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3. Partition Types

3.1. Partition Types

A partition is labeled to host a certain kind of file system (not to be confused with a volume label (see Section 6)). Such a file system could be the linux standard ext2 file system or linux swap space, or even foreign file systems like (Microsoft) NTFS or (Sun) UFS. There is a numerical code associated with each partition type. For example, the code for ext2 is 0x83 and linux swap is 0x82. To see a list of partition types and their codes, execute /sbin/sfdisk -T

3.2. Foreign Partition Types

The partition type codes have been arbitrarily chosen (you can't figure out what they should be) and they are particular to a given operating system. Therefore, it is theoretically possible that if you use two operating systems with the same hard drive, the same code might be used to designate two different partition types. OS/2 marks its partitions with a 0x07 type and so does Windows NT's NTFS. MS-DOS allocates several type codes for its various flavors of FAT file systems: 0x01, 0x04 and 0x06 are known. DR-DOS used 0x81 to indicate protected FAT partitions, creating a type clash with Linux/Minix at that time, but neither Linux/Minix nor DR-DOS are widely used any more.

OS/2 marks its partitions with a 0x07 type and so does Windows NT's NTFS. MS-DOS allocates several type codes for its various flavors of FAT file systems: 0x01, 0x04 and 0x06 are known. DR-DOS used 0x81 to indicate protected FAT partitions, creating a type clash with Linux/Minix at that time, but neither Linux/Minix nor DR-DOS are widely used any more.

3.3. Primary Partitions

The number of partitions on an Intel-based system was limited from the very beginning: The original partition table was installed as part of the boot sector and held space for only four partition entries. These partitions are now called primary partitions.

3.4. Logical Partitions

One primary partition of a hard drive may be subpartitioned. These are logical partitions. This effectively allows us to skirt the historical four partition limitation.

The primary partition used to house the logical partitions is called an extended partition and it has its own file system type (0x05). Unlike primary partitions, logical partitions must be contiguous. Each logical partition contains a pointer to the next logical partition, which implies that the number of logical partitions is unlimited. However, linux imposes limits on the total number of any type of partition on a drive, so this effectively limits the number of logical partitions. This is at most 15 partitions total on an SCSI disk and 63 total on an IDE disk.

3.5. Swap Partitions

Every process running on your computer is allocated a number of blocks of RAM. These blocks are called pages. The set of in-memory pages which will be referenced by the processor in the very near future is called a "working set." Linux tries to predict these memory accesses (assuming that recently used pages will be used again in the near future) and keeps these pages in RAM if possible.

If you have too many processes running on a machine, the kernel will try to free up RAM by writing pages to disk. This is what swap space is for. It effectively increases the amount of memory you have available. However, disk I/O is about a hundred times slower than reading from and writing to RAM. Consider this emergency memory and not extra memory.

If memory becomes so scarce that the kernel pages out from the working set of one process in order to page in for another, the machine is said to be thrashing. Some readers might have inadvertenly experienced this: the hard drive is grinding away like crazy, but the computer is slow to the point of being unusable. Swap space is something you need to have, but it is no substitute for sufficient RAM. See the discussion in Section 4.4 for tips on determining the size of swap space you need.