What filesystem should I use to share between windows mac and linux?
August 2, 2012 3:34 AM   Subscribe

I have a 1TB external hard drive that I want to use with Linux, Mac & Windows 7. What filesystem should I format it with?

My SO has a Mac which is her primary tool for work. It's set up the way she likes and needs it, and introducing any bugs or other screwups that impede her work would be pretty disastrous at the moment. So we're very reluctant to install or modify any software on that machine. I have a kubuntu Linux machine which I'm happy to install new stuff on and, on the same machine, I have a Windows 7 install that I can fiddle with.

The drive itself will mostly be used to store media and backups, but with a couple of large files (e.g. some very large data sets and a 50gb truecrypt vault).

From reading around, it looks like my best options are:
NTFS -- Might require installing something to the Mac?
HFS -- I need commercial software to let Windows see it, and have no idea how well that'll work
exFAT -- The linux support I've seen tends to be labelled "experimental" or "beta", which makes me a bit twitchy when talking about a drive that'll be holding my backups. Perhaps importantly, it seems to be designed for flash drives; my HDD is not a flash drive.

What filesystem(s) would you suggest for Linux, Mac and Windows? What pros/cons of the filesystems am I missing? Should we just give it all up and go back to wax tablets?
posted by metaBugs to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
NTFS drive for your Windows/Linux machine and another HFS+ drive for her Mac.
posted by 6550 at 3:39 AM on August 2, 2012

I'd use a NAS or a NAS-like usb hard drive.
posted by devnull at 3:55 AM on August 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not seeing FAT32, and that's your best bet for interoperability. All three of those operating systems can read and write to FAT32 with no issues.
posted by namewithoutwords at 4:46 AM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: 6650 and devnull: Thanks, but really I'm looking for advice on how best to format the drive that I already have, to get as close to my requirements as possible. I'm not really open to buying new hardware at this point.

namewithoutwords: FAT32 was my first thought, but it has a file size limit of 4GB. I have a truecrypt vault bigger than that (and occasionally deal with other large files) that I'd like to keep on the drive.
posted by metaBugs at 5:05 AM on August 2, 2012

It's unclear if you need to share files on the drive or just the drive itself. If you just want to share the drive and not the files, why not partition? Do as 6550 suggests, with an NTFS partition for Windows and Linux (install the NTFS-3G driver in Kubuntu if it's not there already) and HFS for the Mac.
posted by quarterframer at 6:04 AM on August 2, 2012

Go for NTFS, and buy this excellent bit of software to allow you to write to it from your Macs. I only have limited experience with it (mostly to transfer big lumps of data to drives meant for PCs, or that only need to be read on Macs), but I've never had a problem with it. NTFS gets added at a low level, so it 'just works', and you get various NTFS formatting options in Disk Utility as if it was natively supported.
posted by jaffacakerhubarb at 6:08 AM on August 2, 2012

There are apps/add-ons that will allow Mac to read NTFS and Windows to read HFS. I use FAT32 for a portable drive I port between platforms, but I run into the 4GB limit a lot more than I thought I would.
posted by eoden at 6:32 AM on August 2, 2012

I recently started doing some work which involved collaborating with a Mac user on some large media files. I run Fedora, he runs whatever is current on the Mac. We decided to use a USB3 attached 128GB SSD formatted as exFAT.

I understand your reservations regarding the exFAT drivers, and I would add that it's a horrible thing and there is plenty of evidence that it was specifically designed to punish hardware that runs a linux kernel with new larger SD cards. We really shouldn't encourage them.

But putting that aside.. we have transferred many terabytes and never had any problems. The only advice I would give would be to format the drive on the Mac initially.
posted by samworm at 6:56 AM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: Contrary opinion here: Go with HFS+.

The Mac support is perfect, of course. The Linux support is excellent as well, I think. On Windows, you would need to buy MacDrive which works fine as long as you don't need excellent performance.

Don't do NTFS. The NTFS write support on the mac depended on MacFUSE extension which is now effectively dead. You can read NTFS on macs without difficulty though.

My second choice would be exFAT. This is pretty much what exFAT is supposed to do, modulo terrible patents.
posted by chairface at 7:54 AM on August 2, 2012

exFAT, and use Windows or Mac to backup your Linux partition if you have cold feet about using it directly with linux.
posted by Sunburnt at 7:59 AM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for your answers so far, this is great.

Given that the drive will only occasionally be used with Windows, HFS+ currently sounds the most tempting to me.

With exFAT, do I need to worry about the fact that it was designed for flash drives, while my drive is an... um... non-flash drive, whatever the term for those is? It's not going to end up constantly thrashing around the disk or doing other stuff that's great on flash but terrible on platters?
posted by metaBugs at 8:31 AM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: Note that Linux can only write to non-journaled HFS+. (This might be addressed in the future, but it's hard to predict what kernel hackers will choose to work on!) You'll either have to use it read-only in Linux, or turn off the journal and accept a higher chance of data corruption.

It's hard to know exactly what to recommend without a better idea of how you'll use the drive. For example, does "backups" mean just ad-hoc copying of files, or do you have a specific backup system in mind? Apple's Time Machine is great, but only really works well on HFS+. Similarly, Windows' built-in backup system likes NTFS, and certain Linux backup solutions like rsync may lose features (like extended attributes) if the backup target filesystem doesn't support them.

Most of the time when I want to share a disk between OSes, I end up carving off partitions for special uses. An HFS+ one for Time Machine, a FAT one for sharing data with unmodified systems, etc.
posted by vasi at 10:09 AM on August 2, 2012

Got a network? Mount it on the the Linux box and network share it out to the others, Samba/SMB for Windows and NFS or SMB for Mac. Better, take an old pc/laptop and run FreeNAS or OpenFiler.

Could do NTFS. Windows and Linux do NTFS fine and Paragon (http://www.paragon-software.com) sells NTFS for Mac for $20.

How about ext2? There's a rw kernel driver for windows (http://www.fs-driver.org/) that I've used successfully and Paragon sells an ext2/3/4 package for MacOS for US$40.
posted by kjs3 at 1:34 PM on August 2, 2012

Best answer: while my drive is an... um... non-flash drive, whatever the term for those is?

"rotating media" or "spinning rust", depending how pejorative you want to be.

[is exFAT] going to end up constantly thrashing around the disk or doing other stuff that's great on flash but terrible on platters?

I glanced over the exFAT spec a while ago and remember thinking "that's not going to like running on rotating media". for data transfer/storage it's unlikely to be an issue, but I wouldn't want to use it as an on-line drive.
posted by russm at 2:41 PM on August 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks very much for your input, folks. I eventually settled on non-journalled HFS+.

...then I spent nearly a day trying to work out why my linux machine couldn't write to the HFS even after making sure that journalling was turned off in both the formatting and mount commands. So I gave up and set it as mostly FAT32 with a small NTFS partition set aside for the big files. Not ideal (the mac can't see the >4GB files without installing NTFS drivers, which we don't want to do), but close enough for jazz.
posted by metaBugs at 7:42 AM on August 7, 2012

Best answer: When trying to mount HFS+ writable in Linux, did you try explicitly adding "-o w" to the mount options? I think it might be necessary.
posted by vasi at 5:02 AM on August 13, 2012

Response by poster: vasi - nope. I knew I had mounted HFS+ as writable before and I had a vague recollection that I needed to add something to the mount command to make it work, but my google-fu failed me and I couldn't find those options.

Too late for me to use this time, but handy to have a record of it here, so thanks for that.
posted by metaBugs at 1:55 AM on August 14, 2012

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