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What are the Data ONTAP limitations on files, directories, and subdirectories?

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Applies to

  • ONTAP 9
  • Clustered Data ONTAP 8
  • Data ONTAP 7 and earlier
  • Answer

What is a hard link?
What is the maximum number of subdirectories that a single directory might contain?

  • Subdirectories might be limited by the number of available inodes and maxdirsize setting.
  • There is a limit of 99,998 directories per sub-directory.
  • The following are some messages that might be reported when one of the limits has been reached:

Size limitation/ filesystem full:
no space left on the device

file system is out of inodes

Directory size:
Mon Jan  1 18:25:46 CEST [wafl.dir.size.max:warning]: Directory XX reached the maxdirsize limit. Reduce the number of files or use the vol options command to increase this limit.

Subdirectory limit ( for Data ONTAP prior to 8.1):
Mon Jan  1 18:25:46 CEST []: The /vol/xxxx/ directory is approaching the maximum link limit of 100000. Reduce the number of links to the existing parent directory.

The message on the client is similar to the following:
There is not enough space on the disk.

Limits encountered on creating a file or a directory:
  • Maximum size of the parent directory (that is, the size of the directory file. See man pages for -maxdirsize-):
    An error message is generated when this limit is reached and an error is returned to the client, which generally interprets the error as a full volume, although this does not necessarily mean that the volume is out of space.
  • The number of sub-directories:
    • The maximum number of subdirectories a single directory might have is 65534 (64K) until Data ONTAP 6.4.
    • Starting Data ONTAP 6.5, the limit was raised to 99998 (100K). Starting Data ONTAP 8.1, the subdirectory limit has been removed.
    • The link count field has 4 bytes, which allows for approximately 4.3 billion links/subdirectories.
    • This number might not be changed. To understand the reasons for this limit, see the section below on hard links and subdirectory implementation.
  • Maximum size of the volume (see man pages for -vol size-).
  • Quotas implemented on qtrees can limit the maximum space a client might use (see man pages for -qtree-).

Information on directories:

  • The purpose of a directory is to provide a mapping between an inode and one or more names, possibly with different paths.
  • A directory is nothing else than a 'special' file that uses up an inode.
  • The directory contains the inode number and one or more filenames in different formats (Unicode, NFS, 8.3).
  • The number of files that can be stored in any one directory very much depends on the length of the file name and the type of filename used.
  • Unicode names usually need more space than NFS names.
  • The largest amount of space is used when names are stored in Unicode, NFS, and 8.3 at the same time (see also man pages for -vol options  create_ucode | convert_ucode- ).
  • The size of the directory file is controlled by -vol options maxdirsize-, but be aware that directories can never shrink.
Information on inodes and the inode file:
  • Inode information is held in the inode file, which is a hidden system file, and each inode is 288 bytes long (192 bytes on Data ONTAP releases earlier than 9.0 and 128 bytes in releases 6.4 and earlier).
  • The inode file normally cannot shrink, so be cautious when using the -maxfiles- command.
    • The maximum is one inode per WAFL block (4 kb).
    • The minimum and default value is one inode per 32 kb of volume space.
  • You can decrease the value of the maxfiles parameter for a volume, as long as you do not decrease it below the current number of files stored in the volume.
Additional information on hard links and subdirectories:
  • A hard link is a mapping between a name (or a unified group of names) and an inode number and is held in a directory.
  • An inode number can be referenced by multiple names, and each reference adds to the link count for the inode.
  • Directories make extensive use of and are implemented using hard links.
  • Hard links are used to show connectivity between parent and child directories in a directory tree. 
  • Each directory has a minimum of two entries '.' and '..'.  Where '.' is a hard link to itself and '..' is a hard link to the parent directory.
  • Therefore, every subdirectory created adds to the hard link count of the parent directory leading to the subdirectory limits described above.
  • Highly schematic view of a file system structure (the actual implementation looks different but the view is good for a general understanding):