[TUHS] RFS was: Re: UNIX of choice these days?

Bakul Shah bakul at bitblocks.com
Fri Sep 29 06:00:42 AEST 2017

> On Sep 28, 2017, at 7:07 AM, Larry McVoy <lm at mcvoy.com> wrote:
> On Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 07:49:17AM -0600, arnold at skeeve.com wrote:
>> Kevin Bowling <kevin.bowling at kev009.com> wrote:
>>> I guess alternatively, what was interesting or neat, about RFS, if
>>> anything?  And what was bad?
>> Good: Stateful implementation, remote devices worked.
> I'd argue that stateful is really hard to get right when machines panic
> or reboot.  Maybe you can do it on the client but how does one save all
> that state on the server when the server crashes?
> NFS seems simple in hindsight but like a lot of things, getting to that
> simple wasn't chance, it was designed to be stateless because nobody
> had a way to save the state in any reasonable way.

I have some first hand experience with this.... in 1984.

Valid Logic Systems Inc, an early VLSI design vendor hired me
as a contractor to fix bugs in this funky ethernet driver they
had (from Lucas films, IIRC) that did some remote file
operations. I proposed that instead I do a "proper" networked
file system and to my amazement they agreed to let me build a   
I first built an RPC layer (ethertype 1600 -- see RFC 1700!)
and then EFS (extended FS) that allowed access to remote 
files.  Being a one man team I punted on generality. Just
hand-built separate marshall/unmarshall function for each
remote procedure.  No mounts. Every node's FS was visible to
everyone else (subject to Unix permissions). /net/ path prefix
was for remote files.
All this took about 2-3 months. Performance was decent for a
1984 era workstation. Encouraged by the progress I suggested
we add in missing functionality such as the ability to chdir 
to a remote dir etc. Yes, state! And complications!
On bootup every node advertized its presence & a "generation"
number (incremented by 1 from the last gen) so that other
nodes can drop old outstanding state -- not unlike a disk 
dying but still messy to clean things up. Next had to make
scheduling priority for remote operations to be interruptible.
People didn't like "cd /net/foo" hanging indefinitely! unlink
and mv were a problem (machine A wouldn't know if machine B    
did this). rm was easy to fix -- just add a refcount for every
remote machine with an open. mv not so. I don't think I ever
solved this. Local FS read/write are atomic so I tried very
hard to make the remote read/writes atomic as well. This can
get interesting in presence of a node crashing....
At about this time, Sun gave a presentation on NFS to Valid.
I suspect Valid also realized that doing this properly was
a much bigger than a one man project. Result: they terminated
the project. It was a fun project while it lasted. The fact
this much was done was thanks to a lot of invaluable help
from my friend Jamie Markevitch (also a contractor @ Valid
at that point).

At the time I thought all of these stateful problems were
solvable given more time but now I am not so sure. But as
a result of that belief I never really liked NFS. I felt
they took the easy way out.

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