Cross-platform file access: What's the best way?

by Micah Dubinko

Since I've started working at home, my home network has become quite hetergeneous. Several flavors of Windows, Linux, and soon Mac. What's the best strategy for sharing files across different systems?

My main file server is running Red Hat 8. It will be used mainly for backup purposes. I'd like to be able to easily read and write files from other Windows, Linux, and Mac systems.

In the absence of other counsel, my first impulse would probably be to get Samba running. The Windows boxes would work great with this, as would other Linux boxes also running Samba. But SMB is such a pathetic protocol, there has to be a better way, right?

What are my other options? NFS? WebDAV? FTP??

Share your comments on how you share files across different platforms on your LAN.


2003-01-09 05:22:57
open standards
I have lots of experience running networks with mixed platforms, and in my experience the best things to use are open standards like http and (anonymous) ftp to share files. In such an environment, the Linux box(es) should host your archives; I just don't recommend running services on Windows machines. In days past I made a lot of use of the Exceed ftp client, which was fully integrated with Windows Explorer for seamless access to files from a Windows box. Plenty of other clients exist, though, including your web browser.

Samba is a good idea (I would not say pathetic protocol), but I wouldn't want a dependecy on Windows networking protocols because they suck and as such are prone to incompatibilities and change. In fact, it would be Microsoft's style to undermine Samba with key changes every few releases.

Another recommendation: a KVM switch. It's great to have a single keyboard, mouse, and monitor for your network. My KVM switch may be favorite piece of hardware, primarily because there is absolutely no software involved :)

2003-01-09 06:51:17
Don't use NFS!
Whatever you do, stay away from nfs as it can cause horrible problems.
2003-01-09 09:13:29
What about WebDAV?
Since you have such a heterogeneous network, I would imagine that it wouldn't be too much trouble to find software for at least the Windows and Linux machines that would simulate a drive or folder that you can drag files to.

On Mac OS X, when you access a WebDAV source, it will show up as a peer-level 'hard drive'. All file transfers are truly transparent.

I am not familliar with what Windows/Linux has to offer in the way of WebDAV clients, but I have the feeling that you can get the same behaviour with Windows at least...

2003-01-09 12:38:48
Samba, or WebDAV
SMB doesn't suck, SMB *changes*. However, since you are (rightly) using your Linux machine as your file server, *you* control the changes. SMB will work just fine for your purposes, and is likely to be the least intrusive networking method. OS X has no problems with SMB on the same subnet, and Windows clients obviously also have no problems. In your (and my) case, Samba is my recommended solution.

A viable alternative is WebDAV. WebDAV mounts, under OS X, just like any other file share. Under Windows, it mounts a little differently, but it still shows up in Windows Explorer -- just under Web Folders, rather than as a UNC share or mapped drive. That little difference is enough to make me recommend Samba, because with Samba you don't have to relearn any new semantics on the client. Also, I have a completely untested suspicion that Samba performs better than WebDAV, simply due to the greater maturity of the code base. As I say, though, I haven't tested it at all.

FTP is another option. Under OS X, you mount a share as always. Under Windows, you have to either go through your browser (painfully slow under IE), or you have to use either a third-party GUI app or the command line. None of those methods under Windows is particularly attractive, compared to Samba.

NFS is theoretically possible, too, but would be my least favored option. I have no experience with how well OS X handles NFS, though it is supposed to be seamless (ain't OS X great? ;). Under Windows, you *have* to have third-party software, and I have no experience with how well it works, or how painless it is.

To sum up: SMB is my recommendation, with WebDAV a close second.

2003-01-10 04:17:20
not NFS on windows
Some time ago I used Windows NFS tools, and they gave me lots of trouble.

As for NFS in general: it's great to automount a single homespace between machines, and there are good arguments for NFS for particular needs across homogeneous systems, but IMHO the administrative overhead, network load, and security vulnerabilities all make it a tough sell.

2003-01-10 08:41:37
My winner: Samba...

I think the best solution for your problems is Samba, the other two protocols have some disadvantages from my point of view:

+ WebDAV: looks great at first sight, but:

- When you use a WebDAV folder from "web folders" in MS Windows XP it is not treated like a network drive, you just can't simply edit a TXT file in the folder and save it with notepad. You need some program that understands WebDAV (e.g.: MS Word, Dreamweaver). Solution: you make a local copy of the file, edit it, and copy it back, or you buy some program that maps a WebDAV folder to a network drive, like TeamDrive.

- I think the performance would be not so good as with SMB.

+ NFS: I view it more reliable that WebDAV, it is older and more tested, but:

- I think it is too UNIX oriented, meaning that the Windows use of NFS would be difficult (third party software) or unstable (and I don't mean with this that it is bad to be "UNIX oriented", but to be honest, all our networks are very heterogenous, so perhaps this is not a feature, don't you think?).

At the end: Samba wins (more mature than WebDAV and less platform tied than NFS).

2003-11-21 06:07:47
Don't use NFS!
An anonymous poster says Don't, with no reasons, no info, no details... what, are you a Micro$oft troll?