File Systems, Storage, and Permissions on Quest

Quest and Kellogg Linux Cluster Downtime, June 8th-14th, 2024.

Quest, including the Quest Analytics Nodes, the Genomics Compute Cluster (GCC), the Kellogg Linux Cluster (KLC), and Quest OnDemand, will be unavailable for scheduled maintenance starting at 7 A.M. on Saturday, June 8, and ending approximately at 5 P.M. on Friday, June 14. During the maintenance window, you will not be able to login to Quest, Quest Analytics Nodes, the GCC, KLC, or Quest OnDemand submit new jobs, run jobs, or access files stored on Quest in any way including Globus. For details on this maintenance, please see the Status of University IT Services page.

This article provides information about storage options and how to manage storage and file permissions on Quest.

For further information on storage limits and access expiration, please refer to the Quest Storage and Data Policy.

Quest has three locations where you may store files: /home/<netid>, /projects/<allocationID>, and if you make a request following the instructions here, /scratch/<netid>. These locations serve different purposes, have different disk quotas, and have different behavior when it comes to permissions. We summarize these in the form of a table up top, before going into more details below.

  Home Space Allocation or Project Space Scratch Space
Storage Name Home Directories Allocation or Project Directories Scratch Space Directories
Where is this located on Quest? /home/<netid> /projects/<allocation_id> /scratch/<netid>
What should go here? Submission scripts, job log files, and local package and software installations High-speed storage which should be used for computation Input/Output (IO) and/or data analyses. High-speed storage which should be used for storing temporary files from running jobs, downloading data for processing, and short-term storage for large datasets.
What are the default permissions? Only the user has read, write and execute permissions. All members of the allocation will have read, write and/or execute permissions on files and directories created in the allocation directory. Only the user has read, write and execute permissions.
How much disk space? 80GB 1TB with a Research Allocation I and 2 TB with a Research Allocation II.

buyin allocations can purchase storage by the TB.

Number of Files? Unlimited Unlimited 5 Million
How do you get access? Your home directory is automatically created the first time you are given access to Quest via joining an existing research allocation or creating a new one. Join an existing research allocation or create a new one to get access. Scratch is unique in that you do not have access to it be default after joining an existing research allocation or creating a new one.

To get access, make a request following the instructions here.

How do I check disk space utilization? homedu checkproject <allocation_id> checkscratch

Summary of File Permissions

Understanding how file permissions work in Linux is critical to understanding who has access to files in each of the storage types. Users get access to files in three different ways:

  • user: Your account.
  • group: A specific permissions group that your account belongs to.
  • other: Any account that is not yours and that does not belong to a permissions group that your account belongs to.

There are three basic types of permissions which can be assigned by the owner of the file or directory to each of these three access points: read (r) write (w) and execute (x).

What does read, write and execute mean for a directory?

  • read: Allowed to list the contents of the directory
  • write: Allowed to create, modify or delete files in the directory
  • execute: Allowed to access a file in the directory if you know the name of the file

What does read, write and execute mean for a file?

  • read: Allowed to read the contents of the file
  • write: Allowed to modify or delete the file
  • execute: Allowed to run the file as a process, if possible

How do I view permissions on a file or directory? You use the utility ls. For example,

[quest_demo@quser10 ~]$ ls -ltd /home/quest_demo/
drwx------ 40 quest_demo quest_demo 16384 May 4 14:57 /home/quest_demo/

Home Directories

As a Quest account holder, you will be given a home directory (/home/<netid>) the first time you log in to the system. All home directories have a fixed quota of 80GB. Your home directory is only available to you and may not be shared.

Your home directory is a good place to store submission scripts, job log files, and local package and software installations.

Home directories (unlike any other storage volume) are backed up. If you inadvertently delete a file from your home directory, immediately contact as it may be possible to restore it. As long as the file or directory in question was not created and deleted within 24 hours, any files or directory can be recovered for up to 4 weeks.

Check Home SpaceUtilization

You can check how much space you're using in your home directory with homedu:

$ homedu

Beginning detailed disk usage report for /home/<netid>.
Please be patient - this can be a time-consuming operation.

GPFS quota for /home/<netid>

24.22 GB used in 240098 files (30.28% of 80 GB quota)

If you leave the University, your NetID will expire. In this circumstance, your home directory will be deleted and cannot be restored.

Before leaving the university and well ahead of your NetID expiration, we recommend moving the files in your home directory. Solutions include:

  • Backup all the files you need from your home directory in a place you will maintain access to after your NetID expires.
  • Copy files that your colleagues need access to into a shared project directory.

