I recently formatted my /home partition using BTRFS, but since it was my first touch with this FS, I didn't know about sub-volumes.

Yesterday I reinstalled my Linux Mint and selected to mount my existing home partition as /home. Now I was surprised, that my files first seemed to be lost, but then I noticed that Linux Mint created a sub-volume called @home next to my existing user home folder.

Current situation is the following disk layout: 250 GiB SSD -- 64 GiB / (BTRFS) -- 8 GiB swap -- ~170 GiB /home (BTRFS)

When I try to move my home folder into the @home sub-volume, I get the error that there isn't enough space left (?!) although there's ~50 GiB left on this partition and I want to move, and not to copy the files. I haven't any other disk right now that I could reformat to any non-NTFS format, which would be required to keep any symlinks..

Now I got the question: How to move the files from the folder into the sub-volume correctly? And why doesn't moving the files work?

  • 1
    Can you please paste the logs of mount and df -h command?
    – Thushi
    Jul 11 '17 at 13:49

You can attempt a COW (copy-on-write) copy with cp -a --reflink=always /home/<whatever> /home/@home/. It's a true copy as far as the Linux VFS (virtual filesystem) is concerned, but within BTRFS the files would share the same blocks/extends so no additional space is required until you modify the files.

If the copy succeeds, modify /etc/fstab to mount the subvolume instead of the whole filesystem:

/dev/sdXn    /home    btrfs    subvol=@home

Then, reboot. If all is well, you can remove the original files:

mount /dev/sdXn /mnt
pushd /mnt
rm -fR <whatever>
umount /mnt

Of course, you should have backups before attempting any of this.


Once everything is good, please read the BTRFS wiki, in particular all the articles under the Guides and Usage Information. BTRFS is pretty neat and all, but it doesn't work like your traditional Linux filesystems (extN, ReiserFS, etc.). It's not one of those things one can jump into and just figure out as you go. To use BTRFS well, you gotta know what you're doing. And reading the documentation is the best way to do that.

I happen to love BTRFS, and I hope you enjoy it as well.

  • Thanks! The --reflinks=always parameter did the magic :) Thought, that BTRFS automatically creates these references when using cp. Might it be ok to alias cp with "cp --reflinks=always"?
    – RootTutGut
    Jul 13 '17 at 21:32
  • Check out this question: unix.stackexchange.com/questions/80351/… Jul 14 '17 at 2:07

In case someone else also tries to use mv to move data between sub-volumes, which according to https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/152639/81744 sounds like it should work / be fast (reflinks should be the default mode for mv since coreutils 8.24): My practical test with coreutils-8.29 on linux-4.14.15-arch shows that copies are being created instead of file system internal links (df shows the file system size increasing, which appears odd for mv, especially with reflinks).

Thus https://unix.stackexchange.com/a/377734/81744 continues to be the correct answer, even with newer versions of coreutils, which should default to reflinks for mv.

(I would have commented on the currently best answer to add this information, but I would need 50 reputation for that, which I don't yet have.)

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