Revision 3 as of 2009-11-26 13:19:43

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ubiquity's partitioner is kind of slow, especially with lots of disks/partitions. This is partly due to slowness in the underlying partitioner that's also visible in d-i (though less annoying there) and partly due to inefficiencies in the ubiquity integration. Let's make it be more pleasant to use.

(Note that this is mainly about the manual partitioner, although some effects would likely ripple out to the automatic partitioner as well.)

Release Note

Ubiquity's manual partitioner is now substantially faster.


This has been an ever-increasing source of user complaints, and it would be lovely to spend some time optimising it. We just need to make sure that the time spent doing so isn't open-ended, of course.


Exact optimisation strategies often need to be determined during implementation, but we discussed a number of tools and techniques we might use.

"Scanning disks" is more or less equivalent to pressing Enter on each partition in d-i to fetch information about it, and then going back to the next one. This implies that there are two main avenues of attack: make ubiquity's partitioning wrapper code need to do less work in terms of partman operations, and make partman itself faster.

Reducing partman operations in ubiquity

The way ubiquity scans all partitions incidentally involves asking partman to "redisplay" the partition tree at each step, even though no changes have been made. We should be able to cache or avoid this for a speed-up on the order of 50%.

Ubiquity's partitioner is a trade-off between maintainability and efficiency. We will identify places where we're asking partman for a relatively small amount of information at high cost, and replace those by using our existing Python bindings to parted_server.

Using cdebconf rather than Perl debconf in ubiquity didn't make a significant speed difference the last time Colin tried it, but we should recheck this. Ubiquity already has a switch for this which would at most just need a small amount of bitrot-fixing. Note, though, that there are some intentional semantic differences between cdebconf and debconf, particularly in the area of the seen flag, so we would need to be very careful of semantics here.

ntfsresize and other resizing tools are called quite often to determine resize bounds of partitions. These are expensive, so we'll figure out how the number of calls here can be reduced.

There are a number of places where we rescan all partitions, even though we can determine that only a certain number of partitions need to be rescanned (for example, resizing a partition only affects the resized partition and the part of the disk immediately following it). We will assess and reduce these.

The partition bar construction in cairo is quite slow; it apparently repeatedly calls os-prober, and the caching attempt seems not to be working.

There is a long pause after the partitioner while a check script runs du to find out the size of /rofs. We will do this statically when building the live filesystem instead.

Speeding up partman

Progress on this in the past has been blocked on the absence of a good shell profiling tool; strace is too intrusive and tends to disturb timings too much, and in any case does not make it easy to see the big picture. During the UDS session, bootchart was pointed out as a promising tool here. We'll apply this to manual partitioning sessions. The main focus should be on choices scripts in /lib/partman and their descendants, since those are used to generate menus and inefficiencies here will be very noticeable.


UI Changes

Even with speed increases, the pop-up progress window is jarring. We will follow up on 336751 to restyle this.

Test/Demo Plan

We'll designate a test system for timings, which will probably be a virtual machine on Colin's laptop (though of course anyone can do similar timings from Karmic->Lucid on some other system). The most important attribute is the partition layout, and we already know that the partitioner is slow when there are lots of partitions, so we will time a system containing two disks with eight partitions each.

A sensible goal seems to be to get the time for "Scanning disks" on such a system down to 20% of the time in Karmic.