Persistent block device naming

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Revision as of 09:28, 30 March 2007 by Jf (talk | contribs) (by-id and by-path: added some clarifications about finding out more about 'by-path' for usb drives)
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This article describes how to use persistent names for your block devices. This has been made possible by the introduction of udev and has some advantages over bus-based naming.

Why persistent naming?

While Linux distributions and udev are evolving and hardware detection is becoming more reliable, there are also a number of new problems and changes:

  • If you have more than one sata/scsi or ide disk controller, the order in which they are added is random. This may result in device names like hdX and hdY switching around randomly on each boot. The same goes for sdX and sdY. Persistent naming allows you not to worry about this at all.
  • With the introduction of the new libata pata support, all your ide hdX devices will become sdX devices at some point in the future. Again, with persistent naming, you won't even notice.
  • Machines with both sata and ide controllers are quite common these days. With the libata changes mentioned above, the first problem will become even more common, as sata and ide hard drives will both have sdX names.
  • Persistent naming just looks prettier.

There are more reasons, but these are the most critical ones now and in the near future. That's why this wiki wants to encourage you to change your setup to persistent naming schemes.

Which name should I use?

There are four different schemes for persistent naming:


Almost every filesystem type can have a label. All your partitions that have one are listed in the /dev/disk/by-label directory (***NOTE!!! - this directory (plus entries) is created (and destroyed) dynamically, depending on whether you have partitions with labels attached!):

$ ls -lF /dev/disk/by-label
total 0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 data -> ../../sdb2
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 data2 -> ../../sda2
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 fat -> ../../sda6
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 home -> ../../sda7
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 root -> ../../sda1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 swap -> ../../sda5
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 windows -> ../../sdb1

You can change the labels of your filesystems using these commands:

  • swap: Create a new swapspace like this: mkswap -L <label> /dev/XXX
  • ext2/ext3: e2label /dev/XXX <label>
  • reiserfs: reiserfstune -l <label> /dev/XXX
  • jfs: jfs_tune -L <label> /dev/XXX
  • xfs: xfs_admin -L <label> /dev/XXX
  • reiser4: ??? (are reiser4 labels even recognized?)
  • fat/vfat: There is no tool to change the label using Linux, but when you create the filesystem, use mkdosfs -n <label> <other options>. You may also change the label of an existing filesystem using Windows.
  • ntfs: ntfslabel /dev/XXX <label> or change it using Windows.

Be careful: The labels have to be unique to make this work, so make sure they are.


UUID stands for Universally Unique Identifier and is a mechanism to give each filesystem a unique identifier. It is designed so that collisions are unlikely. All Linux filesystems (including swap) support UUID. FAT and NTFS filesystems don't support UUID, but are still listed in by-uuid with a unique identifier:

$ /bin/ls -lF /dev/disk/by-uuid/
total 0
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 2d781b26-0285-421a-b9d0-d4a0d3b55680 -> ../../sda1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 31f8eb0d-612b-4805-835e-0e6d8b8c5591 -> ../../sda7
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 3FC2-3DDB -> ../../sda6
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 5090093f-e023-4a93-b2b6-8a9568dd23dc -> ../../sda2
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 912c7844-5430-4eea-b55c-e23f8959a8ee -> ../../sda5
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 B0DC1977DC193954 -> ../../sdb1
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root 10 Oct 16 10:27 bae98338-ec29-4beb-aacf-107e44599b2e -> ../../sdb2

As you can see, the fat and ntfs partitions (fat and windows labels above) have shorter names, but are still listed. The advantage about using the uuid method is that it is less likely that you have name collisions than with labels; the disadvantage is that they are more difficult to memorize.

by-id and by-path

by-id creates a unique name depending on the hardware serial number. by-path creates a unique name depending on the shortest physical path (according to sysfs). Both contain strings to indicate which subsystem they belong to (ie., "-ide-", for 'by-path', and "ata-" for 'by-id') and thus are not suitable for solving the problems mentioned in the beginning of this article. They won't be discussed any further here.

Question: but what about usb drives? they should be reasonably safe, unless there is a subsystem change as well for this? although yes, for futureproofing, 'by-uuid', and 'by-label' would probably be better?)

Answer: it seems like for 'by-id', it looks ok, but for 'by-path', you will necessarily find yourself getting "stuck" to a physical port description for the path, and so this will not work... ie. if you take that same usb drive out, and plug it to another usb port, you will end up with a different 'by-path' for that drive....

Enabling persistent naming

Having chosen which naming method you'd like to use, let's now enable persistent naming for your system:

In fstab

Enabling persistent naming in /etc/fstab is easy, just replace the device name in the first column by the new persistent name. In my example I would replace /dev/sda7 by one of the following:

  • /dev/disk/by-label/home or
  • /dev/disk/by-uuid/31f8eb0d-612b-4805-835e-0e6d8b8c5591

Do so for all the partitions in your fstab file.

Instead of giving the device explicitly, one may indicate the filesystem that is to be mounted by its UUID or volume label, writing LABEL=<label> or UUID=<uuid>, e.g., `LABEL=Boot' or `UUID=3e6be9de-8139-11d1-9106-a43f08d823a6'.

In your boot manager

To use persistent names in your boot manager, all of the the following prerequisites have to be met:

  • You are using a mkinitcpio initramfs image
  • You have udev enabled in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf
  • When your initramfs image was generated, version 101-3 or greater of klibc-udev was installed (persistent naming is broken in any earlier version). If you are updating klibc-udev from an earlier version and want to use persistent naming, regenerate your initramfs image before you reboot.

In the above example, /dev/sda1 is the root partition. In the grub menu.lst file, the kernel line looks like this:

kernel /boot/vmlinuz26 root=/dev/hda1 vga=0x318 ro

Depending on which naming scheme I would prefer, I'd change it to one of the following

kernel /boot/vmlinuz26 root=/dev/disk/by-label/root vga=0x318 ro


kernel /boot/vmlinuz26 root=/dev/disk/by-uuid/2d781b26-0285-421a-b9d0-d4a0d3b55680 vga=0x318 ro

If you are using lilo, then do not try this with the root=... configuration option, it will not work. Use append="root=..." or addappend="root=.." instead. Read the lilo manpage for more information on append and addappend.

There is an alternative way to use the label embedded in the filesystem. For example if (as above) the filesystem in /dev/hda1 is labelled "root", you would give this line to grub:

 kernel /boot/vmlinuz26 root=LABEL=root vga=0x318 ro

(source: )

One users experience (10MAR07): root=LABEL=root did not work for me (ARCH kernel), /dev/disk/by-label/root worked just fine.