Necessary NFS Server Cluster Design for NFS Client Lock and File State Preservation

This document (000020396) is provided subject to the disclaimer at the end of this document.


SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 15
SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 12


HA Clusters intended to be NFS Servers have been designed in a variety of ways, and various blogs and advice have been given on this subject, across the internet, including other sources at SUSE.  Depending on what is needed from the NFS Server Cluster, many of the common recommendations may not work as well as expected.  While they may work very well for many scenarios, they are often lacking when it comes to fully supporting NFS v4.  The most common problems not properly addressed are:

(1)  Loss of client locks (and all other information held by the NFS Server about open files, file states, client states, etc.) during a cluster failover, or even during normal operations.

(2)  Delays during and after failovers, including (but not limited to) the risk of fencing a node while resources are stopped.

Due to delays or loss of file state information, NFS client applications may receive IO errors (EIO), after which the application may or may not be skilled enough at error handling to gracefully recover and continue its work.

This document is intended to give design recommendations for a NFS Server HA Cluster which can failover quickly and can also truly support preservation of file states on NFS v4.  The requirements for full NFSv4 functionality are quite strict.  Some NFS Server clusters (and the applications which rely on them) may not require this level of strictness, but many (probably the majority) will run into problems sooner or later, if the design concepts of this document are not met.

PLEASE NOTE:  At this time, this document is only a high level discussion and is not attempting to be a step-by-step guide.


Note that the various factors below are very interrelated.  As such, it is difficult to decide on the best order to present them.  Fully meshing these concepts together may require more than one reading.  Leaving out one piece of this "puzzle" may break others.

1.  Preserving knowledge of file states at the NFS Server.
      AKA  Sharing the nfsdcltrack location.

Linux kernel-based NFS Servers track v4 client state and file state within the directory path /var/lib/nfs/nfsdcltrack/.  Therefore, that path should be a shared cluster resource which will move from one node to another along with the exported file systems.  Without this, file state (opens, locks, delegations, etc.) which were held before failover cannot be reclaimed after failover.  In such cases, applications will often receive IO errors (EIO) during or after failover.  The client application (through some intelligence and some luck) may be able to handle an IO error and then recover access to its files, but this can easily fail if another client accesses the file first, or if the client application was not written with good error-handling code.

Having /var/lib/nfs/nfsdcltrack/ as a shared resource is usually accomplished using DRBD.

FYI, the location for the nfsdcltrack is configurable within /etc/nfs.conf, in the [nfsdcltrack] section, with the value "storagedir".  If changed, this would need to be set on every node.  This allows some flexibility as to how to handle the sharing of this resource.  For example, it could be located on a file system resource that is already shared and movable, instead of creating an entirely separate resource for it.  However, if a cluster is handling multiple NFS file system resources, having a separate resource for nfsdcltrack may have some long term advantages.  For example, if the NFS file system resources which holds nfsdcltrack is decommissioned, all other NFS file system resources will be effected and a new location for nfsdcltrack would have to be decided and configured.  Having a separate resource for nfsdcltrack avoids such future concerns.  There may also be performance advantages or protection against high load problems, when giving nfsdcltrack its own separate resource.

2.  Allowing NFS clients to reclaim the known locks and other file states.
      AKA Starting nfsserver anew during resource migration, to initiate the NFS4 Grace Period.

When an NFS v4 Server restarts (or fails over), the client's ability to reclaim existing states depends upon a "grace period" during which those reclaims can succeed.  During the grace period, clients cannot open or lock new files, they can only reclaim old states.  For additional information on setting the length of the grace period, see item #5, below.

The grace period is offered only when the nfsserver.service is started fresh.

Many NFS clustering guides incorrectly recommend that the nfsserver.service be a cloned resource that runs at all nodes simultaneously.  Under that recommendation, nfsserver is not stopped and started during failovers.  However, in reality, the nfsserver.service should run at only one node at a time.  It should be grouped with the exportfs primitives and the file systems they reference, so these resources all migrate together and start together.  This is mandatory to insure client recovery of file states after failover.

This requirement might immediately cause concern for some NFS cluster administrators.  Some NFS Server clusters are designed to keep the NFS Server service running on many nodes somewhat permanently and simultaneously, while individual file systems (to be exported via NFS) might be allowed to move around from node to node as needed.  That approach allows different nodes to handle different file system exports.  This allows a certain flexibility and allows a kind of "load balancing" as different nodes can simultaneously handle different NFS exports.  While those goals are understandable, that approach does not support preservation of file state during failovers.  Therefore, the success of any application using those files is at risk.

Additionally, the need for a fresh start of nfsserver on the new node dictates that all nfs exported file systems in the cluster must be co-located on one node, and must migrate together.  The nfsserver.service must migrate with them.  Fully stopping and starting the nfsserver service is disruptive to all nfs exports that reside on a node, so this migration must happen for all these resources together.

