use disposable ramdisks!

Recently I wrote about my dumb CPAN metafile analyzer, and how I’d tried to keep it fast. One of the things I tried to speed it up was creating a ramdisk for all of the archive extraction. The speed boost in this case turned out to be low, but it isn’t always. (Also, I inexplicably used a journaling filesystem .) When you’re doing a ton of file operations, the difference between physical storage and in-memory can be huge.

It was useful for another reason, though: I was running the program on an OS X system with a case-insensitive filesystem. A few tarballs on the CPAN have case conflicts, which would cause errors in analysis. Instead of running against /tmp, I set up my program to build a case-sensitive filesystem on a ramdisk and use that. It’s easy, here’s the code:

use 5.20.0;
use warnings;
package Ramdisk;
use Process::Status;

sub new {
  my ($class, $mb) = @_;

  state $i = 1;

  my $dev  = $class->_mk_ramdev($mb);
  my $type = q{Case-sensitive Journaled HFS+};
  my $name = sprintf "ramdisk-%s-%05u-%u", $^T, $$, $i++;

  system(qw(diskutil eraseVolume), $type, $name, $dev)
    and die "couldn't create fs on $dev: " . Process::Status->as_string;

  my $guts = {
    root => "/Volumes/$name",
    size => $mb,
    dev  => $dev,
    pid  => $$,

  return bless $guts, $class;

sub root { $_[0]{root} }
sub size { $_[0]{size} }
sub dev  { $_[0]{dev}  }

  return unless $$ == $_[0]{pid};
  system(qw(diskutil eject), $_[0]->dev)
    and warn "couldn't unmount $_[0]{root}: " . Process::Status->as_string;

sub _mk_ramdev {
  my ($class, $mb) = @_;

  my $size_arg = $mb * 2048;
  my $dev  = `hdiutil attach -nomount ram://$size_arg`;

  chomp $dev;
  $dev =~ s/\s+\z//;

  return $dev;

So, you can call:

my $disk = Ramdisk->new(1024);

…and get an object representing a gigabyte ramdisk. Its root method tells you where it’s mounted, and when the object is garbage collected, the filesystem is unmounted and the device destroyed. This means that for any code that’s going to use a tempdir, you can write:

  my $ramdisk = Ramdisk->new(...);
  local $ENV{TEMPDIR} = $ramdisk->root;

There’s overhead to making the ramdisk, but it’s not programmer overhead, and that’s the important part. All you have to do is figure out whether it’s worth it.

I didn’t put my ramdisk code on the CPAN, because there’s already Sys-Ramdisk, which does nearly the same job. I didn’t use it because I “just wrote mine” because I thought it would be faster than finding an existing solution. It’s probably a better replacement for what I wrote, because it probably wasn’t written in twenty minutes at a bar.

Written on May 8, 2015
🐪 perl
🧑🏽‍💻 programming