Dirty deals: the story of a data corruption bug in OpenZFS

This presentation was given at AsiaBSDCon 2024.


In November 2023 a silent data corruption bug was discovered in the recently released OpenZFS 2.2.0. The bug was reported, and quickly correlated by the community with a new feature, “block cloning”, which even before its release had gained a reputation for instability and data loss, to the point of being disabled by default in FreeBSD 14. A 2.2.1 release was quickly put together, disabling the feature.

One of OpenZFS’ key selling points is its ability to detect and correct all kinds of data corruption, so news of its apparent failure quickly spread through tech news and social media, aided by its somewhat prickly relationship with some other parts of the open-source software world. This naturally led to a lot of confusion and concern from home and business OpenZFS users alike, worried about the integrity of their data.

With many outside eyes on the bug report, a reproduction test case was developed and it was quickly shown that the bug was present on the previous 2.1 series, and it was theorised that it might have been present right back to the original open-source ZFS release. This naturally caused even more confusion and concern, as now people were concerned about the integrity of their decades-old archive storage.

Over the Thanksgiving long weekend a few OpenZFS developers and many users rallied around the problem. A workaround was identified and documented. The bug was studied and gradually understood, and a fix was developed. People shared ideas and how might identify if their data was corrupt. Others theorised about different workloads that could make the problem easier or harder to hit. Still others took it upon themselves to find ways to run older versions, to find out just how far back the problem went.

This is a story about a 15-year old bug, where it came from, how it works, how it eluded users and developers alike through that time, and how a community pulled together to understand and fix it.


Further reading


Thanks to the management team at Klara Inc. for giving me the opportunity to work on OpenZFS and continuing to support that work wherever it may lead.

Thanks to the AsiaBSDCon 2024 committee and sponsors for supporting my travel to Taipei to present this work.