What Is NFS?

NFS stands for Network File System. This collaboration system was developed by Sun Microsystems back in the early 1980s and gives users the ability to view, store, update, and share their files via a remote desktop as if it was your local computer.

What Is NFS

NFS was at first used internally by employees of Sun Microsystems, but by the time the second version was released, the public gained access to the system. It’s most commonly used within UNIX operating systems.

But why is the Network File System used, and what benefits does it offer? The following article will break down everything you might need to know about NFS.

How Does NFS (Network File System) Work?

The server implements Network File System daemon processes to give clients access to the data stored on other machines (including the server). The administrator of the server decides what data is made available, and ensures that the validated clients will be recognized as such.

On the side of the client, the machine will request to access the exported data, and this is usually done by issuing a mount command. Once this process has been executed, the client can both view and interact with the available file systems.

Past Versions Of Network File System: An Overview

There have been several versions of the Network File System since its release to the public with Version 2. Each of the following versions of the Network File System is still in use, and they each have different standards in terms of how they operate.

Network File System Version 2 (NFSv2)

The oldest available format and the first to be released to the public, Version 2 of the Network File System is also the most widely supported version of the system. It operates through the UDP (User Datagram Protocol) via an IP network. This network is what provides the system with such a stable connection.

The User Datagram Protocol doesn’t provide a formal connection before data can start being transferred. For convenience’s sake, it’s a handy feature because it makes for faster connections overall. Clients using the User Datagram Protocol can send server requests when the server isn’t even functioning.

Network File System Version 3 (NFSv3)

The main feature of Network File System Version 3 is that it supports asynchronous writes. This means that the server can dictate the correct policies when it comes to the synchronization of data. Version 3’s design also makes for better buffering than Version 2.

It’s more adept at handling errors, and can also handle a larger quantity of files, regardless of the size of those files. 64-bit file sizes are also supported by NFS Version 3, which allows users access to roughly two gigabytes of file content.

Network File System Version 4 (NFSv4)

The latest version of the Network File System (as of early 2022) is NFS Version 4, which can be run through both the internet and via firewalls. An rpcbind service is not required to make this version run, meaning the number of places you’ll be able to run it is higher than that of Version 2 and Version 3.

TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) uses the Network File System format; Transmission Control Protocol will link between the application and the IP. It’ll also keep tabs on certain segments of your data.

A server using NFSv4 will also be able to accept Transmission Control Protocol commands from port 2049. This is one of the most common ports on the market. Unlike prior versions, it at no point needs to interact with daemons.

Benefits Of Network File System

As well as allowing for local access to remote files and host authentication, there are some other notable benefits to the Network File System (see also ‘What Is Nextcloud?‘).

NFS allows for central management, allows users to log into whichever server they need access to so they can view and interact with files transparently, and it’s also been around for decades, meaning all of the applications come with familiarity.

Additionally, manual refreshes are not required for new files, and the Network File System can also be secured via both Kerberos and firewalls.

Other Options For File Sharing With NAS (Network-Attached Storage)

The Network File System protocol is just one file system standard offered via NAS (network-attached storage). There are two other popular options: SMB (server message block) and CIFS (common internet file system), the latter being a dialect of the server message block. So, what are the differences between these two options?

SMB (Server Message Block)

The server message block is similar to the Network File System protocol in that it lets users access files via a remote server. There are several similarities between NFS and SMB, but there are some big differences, too.

One of the main drawbacks of the server message block, when compared to the network file system, is that Windows makes user authentication a requirement to connect (to an SMB, that is). This means that for the most part, users will need to be logged in at all times.

CIFS (Common Internet File System)

The terms CIFS and SMB tend to be used interchangeably, but there are some differences. The common internet file system is a dialect of the server message block. While CIFS can be used in conjunction with SMB, the practical uses of CIFS are far more limited these days.

If you’re connecting more than one computer running on UNIX, you’ll want NFS, because it’s a native protocol. For connecting more than one computer using Windows, SMB is the best option.

Final Thoughts

NFS, or Network File System, is a handy solution when it comes to sharing your files with other people in your network. Servers use NFS daemon processes to make the desired data available to users.

There are many benefits to using Network File System; primarily central management and the ability for users to transparently access files whenever they log in.

Erik D