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This document defines the semantics of a gcsfuse file system mounted with a GCS bucket, including how files and directories map to object names, what consistency guarantees are made, etc.


The following compatibility constraints are worth noting:

  • gcsfuse does not support GCS buckets with object versioning enabled. (The default is to have this disabled.) No guarantees are made about its behavior when used with such a bucket.

  • Reading or modifying a file backed by an object with a contentEncoding property set may yield surprising results, and no guarantees are made about the behavior. It is recommended that you do not use gcsfuse to interact with such objects.

    (See the Object resource and performance tips pages for more info on contentEncoding, and this writeup for an explanation of why it can't be reliably supported.)


By default, gcsfuse has two forms of caching enabled that reduce consistency guarantees. They are discussed in this section, along with their trade-offs and the situations in which they are and are not safe to use.

The default behavior is appropriate, and brings significant performance benefits, when the bucket is never modified or is modified only via a single gcsfuse mount. If you are using gcsfuse in a situation where multiple actors will be modifying a bucket, be sure to read the rest of this section carefully and consider disabling caching.

Important: The rest of this document assumes that caching is disabled (by setting --stat-cache-ttl 0 and --type-cache-ttl 0). This is not the default. If you want the consistency guarantees discussed in this document, you must use these options to disable caching.

Stat caching

The cost of the consistency guarantees discussed in the rest of this document is that gcsfuse must frequently send stat object requests to GCS in order to get the freshest possible answer for the kernel when it asks about a particular name or inode, which happens frequently. This can make what appear to the user to be simple operations, like ls -l, take quite a long time.

To alleviate this slowness, gcsfuse supports using cached data where it would otherwise send a stat object request to GCS, saving some round trips. This behavior is controlled by the --stat-cache-ttl flag, which can be set to a value like 10s or 1.5h. (The default is one minute.) Positive and negative stat results will be cached for the specified amount of time.

--stat-cache-ttl also controls the duration for which gcsfuse allows the kernel to cache inode attributes. Caching these can help with file system performance, since otherwise the kernel must send a request for inode attributes to gcsfuse for each call to write(2), stat(2), and others.

Warning: Using stat caching breaks the consistency guarantees discussed in this document. It is safe only in the following situations:

  • The mounted bucket is never modified.
  • The mounted bucket is only modified on a single machine, via a single gcsfuse mount.
  • The mounted bucket is modified by multiple actors, but the user is confident that they don't need the guarantees discussed in this document.

Type caching

Because GCS does not forbid an object named foo from existing next to an object named foo/ (see the Name conflicts section), when gcsfuse is asked to look up the name "foo" it must stat both objects.

The stat cache enabled with --stat-cache-ttl can help with this, but it does not help fully until after the first request. For example, assume that there is an object named foo but not one named foo/, and the stat cache is enabled. When the user runs ls -l, the following happens:

  • The objects in the bucket are listed. This causes a stat cache entry for foo to be created.

  • ls asks to stat the name "foo", causing a lookup request to be sent for that name.

  • gcsfuse sends GCS stat requests for the object named foo and the object named foo/. The first will hit in the stat cache, but the second will have to go all the way to GCS to receive a negative result.

The negative result for foo/ will be cached, but that only helps with the second invocation of ls -l.

To alleviate this, gcsfuse supports a "type cache" on directory inodes. When --type-cache-ttl is set, each directory inode will maintain a mapping from the name of its children to whether those children are known to be files or directories or both. When a child is looked up, if the parent's cache says that the child is a file but not a directory, only one GCS object will need to be statted. Similarly if the child is a directory but not a file.

Warning: Using type caching breaks the consistency guarantees discussed in this document. It is safe only in the following situations:

  • The mounted bucket is never modified.
  • The type (file or directory) for any given path never changes.


GCS has a feature called object versioning that allows buckets to be put into a mode where the history of each object is maintained, even when it is overwritten or deleted. gcsfuse does not support such buckets, and the file system semantics discussed below do not apply to buckets in this mode—the behavior for such buckets is undefined.