3.  Ordering the starting and stopping of resources correctly.

The order of operations for starting and stopping all the NFS-related resources becomes extremely important for all these requirements to function together.  The necessary starting order is:

3.1  Start drbd for the various file system volumes (all those which will be NFS exported).
3.2  Mount those file systems.
3.3  Start drbd for the nfsdcltrack location.
3.4  Mount nfsdcltrack location.
3.5  Start nfsserver service.
3.6  Export the file systems, but do not set "wait_for_leasetime_on_stop=true".  This will be discussed in #4, below.
3.7  Add the virtual IP

The above order will help insure that file state can be reclaimed after start.  Since this order is also used in reverse while stopping the services at a node, it will also insure that shutdown of resources occurs in a safe and timely manner, with fewer potential delays and fewer problems than some other cluster implementations experience.

NOTE:  In theory, items 3.1-3.4 have some flexibility in their order.  For example, steps 3.3 & 3.4 could come first, or both drbd steps could come first, followed by both mounting steps.  Overall, it is important that 3.1-3.4 be accomplished first, after which 3.5, 3.6, and 3.7 must proceed in that specific order.  For more notes about this order, see the "Additional Information" section, further below.

4.  Unexporting file systems without delay.
      AKA Do not use "wait_for_leasetime_on_stop=true"

It has been commonly recommended (but misunderstood) that exportfs primitives for clustered, NFS-shared file systems should include the option:


THE ABOVE IS NOT RECOMMENDED, and will lead to unecessary delays and loss of locks and other file states.  FYI, Lease Time will be discussed in more detail in #5, below).

That option should be removed.  It will then default to false.  Alternatively, as a reminder of the correct configuration, this option can be kept in place but explicitly set to "false".

For those who are curious about why this option exists (since it can cause delays and failures), the following explanation may prove interesting:

In implementations where nfsserver.service is not stopped as part of failover, there is another potential problem (besides the loss of file state, already mentioned).  If nfsserver is not stopped, then the file systems which were exported may still have open files on them.  If open files exist on a file system, it is considered "busy" and cannot be dismounted.  If a file system cannot be dismounted, then normal failover of the file system is impossible, and the node may be "fenced" and forced down.

The option "wait_for_leasetime_on_stop=true" was created to avoid this fencing.  The theory behind it is:  By first removing the virtual IP from the NFS cluster resource and then waiting out the entire NFS lease time, all the open files (and locks, delegations, etc.) will timeout and be cleared.  Since they are cleared, the file system will no longer be "busy" and can then umount properly.  Fencing the node is avoided.

HOWEVER, as already stated, this causes 2 obvious problems:  (1) You must wait out the lease time, which delays the failover, and (2) all file states (locks, opens, delegations, etc.) are lost.

Instead, if nfsserver.service is stopped and started as part of a failover (as stated in #2 above) there should be no need for "wait_for_leasetime_on_stop=true".  If the recommended order (above in #3) is used, nfsserver.service will be stopped before the attempt to umount the file systems.  As such, all file states (from the file system's perspective) will get cleared.  Therefore, umount can proceed without delay and without problem.  Fencing is avoided.

With this recommended setup, even though the file states are cleared from the file system perspective, they are still known to the nfsserver service, through it's records in /var/lib/nfs/nfsdcltrack/ (see #1 above).  This will allow NFS clients to reclaim the opens, locks, etc. after NFS Server is started fresh at the new node.

5.  Choosing a reasonable NFS v4 Lease Time and Grace Time
      AKA Low lease times and grace time are dangerous and can cause loss of file state.

During normal NFS v4 operations (even without a failover occurring), NFS v4 clients need to be able to renew their state with the NFS Server.  The frequency of this renewal is determined by the NFS4 "Lease Time" which is set by the NFS Server.  NFS Clients learn this value from the NFS Server.  On Linux NFS Servers, this value is set in /etc/sysconfig/nfs as:


90 seconds is the default, even if this value is left blank.  Additionally, the default behavior on Linux is to set grace time equal to lease time, which protects client recover after failover.

To explain the danger of low lease times:  Linux NFS Clients will attempt to renew their state after 2/3 of the least time expires.  Then, various events to confirm that the renewal has been successful must complete within the remaining 1/3 of the lease time.  For example, at a low lease time value of 15 seconds, Linux clients will attempt to renew state every 10 seconds.  Then that renewal must successfully complete within the remaining 5 seconds.  Even though the majority of renewals can complete in time, it is still common for minor OS or network delays to cause this timer to expire before the renewal is completed.  Loss of file state and therefore IO errors (EIO) are the common results.

Moving on to the need for sufficient grace time:  Clients need reasonable time to reclaim old file states after a failover or restart of nfsserver.  This occurs during the grace time.  However, clients don't necessarily attempt recovery the very instant the NFS Server comes back up.  A client may be waiting on it's renew timer, or waiting inside a timeout/retry loop, before it makes another attempt.  A bit of time buffer is usually needed to insure success.  No new resources can be claimed during this grace period because one process's desire for a new resource could conflict with another process's need to recover its old resource.

