1. Creating a new Ext4 filesystem from the scratch
The easiest one, recommended for new installations. Just update your e2fsprogs package to Ext4, and create the filesystem with mkfs.ext4.
2. Migrate existing Ext3 filesystems to Ext4
You need to use the tune2fs and fsck tools in the filesystem, and that filesystem needs to be unmounted. Run:
After running this command you MUST run fsck. If you don't do it, Ext4 WILL NOT MOUNT your filesystem. This fsck run is needed to return the filesystem to a consistent state. It WILL tell you that it finds checksum errors in the group descriptors - it's expected, and it's exactly what it needs to be rebuilt to be able to mount it as Ext4, so don't get surprised by them. Since each time it finds one of those errors it asks you what to do, always say YES. If you don't want to be asked, add the "-p" parameter to the fsck command, it means "automatic repair":
There's another thing that must be mentioned. All your existing files will continue using the old indirect mapping to map all the blocks of data. The online defrag tool will be able to migrate each one of those files to a extent format (using a ioctl that tells the filesystem to rewrite the file with the extent format; you can use it safely while you're using the filesystem normally)
3. Mount an existing Ext3 filesystem with Ext4 without changing the format
You can mount an existing Ext3 filesystem with Ext4 but without using features that change the disk format. This means you will be able to mount your filesystem with Ext3 again. You can mount an existing Ext3 filesystem with "mount -t ext4 /dev/yourpartition /mnt". Doing this without having done the conversion process described in the previous point will force Ext4 to not use the features that change the disk format, such as extents, it will use only the features that don't change the file format, such as mballoc or delayed allocation. You'll be able to mount your filesystem as Ext3 again. But obviously you'll be losing the advantages of the Ext4 features that don't get used...