If you need help backing up or copying your data to locations accessible by your colleagues, please email

Project Space

The projects volume consists of high-speed storage and should be used for computation Input/Output (IO) and/or data analyses. While project and home directories are both reachable by a compute node, the home directory provides much smaller storage than your allocation directory provides.

The size of your project directory is determined by the details of your allocation type. A Research Allocation I is usually set up with a 1TB quota on the projects space, and a Research Allocation II may have up to 2TB of space. Researchers requiring additional storage may purchase it by the TB.

Check Project Space Utilization

Check how much space is used in your projects directory with

$ checkproject <allocation_id> 

Reporting for project <allocation_id>
1 GB in 4623 files (0% of 1000 GB quota)
Allocation Type: Allocation I
Expiration Date: 2022-12-01
Status: ACTIVE
Compute and storage allocation - when status is ACTIVE, this allocation has compute node access and can submit jobs

Project Space Permissions

Each Quest allocation has a projects directory: /projects/<allocationID>. In the projects space anyone belonging to an allocation may be able to read, write, and execute files that belong to other users of that same allocation. There are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you copy data from your home directory into your project space it will inherit the permissions of the directory it is being copied into as expected, but if you move data from your home directory into your project space, the data retains the original permissions and so the ownership and group ownership will belong to you. No one else will be able to read your files in project space unless you change the file permissions or the group ownership of your files is changed.

Below, we show the default permissions for a file in your allocation directory and then provide an example of modifying those default permissions.

$ cd /projects/<pXXXXX>/
$ touch myfile.txt
$ ls -l myfile.txt
-rw-rw-r-- 1 <netid> <pXXXXX> 0 May 24 14:58 myfile.txt

The above file can be modified (the write (w) permission), by anyone in your allocation. If you would like to leave the file as being able to be read (r) by anyone in the allocation but want to remove the ability for it to be modified by anyone in the allocation, you can use the chmod command to remove the `w` permission for the group.

$ chmod g-w myfile.txt
$ ls -l myfile.txt
-rw-r--r-- 1 <netid> <pXXXXX> 0 May 24 14:58 myfile.txt

Scratch Space

The scratch volume consists of high-speed storage that provides temporary storage for actively used research data at no cost to the user. Appropriate use of scratch could reduce storage costs to researchers and provide better data lifecycle management with less storage resource waste. Some scratch storage use cases include:

  • storing temporary files created while running jobs,
  • downloading/staging data for processing soon to be performed,
  • large data transfers,
  • short-term storage for large datasets

Scratch directories are available to any Quest users currently in an active allocation. You can apply by making a request following the instructions here. Access to Quest scratch space will typically be granted within one week of completing the application. Once you have been approved, you will be allocated a directory at the following location: /scratch/<netid>. You scratch directories can be accessed from all Quest nodes including login nodes, compute nodes, and the Quest Analytics Nodes.

Quest scratch space is not backed up and files stored there are deleted regularly. It is not appropriate for long-term storage or as the sole location for research data that cannot be regenerated. Reference files, datasets, software and scripts should be stored in a user's allocation directory rather than in scratch to avoid accidental deletion.

Caution - please carefully read the next paragraphs before using scratch

When downloading data or transferring data to scratch, please carefully note the last modified date of the file. Under certain download or transfer conditions, the data will retain its original "last modified" date and not receive a new "last modified" date. For example,

$ date
Mon Oct 31 11:54:57 CDT 2022
$ wget
$ ls -lt pytorch-v1.12.0.tar.gz
-rw-rw-r-- 1 <netid> <netid> 206507948 Jun 28 11:51 pytorch-v1.12.0.tar.gz

In this situation, under the default retention period of 30 days, this file would be deleted within the day. Although you are not allowed to use touch, to continually update the last modification dates of files in an effort to save them from deletion, you may use touch to ensure that a file's initial modification date reflects the time the file first lands in scratch.

$ touch pytorch-v1.12.0.tar.gz
$ ls -lt pytorch-v1.12.0.tar.gz
-rw-rw-r-- 1 <netid> <netid> 206507948 Oct 31 11:59 pytorch-v1.12.0.tar.gz

Please also note a similar effect when using mv versus cp in Linux.

$ pwd
$ ls -lt /projects/<allocation_id>/<netid>/
-rw-r--r-- 1 <netid> <allocation_id> 2203 Mar 24  2020 /projects/<allocation_id>/<netid>/
$ cp /projects/<allocation_id>/<netid>/ .
$ ls -l
-rw-r--r-- 1 <netid> <netid> 2203 Jun  2 09:40
$ rm
$ mv /projects/<allocation_id>/<netid>/ .
$ ls -l
-rw-r--r-- 1 <netid> <allocation_id> 2203 Mar 24  2020

Note that jobs can access multiple directories when they run, and jobs that write their temporary files into scratch can also access reference files and write results in /projects or /home.

