Saturday, August 6, 2005

NFS: it doesn't "just work"

I still do a reasonable amount of computing on bigbird, my main FreeBSD machine. (The details are not important—this post is about to get nerdy enough. It's just that bigbird is the fastest machine with the most storage on the LAN.) I log in remotely from kermit the PowerBook, but to view any output, I have been transferring it to kermit using scp. This got boring really fast, and this afternoon I decided it was time to set up an NFS export of some directories on bigbird to kermit. I'm no NFS guru, but it's not like it's anything I hadn't done before, either.

I remembered reading some articles about mounting filesystems over NFS on Mac OS X a few months ago, so I was prepared for it not to be straightforward. My preparedness was rewarded: it certainly didn't "just work". I had to find a system tool called "NetInfo Manager", buried in the Utilities subdirectory of the Applications folder. There's nothing, to me at least, about "NetInfo Manager" that says, "this is the application you use to set up an NFS mount". I knew it was, though, because I was following along with one of the many web pages that describes the unnecessarily complicated process of setting this up. Here's what I had to do:
  1. Click on the /mounts directory in NetInfo Manager.
  2. Add a new subdirectory called bigbird:/home.
  3. Add the following properties: vfstype=nfs, opts=net, dir=/Network/Servers/.
  4. Save the settings and restart the computer.
Now, to my mind, that's all a bit Windows-esque, especially the last step. Restart the computer? (Of course, the usual caveat applies: there may have been an easier way to do it which didn't involve a restart. But if there was, it wasn't obvious to me.) You certainly couldn't claim that mounting an NFS filesystem "just works".

(Worse, because the subtleties of syntax in the /etc/exports file on the NFS server were lost in the back of my brain somewhere, I had to restart the PowerBook no less than five times to get it all working. Now that's hardly Mac OS X's fault, but it would have been nice if there was an easier way than a restart.)


  1. That's all very well and geeky, Paul, but tell the punters at home what they want to know: what the fsck happened with you iPod?

  2. That's a very reasonable question. The insurance company is coming to the party, but I have a bad feeling they've seen through my plan to get a 60GB colour iPod for $100. I suspect they know how to get a 40GB monochrome replacement for less than the $A 600 RRP on the 60GB colour. In which case I'll have spent $A 100 to be iPod-less for about three weeks. I'll keep you posted.

  3. Weird. My only NFS server being very very unavailable at the moment or I would have tested this out, but I thought using a "nfs://" URI in the connect to server dialog Just Worked(TM).

  4. Heh, so you are telling me you're not runnning an LDAP directory for POSIX account information?! What _are_ you doing with your time?

    Maybe you could remap your UID on the Mac?

    In any case, I am pretty uninpressed with NFS on FreeBSD. From missing functionality (a'la UID remapping) to the useless /etc/export file format, is is pretty blah.

    Going further off on a tangent, I wonder if NFS4 has make Apple-like file sharig easier on UNIX? I must check it out one day.