File system support: Ubuntu vs. OS X.

Here’s how I got my new Linux Mint computer to read and write to a 1-Terabyte external hard drive formatted for Mac OS X:

Step 1: I read this helpful message on Identi.ca;

Step 2: I searched Synaptic for “HFS” and installed three packages (the others shown above were installed automatically).

Total time spent: Less than 5 minutes. 100% interoperability with my Desktop OS.

Then, just for fun, I tried the reverse — specifically to get my Mac Pro to read a disk formatted as ext3 for Linux, or even NTFS for Windows (and also Linux). Mac users will know that out of the box OS X can format and recognize HFS+ and FAT32 media only, meaning that if you’ve any single file larger than 4GB you’re completely screwed. There’s also a “UNIX format”, presumably for servers but near as I can tell pretty much useless for desktop operating systems.

I found something called MacFUSE which, in the developer’s own words: “allows you to extend Mac OS X’s native file handling capabilities via 3rd-party file systems”. I also found this ext2/ext3 plug-in, and after installing both and restarting was good to go. Or so I thought…

I was unable to format my 1TB drive as ext3 from my Mac — at least using the native Disk Utility app. So I unplugged the drive, walked it over to my Linux box and initialized it from there. Twenty or so minutes later it was ready, and after putting some test files on it I reconnected it to OS X. Not only could my Mac not read the data on the drive, but OS X’s Disk Utility incorrectly identified it as an NTFS-formatted drive. I say “incorrectly” because I then walked it back over to my Linux rig and confirmed that it was indeed formatted as ext3 and that the files were indeed readable.

As another test I formatted a 1GB USB stick as ext3 on my Linux Mint machine and tried mounting that on OS X. It seemed to work fine. Funny… and by “funny” I mean infuriating.

Then I turned to NTFS — a Windows format but one that would at least counter the 4GB file size limit of FAT32. I found a free demo of some commercial software which didn’t work for me at all — partly because it wasn’t made clear if I needed to use it with MacFUSE or not. I tried both ways, with restarts in-between. No love.

Total time spent: 4 hours-plus; success on a 1GB drive but total failure with an additional 999GB.

And now, a bit of a rant…

Even before it was necessary to migrate my data from HFS+ I wasn’t a fan. Every single time I mount my Nokia as a drive on my Mac I have to deal with a bunch of  ‘DS_Store’ and ‘.Trashes’ files that are created there.

And while HFS+ may be open source I can certainly see why read/write support for it isn’t included by default in Linux Mint — I think it’s incredibly inefficient as a file system. And I’m not alone.

Consider the following IRC exchange between yours truly and a Mr. Jon Ramvi on the subject of his netbook distro Easy Peasy, referred to here as “ep”:

(06:25:58 PM) acurrie: i’m wondering if there’s a gui “clean-up” app for ep
(06:26:07 PM) lassegul: what do you wanna clean up?
(06:26:22 PM) acurrie: disk caches, permissions, etc
(06:26:29 PM) acurrie: it’s necessary on os x
(06:26:43 PM) acurrie: does linux require it too?
(06:27:08 PM) acurrie: it would be something akin to yasu on the mac
(06:27:08 PM) lassegul: well, you dont need to clean up any disk caches. what do you mean by permissions?
(06:27:39 PM) lassegul: let me google yasu
(06:28:22 PM) acurrie: http://jimmitchelldesign.com/projects/yasu/
(06:30:46 PM) lassegul: i really dont see the huge need for it in EP or linux in general. Lets start from the top of this pic http://www.jimmitchelldesign.com/art/window_v2.jpg
(06:31:39 PM) lassegul: the cron scripts are nice and tidy, and shouldnt be tampered with unless you mean to tamper with it. the system permissions reset after a couple of minutes in EP.
(06:32:12 PM) acurrie: so there’s no regular system maintenance required in ep/ubuntu?
(06:32:32 PM) lassegul: thats linux for you :)

Mac users who are used to regularly repairing disk permissions and running manual cron jobs can pick their jaws up off the floor now.

You can get yourself up to speed on file system standards with a visit to Wikipedia. For Linux-specific recommendations you can read this handy guide posted to the Linux Mint forums.

And just to re-state the obvious here, Linux has far better file system support than OS X.


24 Responses to “File system support: Ubuntu vs. OS X.”


  • AC:

    So there’s no cottage industry devoted to keeping a Linux HD clean like there is with Mac or Windows?

    If I were to go completely Linux, what am I going to do with the time I normally spend running utilities?

    Ed

  • AC:

    So there’s no cottage industry devoted to keeping a Linux HD clean like there is with Mac or Windows?

    If I were to go completely Linux, what am I going to do with the time I normally spend running utilities?

