Reducing SquashFS delta size through partial decompression

In a previous article titled ‘using deltas to speed up SquashFS ebuild repository updates’, the author has considered benefits of using binary deltas to update SquashFS images. The proposed method has proven very efficient in terms of disk I/O, memory and CPU time use. However, the relatively large size of deltas made network bandwidth a bottleneck.

The rough estimations done at the time proved that this is not a major issue for a common client with a moderate-bandwidth link such as ADSL. Nevertheless, the size is an inconvenience both to clients and to mirror providers. Assuming that there is an upper bound on disk space consumed by snapshots, the extra size reduces the number of snapshots stored on mirrors, and therefore shortens the supported update period.

The most likely cause for the excessive delta size is the complexity of correlation between input and compressed output. Changes in input files are likely to cause much larger changes in the SquashFS output that the tested delta algorithms fail to express efficiently.

For example, in the LZ family of compression algorithms, a change in input stream may affect the contents of the dictionary and therefore the output stream following it. In block-based compressors such as bzip2, a change in input may shift all the following data moving it across block boundaries. As a result, the contents of all the blocks following it change, and therefore the compressed output for each of them.

Since SquashFS splits the input into multiple blocks that are compressed separately, the scope of this issue is much smaller than in plain tarballs. Nevertheless, small changes occurring in multiple blocks are able to grow delta two to four times as large as it would be if the data was not compressed. In this paper, the author explores the possibility of introducing a transparent decompression in the delta generation process to reduce the delta size.

Read on… [PDF]

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