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Open source software provider Red Hat has announced that it will be deprecating the Btrfs filesystem and removing it in a future major release of its enterprise Linux operating system.

No technical reason has been given for the decision. Btrfs was originally developed at Oracle in 2007 by Chris Mason who is now at Facebook, having moved across in 2013.

"The Btrfs filesystem did receive numerous updates from the upstream in Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7.4 and will remain available in the Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 series. However, this is the last planned update to this feature," was all that the company said.

Btrfs is used by at least one commercial Linux, SUSE, as the default for the operating system partition; for all other use cases, SUSE uses the XFS filesystem.

Red Hat is by far the biggest open source software provider; last year the company crossed the US$2 billion revenue mark.


The decision to drop Btrfs appears to be based on the fact that Btrfs comes from Oracle originally; in the past the company has gone on the record stating that it wanted to make life difficult for two competitors – Oracle and Novell.

The latter is now a shell, operating as part of British mainframe company Micro Focus which acquired Novell and all its assets in 2014. Oracle, incidentally, uses Red Hat's Enterprise Linux after first removing the trademarks so as not to violate any licence; it is sold as Unbreakable Linux.

Asked what possible technical reason there could be for Red Hat deprecating Btrfs, senior Debian developer Russell Coker told iTWire: 

"No idea. If they had done that a couple of years ago I might have suspected technical issues. But nowadays it's pretty reliable. I wouldn't recommend using Btrfs on a small device (say 10GB or less) but Ext4 works well for that sort of thing."

This is not the first time that Red Hat has acted in a way that is related to Oracle. Four years ago, the company released a language known as Ceylon to compete with Java.

Ceylon was first called a Java killer when news of its being planned was leaked via presentation slides but that description was quickly toned down. Oracle, as is well-known, acquired Sun Microsystems back in 2010 with Java being the crown jewels that it sought to own.

Ceylon has now been handed over to the Eclipse Foundation to be run as an open-source project.

The filesystem that is preferred by many technical types is ZFS, originally owned by Sun, and now by Oracle. Not many distributions use it as there have been hints of licensing issues.

But Canonical, which puts out the Ubuntu distribution, does so and even offers it as a supported feature. Asked about this, Russell said: "ZFS is a supported feature of Ubuntu. The licence is regarded as not being clear. But the fact that Ubuntu ships it means that the Canonical lawyers think it's ok and Oracle hasn't wanted to stop them.

"I have shipped packages of ZFS in the past and the fact that Oracle's lawyers didn't contact me might have been due to the fact that they just didn't notice what I'm doing. There  is no possibility that Oracle hasn't noticed that Ubuntu is doing so they have  obviously decided that it's ok."

He said that there were those who believed that Oracle could suddenly have their lawyers contact Canonical and demand that they stop shipping ZFS.

"If so that would be a big problem for Canonical but not a big problem for Ubuntu users in the short term, the software that is working now will keep working just as well in the future," he added.

Red Hat has shipped its distributions with the Ext4 filesystem as default in the past and it may now choose to do so with XFS.


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the sitecame into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.


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