The ext4 file system is a scalable extension of the ext3 file system. With Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7, it can support a maximum individual file size of 16 terabytes, and file systems to a maximum of 50 terabytes, unlike Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 which only supported file systems up to 16 terabytes. It also supports an unlimited number of sub-directories (the ext3 file system only supports up to 32,000), though once the link count exceeds 65,000 it resets to 1 and is no longer increased. The bigalloc feature is not currently supported.
As with ext3, an ext4 volume must be umounted in order to perform an fsck.
Ext4 uses extents (as opposed to the traditional block mapping scheme used by ext2 and ext3), which improves performance when using large files and reduces metadata overhead for large files. In addition, ext4 also labels unallocated block groups and inode table sections accordingly, which allows them to be skipped during a file system check. This makes for quicker file system checks, which becomes more beneficial as the file system grows in size.
The ext4 file system features the following allocation schemes:
Because of delayed allocation and other performance optimizations, ext4's behavior of writing files to disk is different from ext3. In ext4, when a program writes to the file system, it is not guaranteed to be on-disk unless the program issues an fsync() call afterwards.
By default, ext3 automatically forces newly created files to disk almost immediately even without fsync(). This behavior hid bugs in programs that did not use fsync() to ensure that written data was on-disk. The ext4 file system, on the other hand, often waits several seconds to write out changes to disk, allowing it to combine and reorder writes for better disk performance than ext3.
Unlike ext3, the ext4 file system does not force data to disk on transaction commit. As such, it takes longer for buffered writes to be flushed to disk. As with any file system, use data integrity calls such as fsync() to ensure that data is written to permanent storage.
Other Ext4 Features
The ext4 file system also supports the following:
Extended attributes (xattr) — This allows the system to associate several additional name and value pairs per file.
Quota journaling — This avoids the need for lengthy quota consistency checks after a crash.
The only supported journaling mode in ext4 is data=ordered (default).
Subsecond timestamps — This gives timestamps to the subsecond.