Installing Ubuntu 14.10 with a SSD bcache

2014 Oct 26 -

The instructions for setting up bcache on 14.10 are nearly identical to what Wei Dong wrote on his blog, except I had to create a manual addition for the bootloader before grub2 would recognize the bcache device.

Installing Ubuntu 14.10

I used the same prescription as Wei Dong, namely we first install the OS to a small partition (that will later become swap space) and later copy it over to the bcache device. An important thing to note is that grub2 does not recognize bcache disks, thus we must create a separate /boot partition on which our kernels will reside.

Basically we do a standard Ubuntu installation except during the partitioning stage we create a somewhat weird partition scheme:

/dev/sda  - 256 GB SSD
/dev/sda1 - 1 GB ext4 mounted as /boot (probably too big in retrospect)
/dev/sdb2 - 255 GB ext4 partition, not mounted
/dev/sdb  - 750 GB 7200 RPM HDD
/dev/sdb1 - 8 GB, ext4 partition, mounted as root (/)
/dev/sdb2 - 742 GB ext4 partition, not mounted

The Ubuntu installer will (rightly) complain that we did not create any swap space, this can be ignored (for now). After this finish doing the installation and reboot the machine.

Setting up bcache

Ubuntu 14.10 includes the bcache-tools package in the standard repositories. Thus we no longer need to add a separate PPA to get these programs. After the software is installed we need to create a bcache with the SSD (/dev/sda2) caching the HDD (/dev/sdb2) backing device. Then we will format the bcache device with the filesystem of our choosing (in this case ext4). All of this can be done with the following list of commands:

sudo bash
apt-get update
apt-get install bcache-tools
make-bcache -C /dev/sda2 -B /dev/sdb2
mkfs.ext4 /dev/bcache0

Migrating the root filesystem

Now we need to copy the existing Ubuntu installation over to the new bcache device. We do this using rsync:

sudo bash
mkdir OLD NEW
mount /dev/sdb1 old    # the old root
mount /dev/bcache0 new # this would be our new root
rsync -a old/ new/     # now NEW contains the root

Setting up grub2

Now here is where things get tricky. My installation of grub2 did not detect any operating systems on the bcache device. Thus using the automatic grub-install method suggested by Wei Dong won’t work. Instead we have to create a custom bootloader entry. Here’s an overview of what we need to do:

  1. Create a chroot environment
  2. Determine the UUIDs for /dev/sdb1 and /dev/bcache0
  3. Update /etc/fstab with the new UUID for /dev/bcache0
  4. Reconfigure grub to display the menu on boot
  5. Create a custom bootloader entry for /dev/bcache0 and update grub
  6. Test the setup, reboot, convert /dev/sdb1 to swap
  7. Switch back to the automatic grub scripts

1. Create a chroot environment

Now here is where things became a little tricky. My installation of grub2 did not recognize any operating systems on the /dev/bcache0 device, thus Wei Dong’s solution using grub-install would not work. Instead I had to manually create a bootloader entry in grub2 which, as it turns out, is pretty easy. Lets first prepare setup a chroot system on the new bcache device:

sudo bash
mount /dev/sda2 NEW/boot
mount /dev/sda1 NEW/boot/efi
mount -o bind /dev NEW/dev
mount -t proc none NEW/proc
mount -t sysfs none NEW/sys
chroot NEW

2. Determine the UUIDs for /dev/sdb1 and /dev/bcache0

Next we need to update fstab so that the right disks are mounted at startup. To do this we need to determine the UUIDs of both the old HDD (/dev/sdb1) and new bcache (/dev/bcache0) devices. The UUIDs are the hyphenated alphanumeric strings in the output from the following commands:

ls -l /dev/disk/by-uuid/ | grep bcache0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 13 Oct 25 15:57 c596b66a-f27c-4d54-917b-37e578528ed8 -> ../../bcache0
ls -l /dev/disk/by-uuid/ | grep sdb1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 May 29 21:49 765d6fc0-9ff4-4cf4-95f9-17a6e76ae80c -> ../../sdb1

Here the UUIDs of my devices are as follows:

/dev/bcache0 c596b66a-f27c-4d54-917b-37e578528ed8
/dev/sdb1    765d6fc0-9ff4-4cf4-95f9-17a6e76ae80c

