Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Partial root zones

In Tribblix, I support sparse-root and whole-root zones, which work largely the same way as in Solaris 10.

The implementation of zone creation is rather different. The original Solaris implementation extended packaging - so the packaging system, and every package, had to be zone-aware. This is clearly unsustainable. (Unfortunately, the same mistake was made when IPS was introduced.)

Apart from creating work, this approach limits flexibility - in order to innovate with zones, for example by adding new types, you have to extend the packaging system, and then modify every package in existence.

The approach taken by Tribblix is rather different. Instead of baking zone architecture into packaging, packaging is kept dumb and the zone creation scripts understand how packages are put together.

In particular, the decision as to whether a given file is present in a zone (and how it ends up there) is not based on package attributes, but is a simple pathname filter. For example, files under /kernel never end up in a zone. Files under /usr might be copied (for a whole-root zone) or loopback mounted (for a sparse-root zone). If it's under /var or /etc, you get a fresh copy. And so on. But the decision is based on pathname.

It's not just the files within packages that get copied. The package metadata is also copied; the contents file is simply filtered by pathname - and that's how the list of files to copy is generated. This filtering takes place during zone creation, and is all done by the zone scripts - the packaging tools aren't invoked (one reason why it's so quick). The scripts, if you want to look, are at /usr/lib/brand/*/pkgcreatezone.

In the traditional model, the list of installed packages in the zone is (initially) identical to that in the global zone. For a sparse-root zone, you're pretty much stuck with that. For a whole-root zone, you can add and remove packages later.

I've been working on some alternative models for zones in Tribblix that add more flexibility to zone creation. These will appear in upcoming releases, but I wanted to talk about the technology.

The first of these is what you might call a partial-root zone. This is similar to a whole-root zone in the sense that you get an independent copy, rather than being loopback mounted. And, it's using the same TRIBwhole brand. The difference is that you can specify a subset of the overlays present in the global zone to be installed in the zone. For example, you would use the following install invocation:

zoneadm -z myzone install -o developer

and only the developer overlay (and the overlays it depends on) will be installed in the zone.

This is still a copy - the installed files in the global zone are the source of the files that end up in the zone, so there's still no package installation, no need for repository access, and it's pretty quick.

This is still a filter, but you're now filtering both on pathname and package name.

As for package metadata, for partial-root zones, references to the packages that don't end up being used are removed.

That's the subset variant. The next obvious extension is to be able to specify additional packages (or, preferably, overlays) to be installed at zone creation time. That does require an additional source of packages - either a repository or a local cache - which is why I treat it as a logically distinct operation.

Time to get coding.

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