1.. SPDX-License-Identifier: GPL-2.0
   4Inotify - A Powerful yet Simple File Change Notification System
   9Document started 15 Mar 2005 by Robert Love <>
  11Document updated 4 Jan 2015 by Zhang Zhen <>
  13        - Deleted obsoleted interface, just refer to manpages for user interface.
  15(i) Rationale
  18   What is the design decision behind not tying the watch to the open fd of
  19   the watched object?
  22   Watches are associated with an open inotify device, not an open file.
  23   This solves the primary problem with dnotify: keeping the file open pins
  24   the file and thus, worse, pins the mount.  Dnotify is therefore infeasible
  25   for use on a desktop system with removable media as the media cannot be
  26   unmounted.  Watching a file should not require that it be open.
  29   What is the design decision behind using an-fd-per-instance as opposed to
  30   an fd-per-watch?
  33   An fd-per-watch quickly consumes more file descriptors than are allowed,
  34   more fd's than are feasible to manage, and more fd's than are optimally
  35   select()-able.  Yes, root can bump the per-process fd limit and yes, users
  36   can use epoll, but requiring both is a silly and extraneous requirement.
  37   A watch consumes less memory than an open file, separating the number
  38   spaces is thus sensible.  The current design is what user-space developers
  39   want: Users initialize inotify, once, and add n watches, requiring but one
  40   fd and no twiddling with fd limits.  Initializing an inotify instance two
  41   thousand times is silly.  If we can implement user-space's preferences
  42   cleanly--and we can, the idr layer makes stuff like this trivial--then we
  43   should.
  45   There are other good arguments.  With a single fd, there is a single
  46   item to block on, which is mapped to a single queue of events.  The single
  47   fd returns all watch events and also any potential out-of-band data.  If
  48   every fd was a separate watch,
  50   - There would be no way to get event ordering.  Events on file foo and
  51     file bar would pop poll() on both fd's, but there would be no way to tell
  52     which happened first.  A single queue trivially gives you ordering.  Such
  53     ordering is crucial to existing applications such as Beagle.  Imagine
  54     "mv a b ; mv b a" events without ordering.
  56   - We'd have to maintain n fd's and n internal queues with state,
  57     versus just one.  It is a lot messier in the kernel.  A single, linear
  58     queue is the data structure that makes sense.
  60   - User-space developers prefer the current API.  The Beagle guys, for
  61     example, love it.  Trust me, I asked.  It is not a surprise: Who'd want
  62     to manage and block on 1000 fd's via select?
  64   - No way to get out of band data.
  66   - 1024 is still too low.  ;-)
  68   When you talk about designing a file change notification system that
  69   scales to 1000s of directories, juggling 1000s of fd's just does not seem
  70   the right interface.  It is too heavy.
  72   Additionally, it _is_ possible to  more than one instance  and
  73   juggle more than one queue and thus more than one associated fd.  There
  74   need not be a one-fd-per-process mapping; it is one-fd-per-queue and a
  75   process can easily want more than one queue.
  78   Why the system call approach?
  81   The poor user-space interface is the second biggest problem with dnotify.
  82   Signals are a terrible, terrible interface for file notification.  Or for
  83   anything, for that matter.  The ideal solution, from all perspectives, is a
  84   file descriptor-based one that allows basic file I/O and poll/select.
  85   Obtaining the fd and managing the watches could have been done either via a
  86   device file or a family of new system calls.  We decided to implement a
  87   family of system calls because that is the preferred approach for new kernel
  88   interfaces.  The only real difference was whether we wanted to use open(2)
  89   and ioctl(2) or a couple of new system calls.  System calls beat ioctls.