Part of our efforts to reduce power consumption is to identify processes which keep waking up the disk even when the computer is idle. This already resulted in a few bug reports (and some fixes, too), but we only really just began with this.

Unfortunately there is no really good tool to trace file access events system-wide. powertop claims to, but its output is both very incomplete, and also wrong (e. g. it claims that read accesses are writes). strace gives you everything you do and don’t want to know about what’s going on, but is per-process, and attaching strace to all running and new processes is cumbersome. blktrace is system-wide, but operates at a way too low level for this task: its output has nothing to do any more with files or even inodes, just raw block numbers which are impossible to convert back to an inode and file path.

So I created a little tool called fatrace (“file access trace”, not “fat race” :-) ) which uses fanotify, a couple of /proc lookups and some glue to provide this. By default it monitors the whole system, i. e. all mounts (except the virtual ones like /proc, tmpfs, etc.), but you can also tell it to just consider the mount of the current directory. You can write the log into a file (stdout by default), and run it for a specified number of seconds. Optional time stamps and PID filters are also provided.

$ sudo fatrace
rsyslogd(967): W /var/log/auth.log
notify-osd(2264): O /usr/share/pixmaps/weechat.xpm
compiz(2001): R device 8:2 inode 658203
[...]

It shows the process name and pid, the event type (Rread, Write, Open, or Close), and the path. Sometimes its’ not possible to determine a path (usually because it’s a temporary file which already got deleted, and I suspect mmaps as well), in that case it shows the device and inode number; such programs then need closer inspection with strace.

If you run this in gnome-terminal, there is an annoying feedback loop, as gnome-terminal causes a disk access with each output line, which then causes another output line, ad infinitum. To fix this, you can either redirect output to a file (-o /tmp/trace) or ignore the PID of gnome-terminal (-p `pidof gnome-terminal`).

So to investigate which programs are keeping your disk spinning, run something like

  $ sudo fatrace -o /tmp/trace -s 60

and then do nothing until it finishes.

My next task will be to write an integration program which calls fatrace and powertop, and creates a nice little report out of that raw data, sorted by number of accesses and process name, and all that. But it might already help some folks as it is right now.

The code lives in bzr branch lp:fatrace (web view), you can just run make and sudo ./fatrace. I also uploaded a package to Ubuntu Precise, but it still needs to go through the NEW queue. I also made a 0.1 release, so you can just grab the release tarball if you prefer. Have a look at the manpage and --help, it should be pretty self-explanatory.