taints the other because neither is a derived work of the other; they are independent, but cooperate. Nevertheless, even under this interpretation, it means the ZFS modules must still be shipped separately from the Linux kernel, which is how we see it being provided today by Ubuntu.

Quite separately from the CDDL vs GPL argument, NetApp claims they own patents on some technology used in ZFS. NetApp settled their lawsuit with Sun after the Oracle buyout, but that settlement doesn't protect any other Linux distributor. (Red Hat, Ubuntu, SuSE...)

As I see it, these are your alternatives:

  • Use btrfs instead, as it has similar features to ZFS but doesn't have the GPL license conflict and has been in the mainline kernel for testing since 2.6.29 (released in January 2009).

    The main problem with btrfs is that it's had a long history of problems with its RAID 5/6 functionality. These problems are being worked out, but each time one of these problems surfaces, it resets the "stability clock."

    Another concern is that Red Hat have indicated that the next release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux will not include btrfs.

  • One of the reasons Red Hat is taking that position on btrfs is that they have a plan to offer similar functionality using a different technology stack they are calling Stratis. Therefore, another option you have is to wait for Stratis to appear, with 1.0 scheduled for the first half of 2018, presumably to coincide with Red Hat Enterprise Linux 8.

  • Use a different OS for your file server (FreeBSD, say) and use NFS to connect it to your Linux boxes

  • Use ZFS on FUSE, a userspace implementation, which works neatly around the kernel licensing issue at the expense of a significant amount of performance

  • Integrate ZFS on Linux after installing the OS.

    The license conflict makes distributing the combined system outside your organization legally questionable. I am not a lawyer, but my sense is that, patent issues aside, distributing ZFS on Linux is about as worrisome as distributing non-GPL binary drivers (such as those for certain video cards) with the system. If one of these bothers you, the other should, too.

  • Switch to Ubuntu, which has been shipping ZFS kernel modules with the OS since 16.04. Canonical believes that it is legally safe to distribute the ZFS kernel module with the OS itself. You would have to decide whether you trust Canonical's opinion; consider also that they may not be willing to indemnify you if a legal issue comes up.

    Beware that it is not currently possible to boot from ZFS with Ubuntu without a whole lot of manual hackery.

Incidentally, btrfs is also backed by Oracle, but was started years before the Sun acquisition. I don't believe the two will ever merge, or one be deprecated in favor of the other due to the license conflict and patent issue. ZFS is too popular to go away, but there will continue to be demand for a ZFS alternative.

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    btrfs is way less mature than ZFS, which works excellently today, particularly on distributions like Nexenta which, with the Ubuntu/Debian style server-oriented userland, are more usable for those familiar with Linux (IMO). – Barry Kelly Aug 11 '10 at 5:06
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    shrug My ZFS adventure included a trip into Nexenta land, which I couldn't get running on a perfectly standard new PC I built for the purpose of testing out the ZFS options. I tried both the stable and the beta versions available at the time. FreeBSD ran on it just fine, so I went with that. – Warren Young Aug 11 '10 at 9:11
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    Frankly, between ZFS and DTrace, the licensing issue is something that I'm hoping will push more people to consider using FreeBSD. – gvkv Aug 11 '10 at 16:29
  • @gvkv, rather obscure, server-sysadmin oriented features won't ever win people over to *BSD. Linux is moving forward fast in areas that are relevant across the board: better graphics integration, isolation of processes, virtualization, and lately through systemd (which depends on Linux-only kernel features) much better management of daemons (and soon integrated handling of desktop environments). – vonbrand Mar 15 '13 at 16:21

Several answers here mention the Behlendorf ZFS port.

Keep in mind that the Behlendorf ZFS port is currently targeted towards Lustre users with extremely large filesystems. This is what Lawrence Livermore National Labs, the US Department of Energy and other research facilities need, because they run very large filesystems (100TB - multi-Petabyte systems in the near future). Lustre runs on Linux, and is running into problems when used for filesystems above certain sizes. Some people hope to solve this problem using ZFS, which is where zfsonlinux.org comes into play.

In order for ZFS to be useful for the rest of us, the ZPL (ZFS POSIX Layer) must be ported to Linux, so that administrators can interact with the filesystem. zfsonlinux.org has a development version of the ZPL, and KQ Infotech provides another implementation of the ZPL, which is a fork of the zfsonlinux.org code.

Behlendorf wants help to improve the ZPL and to merge in any changes from KQ Infotech into the zfsonlinux.org repository. If you can do this, the community will benefit greatly, and you will be a rockstar.


Oh yes, now you can! There is ZFS on Linux Project. ZFS has been successfully ported to multiple platforms and now there is a a functional Linux ZFS kernel port.

  • Use Ubuntu + Native ZFS for Linux PPA.
  • Use RPM-compatible distributive for example CentOS or OLE.
  • You can compile package by yourself from sources for your Linux distributive.

My real experience is using Ubuntu + Native ZFS - it working very stable from daily repositories.


I don't know how well they work, but there are two ports of ZFS available for Linux - a FUSE implementation and a in-kernel filesystem implementation.


You can with the FUSE version of ZFS. The limitation is that it runs as a userspace process.


I have set up ZFS Fuse on debian/lenny for my home NAS. I didn't encounter any problems or limitations. Search for ZFS on my blog for some more related posts.

I did try BTRFS first, but found that it simply wasn't ready yet. This was in february 2010.


ZFS Fuse indeed works.

CAVEAT: Make sure that the 'other' operating systems you'll use the drive for supports the same version the ZFS Fuse - BSD usually runs a couple of versions later than the Linux ones.

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