UFS in its various forms has been with us since the days of BSD on VAXen the size of refrigerators. The basic UFS concepts thus date back to the early 1980s and represent the second pass at a workable UNIX filesystem, after the very slow and simple filesystem that shipped with the truly ancient Version 7 UNIX. Almost all commercial UNIX OSs have had a UFS, and ext3 in Linux is similar to UFS in design. Solaris inherited UFS through SunOS, and SunOS in turn got it from BSD.
Until recently, UFS was the only filesystem that shipped with Solaris. Unlike HP, IBM, SGI, and DEC, Sun did not develop a next-generation filesystem during the 1990s. There are probably at least two reasons for this: most competitors developed their new filesystems using third party code which required per-system royalties, and the availability of VxFS from Veritas. Considering that a lot of the other vendors’ filesystem IP was licensed from Veritas anyway, this seems like a reasonable decision.
Solaris 10 can only boot from a UFS root filesystem. In the future, ZFS boot will be available, as it already is in OpenSolaris. But for now, every Solaris system must have at least one UFS filesystem.
UFS is old technology but it is a stable and fast filesystem. Sun has continuously tuned and improved the code over the last decade and has probably squeezed as much performance out of this type of FS as is possible. Journaling support was added in Solaris 7 at the turn of the century and has been enabled by default since Solaris 9. Before that, volume level journaling was available. In this older scheme, changes to the raw device are journaled, and the filesystem is not journaling-aware. This is a simple but inefficient scheme, and it worked with a small performance penalty. Volume level journaling is now end-of-lifed, but interestingly, the same sort of system seems to have been added to FreeBSD recently. What is old is new again.
UFS is accompanied by the Solaris Volume Manager, which provides perfectly servicible software RAID.
Where does UFS fit in in 2008? Besides booting, it provides a filesystem which is stable and predictable and better integrated into the OS than anything else. ZFS will probably replace it eventually, but for now, it is a good choice for databases, which have usually been tuned for a traditional filesystem’s access characteristics. It is also a good choice for the pathologically conservative administrator, who may not have an exciting job, but who rarely has his nap time interrupted.