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Introduction to the Network File System (NFS) on Linux

What is the Network File System (NFS)?

The Network File System (NFS) is a way of mounting Linux discs/directories over a network. An NFS server can export one or more directories that can then be mounted on a remote Linux machine. Note, that if you need to mount a Linux filesystem on a Windows machine, you need to use Samba/CIFS instead.

NFS is a way of mounting Linux discs/directories over a network ..


Why use the Network File System (NFS)?

The main use of NFS in the home context, is to share out data on a central server (-for example, your music collection) to all the PCs in the house. This way, you have a single copy of data (-hopefully, well backed up) accessible from a central location.


Can I use Samba (CIFS) Instead?

The short answer is "Yes" -but the consensus opinion is: "only use Samba if you have to"! If you have a Linux server and a Linux client, those two should share data via NFS rather than Samba/CIFS.

Samba was designed to let Windows machines talk to machines running other types of O/S - it therefore like a translator. Having Samba connect two Linux machines is like two native english speakers trying to communicate via a native spanish speaker (-who has to internally convert english to spanish and then spanish back to english), however entertaining that might sound!

If a Linux box needs to talk to another Linux box, they can do so using their native protocols, without any additional overhead or conversion, using NFS - which is why it is much more efficient (-and more reliable, in our experience) than Samba.


When to use NFS and when to use Samba

Here are some examples of when to use Samba and when to use NFS:

Server O/SClient O/SUse Samba or NFS?
LinuxLinuxNFS
WindowsLinuxSamba
LinuxWindowsSamba
WindowsWindowsSamba

To sum up: in a heterogeneous network (-i.e. containing more than one O/S), you'd use NFS to connect the Linux members and Samba only when one O/S is talking to a different O/S.


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