If you store files in the root file system of a zpool, it’s probably not so straightforward to access them from a different system, e.g. a live CD/DVD. Don’t panic. Here’s how.

According to the recent discussion on the freebsd-stable mailing list, in the thread named “Help! :( ZFS panic on boot, importing pool after server crash.”, this is the way to do it:

  1. Import the zpool with both the no mount option and the altroot option:
    zpool import -N -R /tmp/zfs poolname
    You might even consider importing the zpool read-only:
    zpool import -N -R /tmp/zfs -o readonly=on poolname
  2. Manually mount the root file system using the system mount command, not the zfs mount command:
    mount -t zfs poolname /tmp/zfs
  3. Finally, mount the remaining file systems under the /tmp/zfs mount point using the zfs mount command:
    zfs mount -a

Thanks goes to Volodymyr Kostyrko for providing the right answer and to Dr. Josef Karthauser for raising this issue in the first place.

I guess it’s still debateable whether it’s wiser to create new file systems below the root file system of a zpool, rather than using the initial file system provided by the zpool.