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In the pass-through operating mode, all reads are performed directly from the origin device, avoiding the cache, while all writes go directly to the origin device; any cache write hits also cause invalidation of the cached blocks.The pass-through mode allows a hybrid volume to be activated when the state of a cache device is not known to be consistent with the origin device.

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The stochastic multiqueue (smq) policy performs in a similar way as the multiqueue policy, but requires fewer resources to operate; in particular, it uses substantially smaller amounts of main memory to track cached blocks.It also replaces the hit counting from the multiqueue policy with a "hotspot" queue, and decides on data promotion and demotion on a least-recently used (LRU) basis.Having too small caching extents increases the size of metadata, both on the metadata device and in kernel memory, while having too large caching extents increases the amount of wasted cache space due to caching whole extents even in the case of high hit rates only for some of their parts.Operating modes supported by dm-cache are write-back, which is the default, write-through, and pass-through.The design of dm-cache requires three physical storage devices for the creation of a single hybrid volume; dm-cache uses those storage devices to separately store actual data, cache data, and required metadata.

Configurable operating modes and cache policies, with the latter in the form of separate modules, determine the way data caching is actually performed.

In the write-back operating mode, writes to cached blocks go only to the cache device, while the blocks on origin device are only marked as dirty in the metadata.

For the write-through operating mode, write requests are not returned as completed until the data reaches both the origin and cache devices, with no clean blocks becoming marked as dirty.

When configured to use the multiqueue (mq) or stochastic multiqueue (smq) cache policy, with the latter being the default, dm-cache uses SSDs to store the data associated with performed random reads and writes, capitalizing on near-zero seek times of SSDs and avoiding such I/O operations as typical HDD performance bottlenecks.

The data associated with sequential reads and writes is not cached on SSDs, avoiding undesirable cache invalidation during such operations; performance-wise, this is beneficial because the sequential I/O operations are suitable for HDDs due to their mechanical nature.

The multiqueue (mq) policy has three sets of 16 queues, using the first set for entries waiting for the cache and the remaining two sets for entries already in the cache, with the latter separated so the clean and dirty entries belong to each of the two sets.