Files and directories

GCS object names map directly to file paths using the separator '/'. Object names ending in a slash represent a directory, and all other object names represent a file. Directories are by default not implicitly defined; they exist only if a matching object ending in a slash exists.

This is all much clearer with an example. Say that the GCS bucket contains the following objects:

  • burrito/
  • enchilada/
  • enchilada/0
  • enchilada/1
  • queso/
  • queso/carne/
  • queso/carne/nachos
  • taco

Then the gcsfuse directory structure will be as follows, where a trailing slash indicates a directory and the top level is the contents of the root directory of the file system:


Implicit directories

As mentioned above, by default there is no allowance for the implicit existence of directories. Since the usual file system operations like mkdir will do the right thing, if you set up a bucket's structure using only gcsfuse then you will not notice anything odd about this. If, however, you use some other tool to set up objects in GCS (such as the storage browser in the Google Developers Console), you may notice that not all objects are visible until you create leading directories for them.

For example, say that you use some other tool to set up a single object named "foo/bar" in your bucket, then mount the bucket with gcsfuse. The file system will initially appear empty, since there is no "foo/" object. However if you subsequently run mkdir foo, you will now see a directory named "foo" containing a file named "bar".

gcsfuse supports a flag called --implicit-dirs that changes the behavior. When this flag is enabled, name lookup requests from the kernel use the GCS API's Objects.list operation to search for objects that would implicitly define the existence of a directory with the name in question. So, in the example above, there would appear to be a directory named "foo".

The use of --implicit-dirs has some drawbacks (see issue #7 for a more thorough discussion):

  • The feature requires an additional request to GCS for each name lookup, which may have costs in terms of request budget and latency.

  • With this setup, it will appear as if there is a directory called "foo" containing a file called "bar". But when the user runs rm foo/bar, suddenly it will appear as if the file system is completely empty. This is contrary to expectations, since the user hasn't run rmdir foo.

  • gcsfuse sends a single Objects.list request to GCS, and treats the directory as being implicitly defined if the results are non-empty. In rare cases (notably when many objects have recently been deleted) Objects.list may return an arbitrary number of empty responses with continuation tokens, even for a non-empty name range. In order to bound the number of requests, gcsfuse simply ignores this subtlety. Therefore in rare cases an implicitly defined directory will fail to appear.


With each record in GCS is stored object and metadata generation numbers. These provide a total order on requests to modify an object's contents and metadata, compatible with causality. So if insert operation A happens before insert operation B, then the generation number resulting from A will be less than that resulting from B.

In the discussion below, the term "generation" refers to both object generation and meta-generation numbers from GCS. In other words, what we call "generation" is a pair (G, M) of GCS object generation number G and associated meta-generation number M.

File inodes

As in any file system, file inodes in a gcsfuse file system logically contain file contents and metadata. A file inode is initialized with a particular generation of a particular object within GCS (the "source generation"), and its contents are initially exactly the contents and metadata of that generation.


When a file is created anew because it doesn't already exist and open(2) was called with O_CREAT, an empty object with the appropriate name is created in GCS. The resulting generation is used as the source generation for the inode, and it is as if that object had been pre-existing and was opened.

Pubsub notifications on file creation.

Pubsub notifications may be enabled on a GCS bucket to help track changes to Cloud Storage objects. Due of the semantics that GCSFuse uses to create files, 3 different events are generated, per file created:

  1. One OBJECT_FINALIZE event: a zero sized object has been created.
  2. One OBJECT_DELETE event: the first generation of the object has been deleted.
  3. One OBJECT_FINALIZE event: a non-zero sized object has been created.

These GCS events can be used from other cloud products, such as AppEngine, Cloud Functions, etc. It is recommended to ignore events for files with zero size.


Inodes may be opened for writing. Modifications are reflected immediately in reads of the same inode by processes local to the machine using the same file system. After a successful fsync or a successful close, the contents of the inode are guaranteed to have been written to the GCS object with the matching name if the object's generation and meta-generation numbers still matched the source generation of the inode. (They may not have if there had been modifications from another actor in the meantime.) There are no guarantees about whether local modifications are reflected in GCS after writing but before syncing or closing.

