Defragmentation of files is supposed to make the layout of the file extents to be more linear or at least coalesce the file extents into larger ones that can be stored on the device more efficiently. The reason there’s a need for defragmentation stems from the COW design that BTRFS is built on and is inherent. The fragmentation is caused by rewrites of the same file data in-place, that has to be handled by creating a new copy that may lie on a distant location on the physical device. Fragmentation is the worst problem on rotational hard disks due to the delay caused by moving the drive heads to the distant location. With the modern seek-less devices it’s not a problem though it may still make sense because of reduced size of the metadata that’s needed to track the scattered extents.
File data that are in use can be safely defragmented because the whole process happens inside the page cache, that is the central point caching the file data and takes care of synchronization. Once a filesystem sync or flush is started (either manually or automatically) all the dirty data get written to the devices. This however reduces the chances to find optimal layout as the writes happen together with other data and the result depends on the remaining free space layout and fragmentation.
Defragmentation does not preserve extent sharing, e.g. files created by cp --reflink or existing on multiple snapshots. Due to that the data space consumption may increase.
Defragmentation can be started together with compression on the given range, and takes precedence over per-file compression property or mount options.