October 12, 2006

Reiser filesystem development to continue

Author: Bruce Byfield

Hans Reiser, the developer of the ReiserFS and Reiser4 filesystems, has been arrested in Oakland, California as a suspect in the disappearance of his estranged wife Nina Reiser. As the news of his arrest spreads in the free and open software communities, a growing concern is the effect that the case might have on Namesys, Hans Reiser's company, as well as the future of his filesystem work.

Hans Reiser is best known as the lead developer of ReiserFS and Reiser4, two journalled filesystems whose merits are frequently praised and disparaged. Hans Reiser is also known for his struggle to have Reiser4 included in the kernel, and his outspokenness over the delays in reaching his goal. Both filesystems are developed by Namesys, a small company whose work has been sponsored by Linspire and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

A call to the number on the Namesys Web site brought an anonymous woman to the telephone who would only say, "No comment" before hanging up. However, several of those connected to Namesys were willing to speak publicly about the future of the company and the filesystems.

"I do not think that just being arrested will affect anything so long as Hans is not actually convicted," says Oleg Drokin, the former release manager at Namesys. "If he is convicted, that might cause problems for Namesys [because] it is operated solely by Hans."

The main concern, according to Drokin, is whether Namesys employees, many of whom live in Russia, will continue to receive their salaries. If the money stops flowing, "some people will stop working, of course."

However, Drokin thinks that situation is unlikely. "Hans suspected that he would be suspected from the very beginning," he adds. "I would think he took necessary steps for Namesys employees to continue to work even in his absence and even Namesys itself is safe for at least some time."

Ramon Reiser, Hans' father and a former marketer and technical writer at Namesys, confirms Drokin's comments. Ramon Reiser says that Namesys has always had two main priorities: "pushing the envelope to bring the filesystem up to the 21st Century from the 1970s" and "the well being of the Russian and Ukrainian programmers who have put so much of their lives into giving life to the modern filesystems that Hans envisioned as a young Berkeley University student back in 1983. As his father, I can attest that those two priorities are still uppermost."

In an email on the Linux kernel mailing list, Lex Lyamin, hostmaster and sysadmin for Namesys, writes that "We will try to appoint a proxy to run Namesys business," should Hans Reiser be detained or convicted.

Similarly, those willing to make public comments say that there should be little disruption to the Reiser filesystems, at least in the short term. Lyamin says that active development on ReiserFS is mainly devoted to bugfixes, although some new features have been added by Novell employees working on SUSE. ReiserFS is already part of the kernel, and is likely to remain so.

In the same vein, Drokin adds. "The effect on Reiser4 should not be all that bad. [Of] the people who are still working on it, many are very devoted to it and do not plan to drop their work until Reiser4 is actually merged into the vanilla kernel."

Lyamin agrees that Reiser4 should be unaffected for now. "Yes, we are rather shaken and stressed at the moment, although I cannot say we didn't see it coming." In the short term, Lyamin says, meaning the next six months, "We will just buzz along as usual, chunking out patches and going through reviews."

As for the long term, Lyamin says "that is where it becomes tricky," if Reiser is found guilty. However, Lyamin expresses the cautious hope that the case will go the "way we hope it will go."

Others expressed their hope that the Reiser4 community will continue their work. "Hans had a number of interesting ideas about the next generation file systems," says George Beshers, a former team leader at Namesys. "It would be in the Linux communities' best interest to keep Reiser4 viable so that those innovations can be carefully evaluated."

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of Nina Reiser and the outcome of the case against Hans Reiser remain unknown. Caught in the middle of this confusion and heartbreak, Ramon Reiser promises, "I will do all I can to see that the fine Russian and Ukrainian programmers of Namesys can continue the development of Reiser4 -- with expectation that Reiser5 in several years and then Reiser6 about five years after that will at last bring a full-fledged, modern filesystem commensurate with Linux and the new operating systems coming on line. Godspeed."

Bruce Byfield is a course designer and instructor, and a computer journalist who writes regularly for NewsForge, Linux.com, and IT Manager's Journal.

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  • Linux