[Thunar-dev] Thunar performance improvements

André Gillibert MetaEntropy at gmail.com
Wed Nov 16 17:54:11 CET 2011

Tired of waiting 75 seconds in front of Thunar when listing a directory of 7500 symbolic links over a CIFS share, I tried to improve performances.

I noticed Thunar (as well as pretty all Linux file managers) perform network or disk intensive stat(2)/lstat(2)/access(2) and readlink(2) operations on every file or directory before listing them, even though most of the info it needs to get a proper icon and sort order can be got from the d_type byte in struct dirent (see readdir(3)) and from the file name.

First, I wrote a set of patches for Thunar-1.0.2, which is basically what I had available on my CentOS 5.x system. Then, I discovered that Thunar-1.2 I/O subsystem had been dramatically changed to use the GIO virtual file system rather than thunar-vfs.

Not wanting to uselessly fork the Thunar project (because IMO, forking is harmful to the OSS community), I wrote similar patches for Thunar-1.2, and, I wonder whether they can be included in the mainline Thunar.

Patches overview:
First, I had to patch the standard file system backend of GIO of GLIB 2.28, because, GIO performed stat(2)/lstat(2) operations even when requested information didn't need that.
I wrote a patch to GIO that make it lazy. stat(2)/lstat(2)/readlink(2)/access(2) operations are only performed when required. Moreover, special optimization has been done to reduce the number of access(2) calls. For example, in a directory where most files are read-executable, it will perform only access(R_OK|X_OK) and access(W_OK) calls on most files, which is 2 syscalls rather than 3.

Secondly, I patched Thunar, as follows:
1) Changed the ThunarFile implementation to only compute information that's "required", and, as more information is needed, complete this information.

2) When a directory is loaded, only basic information is retrieved: File type (directory/regular-file/symlink/special-inode), fast content type without following symlinks. This is very fast as it requires very little I/O. On the big CIFS directory: 75 seconds -> 2 or 3 seconds.
This is not very correct for symlinks, as it doesn't even know whether it points to a file/special-inode or directory. So, we go to point (3).

3) When the file is actually viewed, a background thread computes more info (and so, follow symlinks), and, after a few milliseconds, the icon is changed. If a symlink is discovered to point to a directory, it's inserted as subdirectory in the tree view.

4) When a file or set of files is selected, their real content-type is computed in order to show a correct context menu, although, not everything is computed in some cases (e.g. If there's a file + a directory in the selection, it knows that the only verb is "open").

Consequently, the behavior of double-click or context menu is not changed. Only icons may be "incorrect" a short amount of time.

5) The side tree view was extremely slow in some cases. It could freeze Thunar for several minutes. This is because Thunar wanted to know if each directory visible in the tree view had any subdirectory (following symlinks) in order to display a little cross to be able to expand the directory and view the subdirectories. This was performed in a background thread, but, on I/O bound systems, could slow down extremely all other I/O operations.

Actually, this was the "bug" that made me initially write this set of patches.

I changed that to make it behave like Nautilus: Don't enter subdirectories until the cross is clicked, in that case, if no subdirectory is found, just make the cross disappear... This is a "feature regression", but I may update the patch to make something fast and correct most of the time: Seek a subdirectory, parsing a limited number (e.g. one hundred) of sub-files at most, and stop as soon as a true subdirectory (not symlink) is found. In doubt, assume the directory may have subdirectories.

I may also provide a user preference to balance between performances and correctness.
At the highest level of correctness, it would behave as the old Thunar (although twice as fast because, a "bug" in the folder listing function would make everything listed/stat-ed twice).

6) I fixed a few performance bugs. For example, when viewing a directory, it was sorted with a O(n^2) algorithm because the dir was initially listed as empty, and files, after having been listed in a background job, were seen as dynamically added files.

7) IIRC, I fixed a bug that made Thunar crash when seeing broken mount points (e.g. FUSE file system where the user-space process crashed).

My code is neither very pretty nor very commented, but I can improve the code quality before submitting the patches. I'd prefer to know whether Thunar maintainers would accept the patches befor cleaning them up.

I hope that the philosophy of correctness of Thunar don't prevent pure performance patches like these ones, to be included.

André Gillibert

More information about the Thunar-dev mailing list