Block (data storage)
In computing
Computing is usually defined as the activity of using and improving computer hardware and software. It is the computer-specific part of information technology...

 (specifically data transmission and data storage
Computer storage
Computer data storage, often called storage or memory, refers to computer components and recording media that retain digital data. Data storage is one of the core functions and fundamental components of computers....

), a block is a sequence of byte
The byte is a unit of digital information in computing and telecommunications that most commonly consists of eight bits. Historically, a byte was the number of bits used to encode a single character of text in a computer and for this reason it is the basic addressable element in many computer...

s or bit
A bit is the basic unit of information in computing and telecommunications; it is the amount of information stored by a digital device or other physical system that exists in one of two possible distinct states...

s, having a nominal length (a block size). Data thus structured are said to be blocked. The process of putting data into blocks is called blocking. Blocking is used to facilitate the handling of the data-stream by the computer program receiving the data. Blocked data is normally read a whole block at a time. Blocking is almost universally employed when storing data to 9-track magnetic tape
Magnetic tape
Magnetic tape is a medium for magnetic recording, made of a thin magnetizable coating on a long, narrow strip of plastic. It was developed in Germany, based on magnetic wire recording. Devices that record and play back audio and video using magnetic tape are tape recorders and video tape recorders...

, to rotating media such as floppy disk
Floppy disk
A floppy disk is a disk storage medium composed of a disk of thin and flexible magnetic storage medium, sealed in a rectangular plastic carrier lined with fabric that removes dust particles...

s, hard disk
Hard disk
A hard disk drive is a non-volatile, random access digital magnetic data storage device. It features rotating rigid platters on a motor-driven spindle within a protective enclosure. Data is magnetically read from and written to the platter by read/write heads that float on a film of air above the...

s, optical disc
Optical disc
In computing and optical disc recording technologies, an optical disc is a flat, usually circular disc which encodes binary data in the form of pits and lands on a special material on one of its flat surfaces...

s and to NAND flash memory
Flash memory
Flash memory is a non-volatile computer storage chip that can be electrically erased and reprogrammed. It was developed from EEPROM and must be erased in fairly large blocks before these can be rewritten with new data...


Most file system
File system
A file system is a means to organize data expected to be retained after a program terminates by providing procedures to store, retrieve and update data, as well as manage the available space on the device which contain it. A file system organizes data in an efficient manner and is tuned to the...

s are based on a block device, which is a level of abstraction
Abstraction (computer science)
In computer science, abstraction is the process by which data and programs are defined with a representation similar to its pictorial meaning as rooted in the more complex realm of human life and language with their higher need of summarization and categorization , while hiding away the...

 for the hardware
Hardware is a general term for equipment such as keys, locks, hinges, latches, handles, wire, chains, plumbing supplies, tools, utensils, cutlery and machine parts. Household hardware is typically sold in hardware stores....

 responsible for storing and retrieving specified blocks of data, though the block size in file systems may be a multiple of the physical block size. In classical file systems, a single block might contain only a part of a single file
Computer file
A computer file is a block of arbitrary information, or resource for storing information, which is available to a computer program and is usually based on some kind of durable storage. A file is durable in the sense that it remains available for programs to use after the current program has finished...

. This leads to space inefficiency due to internal fragmentation, since file lengths are often not multiples of block size, and thus the last block of files will remain partially empty. This will create slack space, which averages half a block per file.
Some newer file systems attempt to solve this through techniques called block suballocation
Block suballocation
Block suballocation is a feature of some computer file systems which allows large blocks or allocation units to be used while making efficient use of "slack" space at the end of large files, space which would otherwise be lost for other use to internal fragmentation.In file systems that don't...

 and tail merging.

Block storage is normally abstracted by a file system or database management system
Database management system
A database management system is a software package with computer programs that control the creation, maintenance, and use of a database. It allows organizations to conveniently develop databases for various applications by database administrators and other specialists. A database is an integrated...

 for use by applications and end users. The physical or logical volumes accessed via block I/O may be devices internal to a server, direct attached via SCSI
Small Computer System Interface is a set of standards for physically connecting and transferring data between computers and peripheral devices. The SCSI standards define commands, protocols, and electrical and optical interfaces. SCSI is most commonly used for hard disks and tape drives, but it...

 or Fibre Channel
Fibre Channel
Fibre Channel, or FC, is a gigabit-speed network technology primarily used for storage networking. Fibre Channel is standardized in the T11 Technical Committee of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards , an American National Standards Institute –accredited standards...

, or distant devices accessed via a storage area network (SAN)
Storage area network
A storage area network is a dedicated network that provides access to consolidated, block level data storage. SANs are primarily used to make storage devices, such as disk arrays, tape libraries, and optical jukeboxes, accessible to servers so that the devices appear like locally attached devices...

 using a protocol such as iSCSI
In computing, iSCSI , is an abbreviation of Internet Small Computer System Interface, an Internet Protocol -based storage networking standard for linking data storage facilities. By carrying SCSI commands over IP networks, iSCSI is used to facilitate data transfers over intranets and to manage...

, or AoE
ATA over Ethernet
ATA over Ethernet is a network protocol developed by the Brantley Coile Company, designed for simple, high-performance access of SATA storage devices over Ethernet networks. It is used to build storage area networks with low-cost, standard technologies.- Protocol description :AoE runs on layer 2...

. Database management systems often use their own block I/O for improved performance and recoverability as compared to layering the DBMS
Database management system
A database management system is a software package with computer programs that control the creation, maintenance, and use of a database. It allows organizations to conveniently develop databases for various applications by database administrators and other specialists. A database is an integrated...

 on top of a file system.

External links

  • PHWiki:Block device
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