15.2 Description of Cache Modes

cache mode unspecified

In qemu-kvm versions older than v1.2 (eg SLES11 SP2), not specifying a cache mode meant that writethrough would be used as the default. Since that version, the various qemu-kvm guest storage interfaces have been fixed to handle writeback or writethrough semantics more correctly, allowing for the default caching mode to be switched to writeback. The guest driver for each of ide, scsi, and virtio have within their power to disable the write back cache, causing the caching mode used to revert to writethrough. The typical guest's storage drivers will maintain the default caching mode as writeback, however.

cache = writethrough

This mode causes qemu-kvm to interact with the disk image file or block device with O_DSYNC semantics, where writes are reported as completed only when the data has been committed to the storage device. The host page cache is used in what can be termed a writethrough caching mode. The guest's virtual storage adapter is informed that there is no writeback cache, so the guest would not need to send down flush commands to manage data integrity. The storage behaves as if there is a writethrough cache.

cache = writeback

This mode causes qemu-kvm to interact with the disk image file or block device with neither O_DSYNC nor O_DIRECT semantics, so the host page cache is used and writes are reported to the guest as completed when placed in the host page cache, and the normal page cache management will handle commitment to the storage device. Additionally, the guest's virtual storage adapter is informed of the writeback cache, so the guest would be expected to send down flush commands as needed to manage data integrity. Analogous to a raid controller with RAM cache.

cache = none

This mode causes qemu-kvm to interact with the disk image file or block device with O_DIRECT semantics, so the host page cache is bypassed and I/O happens directly between the qemu-kvm userspace buffers and the storage device. Because the actual storage device may report a write as completed when placed in its write queue only, the guest's virtual storage adapter is informed that there is a writeback cache, so the guest would be expected to send down flush commands as needed to manage data integrity. Equivalent to direct access to your hosts' disk, performance wise.

cache = unsafe

This mode is similar to the cache=writeback mode discussed above. The key aspect of this unsafe mode, is that all flush commands from the guests are ignored. Using this mode implies that the user has accepted the trade-off of performance over risk of data loss in the event of a host failure. Useful, for example, during guest install, but not for production workloads.

cache=directsync

This mode causes qemu-kvm to interact with the disk image file or block device with both O_DSYNC and O_DIRECT semantics, where writes are reported as completed only when the data has been committed to the storage device, and when it is also desirable to bypass the host page cache. Like cache=writethrough, it is helpful to guests that do not send flushes when needed. It was the last cache mode added, completing the possible combinations of caching and direct access semantics.