ZFS I/O (ZIO) Scheduler

ZFS issues I/O operations to leaf vdevs (usually devices) to satisfy and complete I/Os. The ZIO scheduler determines when and in what order those operations are issued. Operations are divided into five I/O classes prioritized in the following order:


I/O Class



sync read

most reads

sync write

as defined by application or via ‘zfs’ ‘sync’ property

async read

prefetch reads

async write

most writes


scrub read

scan read: includes both scrub and resilver

Each queue defines the minimum and maximum number of concurrent operations issued to the device. In addition, the device has an aggregate maximum, zfs_vdev_max_active. Note that the sum of the per-queue minimums must not exceed the aggregate maximum. If the sum of the per-queue maximums exceeds the aggregate maximum, then the number of active I/Os may reach zfs_vdev_max_active, in which case no further I/Os are issued regardless of whether all per-queue minimums have been met.

I/O Class

Min Active Parameter

Max Active Parameter

sync read



sync write



async read



async write



scrub read



For many physical devices, throughput increases with the number of concurrent operations, but latency typically suffers. Further, physical devices typically have a limit at which more concurrent operations have no effect on throughput or can actually cause it to performance to decrease.

The ZIO scheduler selects the next operation to issue by first looking for an I/O class whose minimum has not been satisfied. Once all are satisfied and the aggregate maximum has not been hit, the scheduler looks for classes whose maximum has not been satisfied. Iteration through the I/O classes is done in the order specified above. No further operations are issued if the aggregate maximum number of concurrent operations has been hit or if there are no operations queued for an I/O class that has not hit its maximum. Every time an I/O is queued or an operation completes, the I/O scheduler looks for new operations to issue.

In general, smaller max_active’s will lead to lower latency of synchronous operations. Larger max_active’s may lead to higher overall throughput, depending on underlying storage and the I/O mix.

The ratio of the queues’ max_actives determines the balance of performance between reads, writes, and scrubs. For example, when there is contention, increasing zfs_vdev_scrub_max_active will cause the scrub or resilver to complete more quickly, but reads and writes to have higher latency and lower throughput.

All I/O classes have a fixed maximum number of outstanding operations except for the async write class. Asynchronous writes represent the data that is committed to stable storage during the syncing stage for transaction groups (txgs). Transaction groups enter the syncing state periodically so the number of queued async writes quickly bursts up and then reduce down to zero. The zfs_txg_timeout tunable (default=5 seconds) sets the target interval for txg sync. Thus a burst of async writes every 5 seconds is a normal ZFS I/O pattern.

Rather than servicing I/Os as quickly as possible, the ZIO scheduler changes the maximum number of active async write I/Os according to the amount of dirty data in the pool. Since both throughput and latency typically increase as the number of concurrent operations issued to physical devices, reducing the burstiness in the number of concurrent operations also stabilizes the response time of operations from other queues. This is particular important for the sync read and write queues, where the periodic async write bursts of the txg sync can lead to device-level contention. In broad strokes, the ZIO scheduler issues more concurrent operations from the async write queue as there’s more dirty data in the pool.