Global Scratch Settings

To ensure scratch space availability for everyone, global scratch limits may be adjusted by Northwestern IT if storage utilization is over a critical threshold. When a change is required, scratch space users will receive an advance notice. The current deletion period can be viewed through the checkscratch command or in Quest’s Message Of The Day (MOTD), which is displayed at the top of your terminal when you login to Quest via SSH.

During normal operation conditions, the global scratch settings are given in the table below. These limits cannot be adjusted for and individual or upon request.

Storage quota per user 5 TB
File retention period 30 days after last edit
Maximum number of files per user 5,000,000

Check Scratch Space Utilization

You can use the utility checkscratch to monitor how much scratch space you are using, show the current deletion period for scratch, and determine which of your files, if any, will be deleted in the coming XX days.

$ checkscratch --help
checkscratch reports a list of your scratch files that will be deleted in the upcoming days and your scratch utilization.

Usage: checkscratch <days>, where <days> is the integer number of days from now to check.

Example: checkscratch 3

reports which files, if any, will be deleted within the next three days from now. The command writes the list of files to an output file called checkscratch.out in your scratch folder.

checkscratch.out is overwritten each time you run it and search for same <days> cannot be repeated for a period of 1 hour; to save the output file you must move it or rename it.

For example, if you would like to know if you have any files that will be deleted in the next 20 days, you would run and receive the following:

$ checkscratch 20
The current retention period of files in /scratch is 30 days.

You have 2 files that will be deleted within the next 20 days (OLDER than 10 days) in /scratch/<netid> and are listed in the file /scratch/<netid>/checkscratch.out.

checkscratch will create a file in your scratch folder with a summary of any files (and their size) which are older than 10 days (30 day retention period - will be deleted in 20 days).

$ cat /scratch/<netid>

In this case, you have no files that are older than 10 days. So you might try to now run checkscratch 28 and see if you have any files older than 2 days.

$ checkscratch 28
The current retention period of files in /scratch is 30 days.

You have 1 files that will be deleted within the next 28 days (OLDER than 2 days) in /scratch/<netid>

checkscratch is now telling you that you have 1 file that is older than 2 days. To find out what file it is, you would look in /scratch/<netid>.

$ cat /scratch/<netid>

checkscratch.out will tell you both how large the file is in KB, when the file was last modified, and the name of the file.

Scratch Space Permissions

Only the user can write to their scratch directory. However, the user can allow other users to read/execute their files. Below, we provide an example of the default file permissions and how to provide others with read/execute access.

First, we must modify the default permissions of your scratch directory.

# Default permissions of scratch directory
$ ls -ld /scratch/<netid>/
drwx------ 3 <netid> <netid> 4096 May 26 12:46 /scratch/<netid>/

We must take two steps to allow users in a specific allocation to be able to read/execute files in our scratch space.

# Navigate to the scratch
$ cd /scratch
# use the `chown` command to change the user:group of your scratch directory to <netid>:<allocation_id>
$ chown <netid>:<pXXXXX> <netid>
# Now we need to allow the `group` to have read (r) and execute (x) permissions on our scratch directory
$ chmod g+rx <netid> 
# verify that the group setting and permissions for your scratch were updated correctly.
$ ls -ld /scratch/<netid>/
drwxr-x--- 3 <netid> <allocation_id> 4096 May 26 12:46 /scratch/<netid>/

Now we provide an example of how to change the `group` on a file created inside of your scratch directory which will enable other members of that allocation to read your file.

$ cd /scratch/<netid>/
$ touch myfile.txt
$ ls -l myfile.txt
-rw-rw-r-- 1 <netid> <netid> 0 May 24 14:53 myfile.txt

To give access to other allocations members, we need to modify the group setting of this file.

# Find out what allocations I am a part of.
$ groups 
<netid> <pXXXXX>
# use the `chown` command to change the user:group to <netid>:<allocation>
$ chown <netid>:<pXXXXX> myfile.txt
# verify that the group setting for your file has updated to your allocation
$ ls -l myfile.txt
-rw-rw-r-- 1 <netid> <pXXXXX> 0 May 24 14:53 myfile.txt

You can always revert the group setting on your files and directories in scratch back to your netid so that only you have read, write and execute permission.

$ chown <netid>:<netid> myfile.txt
$ ls -l myfile.txt
-rw-rw-r-- 1 <netid> <netid> 0 May 24 14:53 myfile.txt
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Article ID: 1546
Thu 5/12/22 12:39 PM
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