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Revision as of 13:47, 10 March 2013 by Bobpaul (talk | contribs) (Removed the section on patching the arch kernel (Kernel Building) as an aur/linux-bcache-git package now exists)
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Bcache allows one to use an SSD as a read/write cache (in writeback mode) or read cache (writethrough or writearound) for another blockdevice (generally a rotating HDD or array. This article will show how to install arch using Bcache as the root partition. For an intro to bcache itself, see the bcache homepage. Be sure to read and reference the bcache manual. Bcache is currently in the process of getting merged into the kernel.

An alternative to Bcache is Facebook's Flashcache

Warning: Until bcache patches are accepted into mainline, installation is non-trivial. Follow the instructions carefully and read the upstream bcache documentation. Commands are included as examples only, and may differ slightly on your setup.
Warning: Bcache requires the backing device is formatted as a bcache block device. This is a destructive processes, so be sure you back up any important data first.

Temporary install to SSD

The ArchLinux install disk does not include bcache in its kernel. You could either re-master to the install disk to include this kernel, or do the install twice. The example below is for installing twice.

  1. Install archlinux as normal to the SSD. Don't go crazy with partitions, just a / and an EFI system partition if you're not booting bios mode. This is just the temporary system we'll use to install the final system.
  2. Reboot to verify the install in step 1 worked.
  3. Install the "linux-bcache-git" package from AUR.
  4. Reboot to the bcache enabled kernel
Note: The PKGBUILD for the aur/linux-bcache-git package can be edited to build a v3.2 Linux kernel. By default it builds the latest (currently 3.8).

Final install to the HDD

1. Partition your hdd
grub can't handle bcache, so you'll need at least 2 partitions (boot and one for the bcache backing device). If you're doing UEFI, you'll need an EFI System Partition (ESP) as well.

     1            2048           22527   10.0 MiB    EF00  EFI System
     2           22528          432127   200.0 MiB   8300  arch_boot
     3          432128       625142414   297.9 GiB   8300  bcache_backing

2. Configure your HDD as a bcache backing device.

 # make-bcache -B /dev/sda3
Note: GRUB2 either needs an EFI partition, "bios boot" partition, or an 'embedding area' of 2KB or so after the MBR that doesn't get overwritten. Also, since GRUB2 does not know about bcache, so you also need a /boot partition that grub can read. Partitioning /dev/sda is a must unless you're booting from a different device.

3. Register any bcache devices with the kernel (this needs to done every bootup)

  for i in /dev/sd*; do echo $i; echo $i > /sys/fs/bcache/register_quiet; done

You now have a /dev/bcache0 device

Note: the bcache user manual says to do "echo /dev/sd* > /sys/fs/bcache/register_quiet", but this didn't work for me

7. Format the bcache device. Use LLVM or btrfs subvolumes if you want to divide up the /dev/bcache0 device how you like (ex for seperate /, /home, /var, etc).

  # mkfs.btrfs /dev/bcache0
  # mount /dev/bcache0 /mnt/
  # btrfs subvolume create /mnt/root
  # btrfs subvolume create /mnt/home
  # umount /mnt

8. Reinstall to the bcache volume (alternatively you can rsync the install you made on the SSD)

  # mkfs.ext4 /dev/sda2
  # mkfs.msdos /dev/sda1 (if your ESP is at least 500MB, use mkfs.vfat to make a FAT32 partition instead)
  # pacman -S arch-install-scripts
  # mount /dev/bcache0 -o subvol=root,compress=lzo /mnt/
  # mkdir /mnt/boot
  # mkdir /mnt/home
  # mount /dev/bcache0 -o subvol=home,compress=lzo /mnt/home
  # mount /dev/sda2 /mnt/boot
  # mkdir /boot/efi
  # mount /dev/sda1 /mnt/boot/efi/

do the rest of the installation as normal

9. Build and install the bcache enabled kernel and tools (see below). Feel free to rsync the packages you already built on the SSD to avoid compiling again.

10. Edit the initramfs to register bcache devices on bootup (or it won't find root) Basically we need to do the same thing as in step 3, but every time we boot before the /dev/bcache0 device is available for root. This is done with Mkinitcpio

  • a. make a file /usr/lib/initcpio/install/bcache which contains
   build() {
   help() {
       cat <<HELPEOF
   This hook supports early, automatic registration of bcache devices. This is necessary
   if your root filesystem is on a /dev/bcacheX device
  • b. make a file /usr/lib/initcpio/hooks/bcache which contains
   run_hook() {
       for i in /dev/sd*; do
           echo $i > /sys/fs/bcache/register_quiet
  • c. in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf, add bcache to the HOOKS array. ORDER MATTERS. It needs to be after udev and block and before filesystems.
  • d. # mkinitcpio -p linux-bcache-git

11. Reboot and make sure it works from the /dev/bcache0 device

12. delete the partitions from /dev/sdb, format it as a caching device, and link it to the backing device

   # parted /dev/sdb mklabel msdos; dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdb bs=512 count=1
   # make-bcache -C /dev/sdb
   # echo /dev/sdb > /sys/fs/bcache/register 
   # echo <Set UUID from previous command> > /sys/block/bcache0/bcache/attach

Note: If the UUID is forgotten, it can be found with ls /sys/fs/bcache/ after the cache device has been registered.


If on step 11 you're sent to a busybox shell during root with an error about unable to find root device, you'll see (with ls) that /dev/bcache0 doesn't exist. This probably means something didn't work in step 10. In the mean time, manually register the bcache devices with the kernel as we did in step 3, ensure the /dev/bcache0 device node exists, then type "exit" to resume booting.