Which partitions can safely use softupdates? I have heard that softupdates on / can cause problems.

Short answer: you can usually use softupdates safely on all partitions.

Long answer: There used to be some concern over using softupdates on the root partition. Softupdates has two characteristics that caused this. First, a softupdates partition has a small chance of losing data during a system crash. (The partition will not be corrupted; the data will simply be lost.) Also, softupdates can cause temporary space shortages.

When using softupdates, the kernel can take up to thirty seconds to actually write changes to the physical disk. If you delete a large file, the file still resides on disk until the kernel actually performs the deletion. This can cause a very simple race condition. Suppose you delete one large file and immediately create another large file. The first large file is not yet actually removed from the physical disk, so the disk might not have enough room for the second large file. You get an error that the partition does not have enough space, although you know perfectly well that you just released a large chunk of space! When you try again mere seconds later, the file creation works as you expect. This has left more than one user scratching his head and doubting his sanity, the FreeBSD filesystem, or both.

If a system should crash after the kernel accepts a chunk of data for writing to disk, but before that data is actually written out, data could be lost or corrupted. This risk is extremely small, but generally manageable. Use of IDE write caching greatly increases this risk; it is strongly recommended that you disable IDE write caching when using softupdates.

These issues affect all partitions using softupdates. So, what does this mean for the root partition?

Vital information on the root partition changes very rarely. Files such as /kernel and the contents of /etc only change during system maintenance, or when users change their passwords. If the system crashed during the thirty-second window after such a change is made, it is possible that data could be lost. This risk is negligible for most applications, but you should be aware that it exists. If your system cannot tolerate this much risk, do not use softupdates on the root filesystem!

/ is traditionally one of the smallest partitions. By default, FreeBSD puts the /tmp directory on /. If you have a busy /tmp, you might see intermittent space problems. Symlinking /tmp to /var/tmp will solve this problem.

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