3. Update /etc/fstab with the new UUID for /dev/bcache0

This is fairly simple to do. Just edit the /etc/fstab file and replace the UUID for /dev/sdb1 with the UUID of /dev/bcache0. You can open the fstab file using the following:

sudo vi NEW/etc/fstab NEW/boot/grub.cfg 

4. Reconfigure grub to display the menu on boot

Edit the /etc/default/grub and comment out the GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT=0 line.

sudo vi NEW/etc/default/grub

5. Create a custom bootloader entry for /dev/bcache0 and update grub

As mentioned above Wei Dong’s solution of updating the UUIDs in NEW/boot/grub.cfg will not work. This is because (1) this file is now automatically generated, thus the next kernel update will obliterate your changes, and (2) you can’t edit the file anyway (even as root!). Instead of doing this, we will create a custom bootloader entry to load the bcache installation of Ubuntu, then remove this entry once the OS is up and running.

First find the menuentry in /boot/grub/grub.cfg that boots your current Ubuntu installation (i.e. the one on the hard drive). One of my menu entries looked like this:

menuentry 'Ubuntu' --class ubuntu --class gnu-linux --class gnu --class os $menuentry_id_option 'gnulinux-simple-c596b66a-f27c-4d54-917b-37e578528ed8' {
    gfxmode $linux_gfx_mode
    insmod gzio
    insmod part_msdos
    insmod ext2
    set root='hd0,msdos1'
    if [ x$feature_platform_search_hint = xy ]; then
      search --no-floppy --fs-uuid --set=root --hint-bios=hd0,msdos1 --hint-efi=hd0,msdos1 --hint-baremetal=ahci0,msdos1  8cf57a8f-7d20-4d48-b5a3-2ea5700b88c4
      search --no-floppy --fs-uuid --set=root 8cf57a8f-7d20-4d48-b5a3-2ea5700b88c4
    linux	/vmlinuz-3.16.0-23-generic root=UUID=765d6fc0-9ff4-4cf4-95f9-17a6e76ae80c ro  quiet splash $vt_handoff
    initrd	/initrd.img-3.16.0-23-generic

Copy this entire block and append it to the end of the /boot/grub.d/40_custom. Change the UUID for /dev/sdb1 to match your bcache device (this change should only appear in the line beginning with linux and switch the title of the menuentry (in this example 'Ubuntu' to be something more memorable (like 'Ubuntu (bcache)'. Save the file. Now reinstall grub:

sudo grub-install /dev/sda
sudo update-grub

Double check that your menuentry was added to the /boot/grug/grub.cfg file.

6. Test the setup, reboot, convert /dev/sdb1 to swap

Now we’ll test the installation. Reboot your machine and at the grub menu choose the entry you added and press enter. Check that the bcache device is being used as the root filesystem using mount:

$ mount | grep /dev/bcache
/dev/bcache0 on / type ext4 (rw,errors=remount-ro)

If this works, you can convert /dev/sdb1 to swap:

$ sudo bash
# mkswap /dev/sdb1
Setting up swapspace version 1, size = 15624188 KiB
no label, UUID=e35bc636-9944-4dd5-ab3d-6c371b0cb7a8 
# swapon /dev/sdb1
# echo "UUID=e35bc636-9944-4dd5-ab3d-6c371b0cb7a8 none swap defaults 0 0" >> /etc/fstab

be sure to update the UUID to match your swap partition!

7. Switch back to the automatic grub scripts

Finally we’ll undo our customization to grub. First re-enable the GRUB_HIDDEN_TIMEOUT=0 line in /etc/default/grub:

sudo vi NEW/etc/default/grub

Remove the custom bootloader lines in /etc/grub.d/40_custom:

vi /boot/grub.d/40_custom

And now redo the bootloader installation:

sudo grub-install /dev/sda
sudo update-grub

Double check that the menuentries in /boot/grub/grub.cfg are correct. If all is well reboot and you now have a fully functional bcache installation!

8. Additional items

As suggested by Rubens Gonçalves below, you should probably check that your bcache device is working. You can do this by inspecting the results of

tail /sys/block/bcache0/bcache/stats_total/*

If you get all zeros after a reboot, you may need to attach the bcache caching device to the backing device. You can do this by finding the UUID and echoing it to the bcache attachment:

ls /sys/fs/bcache # get the UUID
sudo echo UUID > /sys/block/bcache0/bcache/attach