Modification time (stat::st_mtim on Linux) is tracked for file inodes, and can be updated in usual the usual way using utimes(2) or futimens(2). When dirty inodes are written out to GCS objects, mtime is stored in the custom metadata key gcsfuse_mtime in an unspecified format.

There is one special case worth mentioning: mtime updates to unlinked inodes may be silently lost. (Of course content updates to these inodes will also be lost once the file is closed.)

There are no guarantees about other inode times (such as stat::st_ctim and stat::st_atim on Linux) except that they will be set to something reasonable.


If a new generation is assigned to a GCS object due to a flush of a file inode, the source generation of the inode is updated and the inode ID remains stable. Otherwise, if a new generation is created by another machine or in some other manner from the local machine, the new generation is treated as an inode distinct from any other inode already created for the object name.

In other words: inode IDs don't change when the file system causes an update to GCS, but any update caused remotely will result in a new inode.

Inode IDs are local to a single gcsfuse process, and there are no guarantees about their stability across machines or invocations on a single machine.


One of the fundamental operations in the VFS layer of the kernel is looking up the inode for a particular name within a directory. gcsfuse responds to such lookups as follows:

  1. Stat the object with the given name within the GCS bucket.
  2. If the object does not exist, return an error.
  3. Call the generation of the object (G, M). If there is already an inode for this name with source generation (G, M), return it.
  4. Create a new inode for this name with source generation (G, M).

User-visible semantics

The intent of these conventions is to make it appear as though local writes to a file are in-place modifications as with a traditional file system, whereas remote overwrites of a GCS object appear as some other process unlinking the file from its directory and then linking a distinct file using the same name. The st_nlink field will reflect this when using fstat(2).

Note the following consequence: if machine A opens a file and writes to it, then machine B deletes or replaces its backing object, or updates it metadata, then machine A closes the file, machine A's writes will be lost. This matches the behavior on a single machine when process A opens a file and then process B unlinks it. Process A continues to have a consistent view of the file's contents until it closes the file handle, at which point the contents are lost.

GCS object metadata

gcsfuse sets the following pieces of GCS object metadata for file objects:

  • contentType is set to GCS's best guess as to the MIME type of the file, based on its file extension.

  • The custom metadata key gcsfuse_mtime is set to track mtime, as discussed above.

Directory inodes

gcsfuse directory inodes exist simply to satisfy the kernel and export a way to look up child inodes. Unlike file inodes:

  • There are no guarantees about stability of directory inode IDs. They may change from lookup to lookup even if nothing has changed in the GCS bucket. They may not change even if the directory object in the bucket has been overwritten.

  • gcsfuse does not keep track of modification time for directories. There are no guarantees for the contents of stat::st_mtim or equivalent, or the behavior of utimes(2) and similar.

  • There are no guarantees about stat::st_nlink.

Despite no guarantees about the actual times for directories, their time fields in stat structs will be set to something reasonable.


GCS offers no way to delete an object if and only if other objects don't exist. It is therefore impossible to atomically check whether a directory is empty and delete its backing object.

gcsfuse does the pragmatic thing here: it lists objects with the directory's name as a prefix, returning ENOTEMPTY if anything shows up, and otherwise deletes the backing object.

Note that by their definition, implicit directories cannot be empty.

Symlink inodes

gcsfuse represents symlinks with empty GCS objects that contain the custom metadata key gcsfuse_symlink_target, with the value giving the target of a symlink. In other respects they work like a file inode, including receiving the same permissions.

Write/read consistency

gcsfuse offers close-to-open and fsync-to-open consistency. As discussed above, close and fsync create a new generation of the object before returning, as long as the object hasn't been changed since it was last observed by the gcsfuse process. On the other end, open guarantees to observe a generation at least as recent as all generations created before open was called.

Therefore if:

  • machine A opens a file and writes then successfully closes or syncs it, and
  • the file was not concurrently unlinked from the point of view of A, and
  • machine B opens the file after machine A finishes closing or syncing,

then machine B will observe a version of the file at least as new as the one created by machine A.

