Using Btrfs with Multiple Devices

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Multiple devices

A Btrfs filesystem can be created on top of many devices, and more devices can be added after the FS has been created.

By default, metadata will be mirrored across two devices and data will be striped across all of the devices present.

If only one device is present, metadata will be duplicated on that one device.

Current status

Btrfs can add and remove devices online, and freely convert between RAID levels after the FS has been created.

Btrfs supports raid0, raid1, raid10, raid5 and raid6 (but see the section below about raid5/6), and it can also duplicate metadata on a single spindle. When blocks are read in, checksums are verified. If there are any errors, Btrfs tries to read from an alternate copy and will repair the broken copy if the alternative copy succeeds.

See the Gotchas page for some current issues when using btrfs with multiple volumes of differing sizes in a RAID1 style setup.

Raid 5 and Raid6

Please read the parity RAID status page first: RAID56.

Filesystem creation

mkfs.btrfs will accept more than one device on the command line. It has options to control the raid configuration for data (-d) and metadata (-m). Valid choices are raid0, raid1, raid10 and single. The option -m single means that no duplication of metadata is done, which may be desired when using hardware raid.

Raid10 requires at least 4 devices.

# Create a filesystem across four drives (metadata mirrored, linear data allocation)
mkfs.btrfs /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd /dev/sde

# Stripe the data without mirroring
mkfs.btrfs -d raid0 /dev/sdb /dev/sdc

# Use raid10 for both data and metadata
mkfs.btrfs -m raid10 -d raid10 /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd /dev/sde

# Don't duplicate metadata on a single drive (default on single SSDs)
mkfs.btrfs -m single /dev/sdb

When you have drives with differing sizes and want to use the full capacity of each drive, you have to use the single profile for the data blocks, rather than raid0.

# Use full capacity of multiple drives with different sizes (metadata mirrored, data not mirrored and not striped)
mkfs.btrfs -d single /dev/sdb /dev/sdc

Once you create a multi-device filesystem, you can use any device in the FS for the mount command:

mkfs.btrfs /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sde
mount /dev/sde /mnt

If you want to mount a multi-device filesystem using a loopback device, it's not sufficient to use mount -o loop. Instead, you'll have to set up the loopbacks manually:

# Create and mount a filesystem made of several disk images
mkfs.btrfs img0 img1 img2
losetup /dev/loop0 img0
losetup /dev/loop1 img1
losetup /dev/loop2 img2
mount /dev/loop0 /mnt/btrfs

After a reboot or reloading the btrfs module, you'll need to use btrfs device scan to discover all multi-device filesystems on the machine (see below)

The UseCases page gives a few quick recipes for filesystem creation.

Device scanning

btrfs device scan is used to scan all of the block devices under /dev and probe for Btrfs volumes. This is required after loading the btrfs module if you're running with more than one device in a filesystem.

# Scan all devices
btrfs device scan

# Scan a single device
btrfs device scan /dev/sdb

btrfs filesystem show will print information about all of the btrfs filesystems on the machine.

Adding new devices

btrfs filesystem show gives you a list of all the btrfs filesystems on the systems and which devices they include.

btrfs device add is used to add new devices to a mounted filesystem.

btrfs filesystem balance can balance (restripe) the allocated extents across all of the existing devices. For example, with an existing filesystem mounted at /mnt, you can add the device /dev/sdc to it with:

btrfs device add /dev/sdc /mnt

At this point we have a filesystem with two devices, but all of the metadata and data are still stored on the original device(s). The filesystem must be balanced to spread the files across all of the devices.

btrfs filesystem balance /mnt

The balance operation will take some time. It reads in all of the FS data and metadata and rewrites it across all the available devices.


A non-raid filesystem is converted to raid by adding a device and running a balance filter that will change the chunk allocation profile.

For example, to convert an existing single device system (/dev/sdb1) into a 2 device raid1 (to protect against a single disk failure):

mount /dev/sdb1 /mnt
btrfs device add /dev/sdc1 /mnt
btrfs balance start -dconvert=raid1 -mconvert=raid1 /mnt

If the metadata is not converted from the single-device default, it remains as DUP, which does not guarantee that copies of block are on separate devices. If data is not converted it does not have any redundant copies at all.

Removing devices

btrfs device delete is used to remove devices online. It redistributes the any extents in use on the device being removed to the other devices in the filesystem. Example:

mkfs.btrfs /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd /dev/sde
mount /dev/sdb /mnt
# Put some data on the filesystem here
btrfs device delete /dev/sdc /mnt

Replacing failed devices

The example above can be used to remove a failed device if the super block can still be read. But, if a device is missing or the super block has been corrupted, the filesystem will need to be mounted in degraded mode:

mkfs.btrfs -m raid1 /dev/sdb /dev/sdc /dev/sdd /dev/sde
# sdd is destroyed or removed, use -o degraded to force the mount
# to ignore missing devices
mount -o degraded /dev/sdb /mnt
# 'missing' is a special device name
btrfs device delete missing /mnt

btrfs device delete missing tells btrfs to remove the first device that is described by the filesystem metadata but not present when the FS was mounted.

In case of raidXX layout, you cannot go below the minimum number of the device required. So before removing a device (even the missing one) you may need to add a new one. For example if you have a raid1 layout with two device, and a device fails, you must:

  • mount in degraded mode
  • add a new device
  • remove the missing device

Registration in /etc/fstab

If you don't have an initrd, or your initrd doesn't perform a btrfs device scan, you can still mount a multi-volume btrfs filesystem by passing all the devices in the filesystem explicitly to the mount command. A suitable /etc/fstab entry would be:

/dev/sdb     /mnt    btrfs    device=/dev/sdb,device=/dev/sdc,device=/dev/sdd,device=/dev/sde    0 0
Using device is not recommended, as it is sensitive to device names changing. You should really be using a initramfs. Most modern distributions will do this for you automatically if you install their own btrfs-progs package.

Using device=PARTUUID=... with GPT partition UUIDs would also work and be less fragile. All these options can also be set from the kernel command line, through root=/fstype=/rootflags=.

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