Writing log in flash

Steve deRosier derosier at gmail.com
Tue Feb 13 23:53:44 PST 2018

On Tue, Feb 13, 2018 at 11:06 PM, Ran Shalit <ranshalit at gmail.com> wrote:
> Hello,
> I have a general question about NAND technology:
> Is it possible to write in nand continuously ?
> I understand that NAND technology requires block erase, and then the
> writing is done per page.
> Yet, jffs for example achieve doing fwrite() which can get any size,
> so how does jffs achieve that ?
> Is it that it write pages continously ? We actually use on-die ecc, so
> I am not sure if that is possible. I mean, if we write first 10 words
> in page, so on writing the rest of the pagem, the ecc will need to be
> re-written, so that's probably a problem.
> Does it mean we have to wait for a complete page bytes, before writing
> into flash ?
> Thank you,
> Ran

Hi Ran,

The short version is: you usually must write in pages.  Or if your
chip supports it, sub-pages.

And, you need to consult the datasheet of the NAND you are using.

I can only give you the experience of the devices I'm familiar with.
Mostly older Micron SLC NANDs, with no sub-page write support.

* Erase is done per block. Keep in mind that blocks can be fairly
large, like 128 kbytes (+oob area space).
* Writing must be done in pages. In my devices, a page is 2 kbytes
(+oob area space, usually 64 bytes).
* Because writing is done in pages, the driver or filesystem is going
to be buffering data to at least that page worth.  It will flush a
partial page when appropriate, but that's the end of the use of that
* While it _might_ be possible to write multiple times to a page,
doing so tends to disrupt other data on the page, so the datasheet
usually says not to do that.  And if you're running with ECC, that can
create a problem.
* On-chip ECC vs not doesn't matter for your application.  All that
changes is where the ECC data is calculated. It's still calculated on
a per-page (or sub-page) basis.
* This is my understanding of sub-page writes, never having used a
NAND with that, I'm making educated guesses. Even with a sub-page
write, the driver must write in sub-page units. On my devices that
would be 512 bytes of data. Reason being is the ECC is calculated over
that chunk as a whole. So, sub-page writes might help you, but not
with your example of only writing 10 words at a time.
* And finally - you're right, if you were to write only a few bytes
and then wrote a few more, ECC would need to be rewritten, which can't
successfully be done without first erasing the entire block.

Hopefully I'm right in the above and I can save Richard or Boris a few
moments of time; otherwise I'm sure someone will chime in and correct
me. Again, I'll be clear: the above is based on the devices I use and
might not apply to all. And if you haven't already, read the datasheet
of the NAND you are using.

I can't speak to jffs with regard to what you bring up. I generally
use UBIFS on UBI.

I think you should look at your application and what you're trying to
do. I assume by log, you're talking about logging either external data
or system operation and what you're concerned about are power-cuts,
because who cares if you buffer up 2k if it never looses the buffer in
RAM. Without knowing your application, this is my suggestion, assuming
being forced to run a NAND flash. I'd place the log in UBIFS. If
you're logging data, and it's slow data, you're reading it and the
driver will be buffering and writing it out as necessary. UBI will
take care of wear-leveling and making sure it flushes buffers either
on a timer or as it gets full pages.  UBI/UBIFS is power-cut resistant
and while if you get a power cut you might loose some data, at least
the rest is safe and sound on your NAND.  If you get a power cut,
you're going to lose data while the device is offline anyway, so I
don't really see a difference.  As for logging system operation, like
saving syslog or kernel messages to the log, well, it should be OK in
most cases. And in the few it wouldn't be, I'd expect the data you
wanted to write to be corrupt anyway, so little loss is really there.

And if you truly must have a "data must be written at all costs"
you're going to want to investigate other or additional hardware. For
example, have a brown-out detect with a backup battery or super-cap
and detect the problem and be sure to flush RAM and shutdown cleanly
before you lose power.  In any case, this and the previous paragraph
are just my opinions.

- Steve

Steve deRosier
Cal-Sierra Consulting LLC

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