upgrading an ssd

December 15, 2023

In search of bugs I build a lot of software locally. About ~20000 packages per day. I usually keep all builds around to speed up regression debugging.

That way (and with help of filesystem compression, duperemove and identical file hardlinking) I manage to fill up my 512G SSD with build results within 2-3 weeks.

Once the disk is full I have to trigger garbage collection that frees all that space and start over.

I decided to switch to a larger 2T SSD to expand the time budget to 1-2 months.

This is my boot disk on btrfs and I would like to preserve most of it’s properties without too much of mountpoint juggling or machine downtime. AFAIU rsync does not handle advanced filesystem features like subvolume layouts and already deduplicated data.

I ended up plugging in a new device and did two commands to transfer all the data live from one device to another:

$ btrfs device add    /dev/nvme1n1p2 /
$ btrfs device remove /dev/nvme0n1p3 /

15 minutes later all the data was on the new SSD! Magic!

The actual procedure

It required a tiny bit of extra work to handle partitioning on a new device and EFI vfat partition move.

Here is the sequence I used:

  1. Plug a new device in, it detected as /dev/nvme1n1.

  2. Partition new device:

    # fdisk /dev/nvme1n1
    g; n; 1; 2048 (default); +4G; t; 1 (EFI); n; 2; w

    Here we create 2 partitions: 4G EFI and the rest on Linux.

  3. Format EFI partition:

    # mkfs.fat -F 32 /dev/nvme1n1p1
  4. Sync EFI data to the new partition:

    # mkdir /new-boot
    # mount /dev/nvme1n1p1 /new-boot
    # rsync -av /boot/ /new-boot/
    # umount /new-boot
    # rmdir /new-boot
  5. Update /etc/nixos/hardware-configuration.nix to point EFI partition to the new device = "/dev/disk/by-uuid/ABCD-1234";

  6. Migrate the root filesystem:

    # btrfs device add    /dev/nvme1n1p2 /
    # btrfs device remove /dev/nvme0n1p3 /
  7. Rebuild boot loader configuration and reinstall it:

    # nixops-rebuild switch --install-bootloader
  8. Reboot the machine.


It took 15 minutes to remove the device and evacuate all the data out.

A snapshot of migration state somewhere in the middle of the process:

# btrfs fi show /
Label: none  uuid: abcdef12-...
        Total devices 2 FS bytes used 201.63GiB
        devid    1 size 0.00B used 64.03GiB path /dev/nvme0n1p3
        devid    2 size 1.86TiB used 141.00GiB path /dev/nvme1n1p2

Note how to-be-removed device had size 0.00B while it still had to drain 64G of data.

Parting words

btrfs device handling is magic! It does not matter if the new device is smaller or larger than existing one: you add bytes to the pool and new block groups get allocated there. Deleting old devices is also straightforward: evacuated device stops being used for new object allocation and existing block groups are evacuated to other devices.

btrfs device remove wipes filesystem superblock and removes the device from device tree of filesystem once data is fully drained. There is no easy way to access data on the old device after the move. It is slightly scary but has it’s charm as well: there is no chance to accidentally mount old device and use it as new for a while.

By default NixOS uses /dv/disk/by-uuid/... device paths:

$ cat /etc/fstab
/dev/disk/by-uuid/abcdef12-1dbb-... / btrfs x-initrd.mount,subvol=nixos,noatime,compress=zstd 0 0
/dev/disk/by-uuid/ABCD-1234 /boot vfat umask=1022,quiet,codepage=866,iocharset=utf8,dmask=1022,fmask=1133 0 2

That means device rename and move on btrfs is transparent to the configuration as UUID gets preserved on new device addition.

Have fun!