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Many people already know about this option, but it is worth mentioning again. However, a description of what atime is is in order.

The atime is one of the three times associated with a UNIX file: the three are: the ctime (or change time – that is, when the inode was last changed); the mtime (or modified time – that is, when the file is changed); and lastly, the atime (or access time).

It is the continual changes to the atime that cause so much grief. Compared to the mtime and the ctime, the atime changes with alarming frequency. Every single time a file is accessed, the atime is updated to match the current time – whether the file is opened, read, written, or accessed in any manner whatsoever.

There was a Linux kernel mailing list discussion thread that gave rise to some interesting quotes on this topic.

The discussion became quite heated when Ingo Molnar suggested that atime should be the kernel default. He had this to say:

Atime updates are by far the biggest IO performance deficiency that Linux has today. Getting rid of atime updates would give us more everyday Linux performance than all the pagecache speedups of the past 10 years, _combined_.

and:

It’s also perhaps the most stupid Unix design idea of all times. Unix is really nice and well done, but think about this a bit: ‘For every file that is read from the disk, lets do a … write to the disk! And, for every file that is already cached and which we read from the cache … do a write to the disk!’

and later, this:

Measurements show that noatime helps 20-30% on regular desktop
workloads, easily 50% for kernel builds and much more than that (in
excess of 100%) for file-read-intense workloads.

and, this:

Give me a Linux desktop anywhere and i can
tell you whether it has atimes on or off, just by clicking around and
using apps (without looking at the mount options). That’s how i notice
it that i forgot to turn off atime on any newly installed system – the
system has weird desktop lags and unnecessary disk trashing.

Linus had this to say:

yeah, it’s really ugly. But otherwise i’ve got no real complaint about
ext3 – with the obligatory qualification that “noatime,nodiratime” in
/etc/fstab is a must. This speeds up things very visibly – especially
when lots of files are accessed. It’s kind of weird that every Linux
desktop and server is hurt by a noticeable IO performance slowdown due
to the constant atime updates, while there’s just two real users of it:
tmpwatch [which can be configured to use ctime so it's not a big issue]
and some backup tools. (Ok, and mail-notify too i guess.) Out of tens of
thousands of applications. So for most file workloads we give Windows a
20%-30% performance edge, for almost nothing. (for RAM-starved kernel
builds the performance difference between atime and noatime+nodiratime
setups is more on the order of 40%)

Changing a file system to run without atime is simple; use this command on a mounted filesystem:

# mount -o remount,noatime /disk

Don’t forget to change the /etc/fstab to match this.

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