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The NameNode is the centerpiece of an HDFS file system. It keeps the directory tree of all files in the file system, and tracks where across the cluster the file data is kept. It does not store the data of these files itself.

Client applications talk to the NameNode whenever they wish to locate a file, or when they want to add/copy/move/delete a file. The NameNode responds the successful requests by returning a list of relevant DataNode servers where the data lives.

The NameNode is a Single Point of Failure for the HDFS Cluster. HDFS is not currently a High Availability system. When the NameNode goes down, the file system goes offline. There is an optional SecondaryNameNode that can be hosted on a separate machine. It only creates checkpoints of the namespace by merging the edits file into the fsimage file and does not provide any real redundancy. Hadoop 0.21+ has a BackupNameNode that is part of a plan to have an HA name service, but it needs active contributions from the people who want it (i.e. you) to make it Highly Available.

It is essential to look after the NameNode. Here are some recommendations from production use

  • Use a good server with lots of RAM. The more RAM you have, the bigger the file system, or the smaller the block size.
  • Use ECC RAM.
  • On Java6u15 or later, run the server VM with compressed pointers -XX:+UseCompressedOops to cut the JVM heap size down.
  • List more than one name node directory in the configuration, so that multiple copies of the file system meta-data will be stored. As long as the directories are on separate disks, a single disk failure will not corrupt the meta-data.
  • Configure the NameNode to store one set of transaction logs on a separate disk from the image.
  • Configure the NameNode to store another set of transaction logs to a network mounted disk.
  • Monitor the disk space available to the NameNode. If free space is getting low, add more storage.
  • Do not host DataNode, JobTracker or TaskTracker services on the same system.

If a NameNode does not start up, look at the TroubleShooting page.

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