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UNIX Filesystems: Evolution, Design, and Implementation by Steve D. Pate

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The Specfs Filesystem

Devices, whether block or character, are represented by special files in the filesystem. As the number of UNIX filesystem types increased, it was found that each filesystem was duplicating effort when managing access to the devices themselves.

Having multiple special files in the namespace caused an additional problem in that there could be multiple buffers in the buffer cache corresponding to the same block on disk. Considering how files are accessed, returning a filesystem vnode for a device file is incorrect. For example, consider the case where the device file resides on a UFS filesystem. Returning a vnode that has the v_op field of the vnode set to the list of UFS vnode operations will lead to problems. First, the open vnode operation on UFS or any other filesystem really has no function to perform for regular files. Second, many of the operations that are applicable to regular files are not applicable to device files. To make matters worse, if the vnode goes inactive, the filesystem may attempt to close the device even though it is open through access to another special file that references the same device.

All of these problems can be solved by adding additional logic inside the filesystem. However, consideration must be given on how to handle device access for each vnode operation. Furthermore, reference counting to determine when the last close on a device occurs is left up to the device driver. All in all, this leads to a situation that has a lot ...

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