    Ed

  • AC:

    So there’s no cottage industry devoted to keeping a Linux HD clean like there is with Mac or Windows?

    If I were to go completely Linux, what am I going to do with the time I normally spend running utilities?

    Ed

  • You could, for example, buy some money management books and figure out where to invest all that money you’d save from not buying overpriced Mac hardware. 8-)

  • You could, for example, buy some money management books and figure out where to invest all that money you’d save from not buying overpriced Mac hardware. 8-)

  • You could, for example, buy some money management books and figure out where to invest all that money you’d save from not buying overpriced Mac hardware. 8-)

  • While not completely needed BleachBit is a good application data cleaner.
    Available in the repositories of Ubuntu, as checked using 10.04 myself.

  • While not completely needed BleachBit is a good application data cleaner.
    Available in the repositories of Ubuntu, as checked using 10.04 myself.

  • When you created your ext3 file system, did you confirm in fdisk that the partition was marked to show an ext3 file system? I’ve run mkfs on a drive before now to have fdisk misreport the FS type.

  • When you created your ext3 file system, did you confirm in fdisk that the partition was marked to show an ext3 file system? I’ve run mkfs on a drive before now to have fdisk misreport the FS type.

  • I did not. I only used GUI tools to format that disk — GParted, if I remember correctly…

  • I did not. I only used GUI tools to format that disk — GParted, if I remember correctly…

  • I did not. I only used GUI tools to format that disk — GParted, if I remember correctly…

  • Files systems support for Mac OS X 10.6x, GNU/Linux as well as *NIX is easily solved by installing a Network Attached Storage (NAS) – using FreeNAS 0.71 software – that accommodates all three.

    Installing FreeNAS on an older, unused PC (very easy to find) for NAS Server is great resource, and total costs is probably less than five dollars – $5.00.

  • Files systems support for Mac OS X 10.6x, GNU/Linux as well as *NIX is easily solved by installing a Network Attached Storage (NAS) – using FreeNAS 0.71 software – that accommodates all three.

    Installing FreeNAS on an older, unused PC (very easy to find) for NAS Server is great resource, and total costs is probably less than five dollars – $5.00.

  • I’ve actually got a dedicated NAS on the way, but the drives that will go in it are currently in my Mac Pro holding my data — which is why I have to move my data to an intermediary drive.

    P.S. Five dollars for a used PC…?

  • I’ve actually got a dedicated NAS on the way, but the drives that will go in it are currently in my Mac Pro holding my data — which is why I have to move my data to an intermediary drive.

    P.S. Five dollars for a used PC…?

  • Respondent “Andrew” does not get my point about $5.00

    I am offered several older (fully working) PCs each month from persons who have discarded them. For example a P3 – 700 mhz or P4 1 ghz is perfect NAS hardware.

    The $5.00 is for a lunch in their appreciation of donation/gift/throw-away.

    Just add large Hard drive (1+TB?) and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) FreeNAS 0.71, a twenty minute install and configure and you are ready to go – storing data from all your Files systems.

    Please stay with me.

  • Respondent “Andrew” does not get my point about $5.00

    I am offered several older (fully working) PCs each month from persons who have discarded them. For example a P3 – 700 mhz or P4 1 ghz is perfect NAS hardware.

    The $5.00 is for a lunch in their appreciation of donation/gift/throw-away.

    Just add large Hard drive (1+TB?) and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) FreeNAS 0.71, a twenty minute install and configure and you are ready to go – storing data from all your Files systems.

    Please stay with me.

  • Respondent “Andrew” is actually the author of this blog. :)

  • Respondent “Andrew” is actually the author of this blog. :)

  • Respondent “Andrew” is actually the author of this blog. :)

  • A little late to the game, but you might want to give UDF a try. It’s a modern filesystem with large-file support and supported by basically all modern OS (for definitions of modern that do not include WinXP :-)).

    Have a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Disk_Format#Table_of_operating_systems

    This for example works fo a 1Gig USB stick formattet under Linux and read- and writable under Win7: mkudffs –media-type=hd –blocksize=512 /dev/sdd

    (Note, that i intentionally did not use a partition, this makes Win happier for sticks (I think it’s not the same for disks), though I don’t know about MacOS)

  • A little late to the game, but you might want to give UDF a try. It’s a modern filesystem with large-file support and supported by basically all modern OS (for definitions of modern that do not include WinXP :-)).

    Have a look at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Disk_Format#Table_of_operating_systems

    This for example works fo a 1Gig USB stick formattet under Linux and read- and writable under Win7: mkudffs –media-type=hd –blocksize=512 /dev/sdd

    (Note, that i intentionally did not use a partition, this makes Win happier for sticks (I think it’s not the same for disks), though I don’t know about MacOS)

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