Low lease times are mistakenly recommended by those who do not understand their implementation, or are not following the earlier recommendations in this document.  For example, if someone is unwisely using "wait_for_lease_time_on_stop=true" then they will notice delays during failover, specifically when stopping services on the old node.  Subsequently, they often discover that lowering the lease time will reduce those delays.  But as stated in #4 above, it is wrong to use "wait_for_lease_time_on_stop=true".  Therefore, this reason for lowering lease time is invalid.

Another reason often given to justify lowering lease time is to obtain a lower grace time.  Grace time is set based on lease time, and long grace times can make clients wait extra time before obtaining new resources after a failover.  This argument has some validity.  However, there are other ways to mitigate this without lowering lease time.

On Linux NFS Servers, NFS 4.1 and 4.2 mitigate the concern about longer grace times by automatically ending the grace period if no further states are waiting to be reclaimed.  SUSE recommends using NFS 4.1 or 4.2 rather than 4.0. They newer versions were designed and implemented with better concepts, which make them easier to implement, more intelligent, and achieve better recovery than 4.0.

If the correct NFS cluster method (as defined by this document) is used, and especially if NFS 4.1 or 4.2 are used, it is not usually necessary to reduce the lease time or grace time.  However, if legitimate reasons to lower the lease and grace time are found, it can be done, but must be done carefully to protect basic functionality of NFS v4.  Lowering these from 90 to 60 is often safe.  Even lower values could be tested, but the lower the value, the more danger is created.  Therefore, SUSE Support strongly discourages any value lower than 30.  Low values (even 30) may not be safe or supportable.  SUSE Customer Service will often require higher values be put in place before spending time troubleshooting problems.

6.   Keeping the NFS Server hostname consistent if NFS 4.1 or 4.2 are used.

For lock and state preservation and recovery on NFS 4.1 and 4.2, the nfsserver needs to consider itself to have the same hostname every time it starts.  This must be specially configured when an HA cluster is in use, as each cluster node is required to have a unique hostname.  In previous versions of NFS (4.0 and lower) it was enough to have the same IP address present.  NFS 4.1 and 4.2 methods also check for the hostname.

On SLES 15 SP4, this can be accomplished with a systemd drop-in to control how the nfsserver.service is started.

Create or edit  /etc/systemd/system/nfs-server.service.d/cluster.conf

and configure this section and values:
ExecStart=unshare -u /bin/sh -c "hostname shared_nfs_hostname; /usr/sbin/rpc.nfsd $NFSD_OPTIONS"
Where "shared_nfs_hostname" is replaced by an arbitrary name which the NFS Server instance will carry with if from node to node.  Each node would need to have this set.

SUSE is investigating backporting the code necessary for using this method to previous distributions (older than SLES 15 SP4) as well.  Possibly, this method may be replaced with a simpler method.  This TID will be updated if/when such changes transpire.

In Conclusion:

When put all together, the 6 recommendations above should allow very rapid failover of the NFS Server resources, true file state preservation and reclamation after failover, and timely recovery by NFS Client processes.  Many of the 6 points are interdependent, so ignoring one requirement may cause others to become useless or even harmful.


Top Issue

Additional Information

Questions have arisen about the above recommendation of binding the virtual IP last while starting a group of resources (which also equates to unbinding it first, while stopping.)  Even in cases where the fully strict approach above is not being used, binding IP last (and unbinding it first) is generally best.

In a variety of NFS Server cluster implementations, starting IP last (and stopping it first) has been seen to help avoid loss of information about file states, locks, and client sessions; node fencing; NFS stale file handles; and failover delays.

Without going into lengthy explanations for each of those variations, it is probably sufficient to say:  The general philosophy for bringing up NFS (and many other clustered services) is that all services should be in place and ready to be used before adding the IP address through which other systems will reach those services.  When shutting down, the reverse is also true.  It is best to prevent further communication before trying to stop the various services.  This way, if a network client or peer notices a problem, it will be a low level IP failure, which can be retried and recovered smoothly when the services come up on a new node.  Without stopping IP first (and restarting it last), other systems using these resources are more likely to experience higher-level failures (such as at the NFS level, or in the application code).  In some cases, such higher-level failures could be fatal and nonrecoverable.


This Support Knowledgebase provides a valuable tool for SUSE customers and parties interested in our products and solutions to acquire information, ideas and learn from one another. Materials are provided for informational, personal or non-commercial use within your organization and are presented "AS IS" WITHOUT WARRANTY OF ANY KIND.

  • Document ID:000020396
  • Creation Date: 11-Jan-2023
  • Modified Date:11-Jan-2023
    • SUSE Linux Enterprise High Availability Extension
    • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server

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