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Dec 00 Getting Started Volume Number: 16 (2000)
Issue Number: 12
Column Tag: Getting Started - Networking

MacNFS

By John C. Welch

Reviewing Thursby Unix Connectivity Package

Background

This month we will take a look at MacNFS 3.0, from Thursby Systems. MacNFS is an NFS client that allows you to mount Unix NFS shared file systems on your Mac. This is a one way sharing, as MacNFS does not allow you to share your files to Unix users via NFS. With OS X looming large, and NFS being a key type of filesharing under that OS, NFS connectivity for the 'Classic' Mac OS is worth looking at.

MacNFS

MacNFS is a NFS, (Network File System) client for any Mac with at least a 68030 CPU, Mac OS 7.6 or higher, and Open Transport. To access Unix NFS shares, or file systems, the Unix box needs to be using NFS version 2 or greater, PCNFSD, (this is the daemon, or process that allows MacNFS to log in to the Unix box to mount drives) version 2 or greater, Network Lock Manager version 3 or greater, and Mount program version 1 or greater. For my tests, I ran MacNFS on a variety of G3, G4, and other PowerMacs and PowerBook G3s. Unix servers were a mix of Sun boxes running Solaris 7, and SGI boxes running the current version of Irix, 6.5.X.

The installation of MacNFS is straightforward, with your options consisting of which parts of MacNFS to install. The entire package is a User's guide, the MacNFS Chooser extension, and online help, which consists of Mac Help files and an Apple Guide file. Once you install, you restart your Mac and serialize your copy. To initially use MacNFS, you open the Chooser, and select the MacNFS icon. You are then presented with a dialog requesting your name, company, and license number. This is my first minor beef with MacNFS, and Thursby in general. The license numbers that Thursby uses are some of the more complex ones I've seen in the Mac market. This by itself is not bad until you buy 30 copies of MacNFS, and get a page of labels, each with its own license number. A single license number for multiple copy purchases would be a good idea, especially if you remotely install MacNFS on multiple Macs at different locations.

Once you have entered the license number, you can then start setting up MacNFS. The initial presentation in the Chooser shows you a listing of all machines on your subnet that are exporting NFS shares. This is shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1. MacNFS Server List.

This list looks like any other server list you would see in the Chooser. You have the 'OK' button, which allows you to select the server you want to log into. The other button takes you into the MacNFS client setup. As you can see in Figure 2, the setup for MacNFS is fairly straightforward.


Figure 2. MacNFS Client Setup.

The options allow you to configure the basic behaviors of the client. For the most part, the default options will work. Most administrators will want to configure the create permissions, which control how the NFS filesystems apply file access rules to files created using the MacNFS client. The 'Show hidden UNIX files' option controls the visibility of Unix .files, which are normally configuration files, and not viewable by non-administrators. 'Translate End of Line' automatically handle converting Unix line-end characters to the Mac line ends. The 'Info...' button shows the statistics for the client, and allows you to change the license code for that client if needed. Once you have made the necessary changes, clicking 'Save' commits those changes, and returns you to the server list.

Picking a server to access disks from is similar to doing it via AppleShare. You select a server, and either double-click, or click 'OK'. You are then presented with a login screen, shown in Figure 3.


Figure 3. Login Screen.

The login has one unique feature, that being the 'Security:' pulldown menu. This is a listing of all visible servers that are running the PCNFSD authentication daemon. This allows the user to authenticate against different servers if the primary is down, or a specific set of NFS shares can only be authenticated by a specific server. Also, the user does not have to authenticate to the same server that they are trying to mount, so a single authentication server can be used for all NFS shares.

Once the user has authenticated, a list of default shares for that server is displayed. This screen, in Figure 4, is where the user selects the share(s) they wish to access, and to set share-specific options.


Figure 4. Default Shares.

This screen has many of the same options as the main settings screen, but any options set here, only apply to a specific share or shares. Like other network clients, the user can set certain shares to automatically mount on system startup. Unfortunately, this version of MacNFS does not allow for the KeyChain to be used to store the passwords for these shares. The 'Options' button toggles the options section of the screen on or off, (shown ON in Figure 4.) The 'Add Path' button brings up a dialog that allows the manual entry of a share that does not appear in the window. These shares must be entered using Unix path conventions, and the entire path must be entered manually. An ability to browse to the desired share would make this option easier to use, as Unix paths can be quite complicated. The 'Add Path' dialog is shown below in Figure 5.


Figure 5. Add Path Dialog.

Once the share has been selected and mounted, it behaves as any other network share would. Since Unix does not use dual streamed filesystems, MacNFS keeps the resource fork information in a separate file, that has the same filename as the data fork, but preceded by a percent sign. File access and usage is as fast as the network allows, but in general, it is speedy over 10Mbps Ethernet.

Thursby has done an excellent job in making MacNFS easy to use on a wide range of Macs. Although there are some minor issues with the manual path addition process, lack of KeyChain integration, and the serial numbering process, these are relatively minor quibbles, and are not bad enough to cause second thoughts about using MacNFS..


John Welch <jwelch@aer.com> is the Mac and PC Administrator for AER Inc., a weather and atmospheric science company in Cambridge, Mass. He has over fifteen years of experience at making computers work. His specialties are figuring out ways to make the Mac do what nobody thinks it can, and showing that the Mac is the superior administrative platform.

 
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