Permissions and ownership


By default, all inodes in a gcsfuse file system show up as being owned by the UID and GID of the gcsfuse process itself, i.e. the user who mounted the file system. All files have permission bits 0644, and all directories have permission bits 0755 (but see below for issues with use by other users). Changing inode mode (using chmod(2) or similar) is unsupported, and changes are silently ignored.

These defaults can be overriden with the --uid, --gid, --file-mode, and --dir-mode flags.


The fuse kernel layer itself restricts file system access to the mounting user (cf. fuse.txt). So no matter what the configured inode permissions, by default other users will receive "permission denied" errors when attempting to access the file system. This includes the root user.

This can be overridden by setting -o allow_other to allow other users to access the file system. Be careful! There may be security implications.

Surprising behaviors

Unlinking directories

Because GCS offers no way to delete an object conditional on the non-existence of other objects, there is no way for gcsfuse to unlink a directory if and only if it is empty. So gcsfuse takes the simple route, and always allows a directory to be unlinked, even if non-empty. The contents of a non-empty directory that is unlinked are not deleted but simply become inaccessible—the placeholder object for the unlinked directory is simply removed. (Unless --implicit-dirs is set; see the section on implicit directories above.)

Reading directories

gcsfuse implements requests from the kernel to read the contents of a directory (as when listing a directory with ls, for example) by calling Objects.list in the GCS API. The call uses a delimiter of / to avoid paying the bandwidth and request cost of also listing very large sub-directories.

However, with this implementation there is no way for gcsfuse to distinguish a child directory that actually exists (because its placeholder object is present) and one that is only implicitly defined. So when --implicit-dirs is not set, directory listings may contain names that are inaccessible in a later call from the kernel to gcsfuse to look up the inode by name. For example, a call to readdir(3) may return names for which fstat(2) returns ENOENT.

Name conflicts

It is possible to have a GCS bucket containing an object named foo and another object named foo/:

  • This situation can easily happen when writing to GCS directly, since there is nothing special about those names as far as GCS is concerned.

  • This situation may happen if two different machines have the same bucket mounted with gcsfuse, and at about the same time one creates a file named "foo" and the other creates a directory with the same name. This is because the creation of the object foo/ is not preconditioned on the absence of the object named foo, and vice versa.

Traditional file systems did not allow multiple directory entries with the same name, so all tools and kernel code are structured around this assumption. Therefore it's not possible for gcsfuse to faithfully preserve both the file and the directory in this case.

Instead, when a conflicting pair of foo and foo/ objects both exist, it appears in the gcsfuse file system as if there is a directory named foo and a file or symlink named foo\n (i.e. foo followed by U+000A, line feed). This is what will appear when the parent's directory entries are read, and gcsfuse will respond to requests to look up the inode named foo\n by returning the file inode. \n in particular is chosen because it is not legal in GCS object names, and therefore is not ambiguous.

Memory-mapped files

gcsfuse files can be memory-mapped for reading and writing using mmap(2). If you make modifications to such a file and want to ensure that they are durable, you must do the following:

  • Keep the file descriptor you supplied to mmap(2) open while you make your modifications.

  • When you are finished modifying the mapping, call msync(2) and check for errors.

  • Call munmap(2) and check for errors.

  • Call close(2) on the original file descriptor and check for errors.

If none of the calls returns an error, the modifications have been made durable in GCS, according to the usual rules documented above.

See the notes on fuseops.FlushFileOp for more details.

Missing features

Not all of the usual file system features are supported. Most prominently:

  • Renaming directories is not supported. A directory rename cannot be performed atomically in GCS and would therefore be arbitrarily expensive in terms of GCS operations, and for large directories would have high probability of failure, leaving the two directories in an inconsistent state.

  • File and directory permissions and ownership cannot be changed. See the section above.

  • Modification times are not tracked for any inodes except for files.

  • No other times besides modification time are tracked. For example, ctime and atime are not tracked (but will be set to something reasonable). Requests to change them will appear to succeed, but the results are unspecified.

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