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2.9 Network Filesystem

Initially, networking was used to transfer data from one machine to another. Later, it evolved to allowing users to log in remotely to another machine. The next logical step was to bring the data to the user, instead of having the user go to the data -- and network filesystems were born. Users working locally do not experience the network delays on each keystroke, so they have a more responsive environment.

Bringing the filesystem to a local machine was among the first of the major client-server applications. The server is the remote machine that exports one or more of its filesystems. The client is the local machine that imports those filesystems. From the local client's point of view, a remotely mounted filesystem appears in the file-tree name space just like any other locally mounted filesystem. Local clients can change into directories on the remote filesystem, and can read, write, and execute binaries within that remote filesystem identically to the way that they can do these operations on a local filesystem.

When the local client does an operation on a remote filesystem, the request is packaged and is sent to the server. The server does the requested operation and returns either the requested information or an error indicating why the request was denied. To get reasonable performance, the client must cache frequently accessed data. The complexity of remote filesystems lies in maintaining cache consistency between the server and its many clients.

Although many remote-filesystem protocols have been developed over the years, the most pervasive one in use among UNIX systems is the Network Filesystem (NFS), whose protocol and most widely used implementation were done by Sun Microsystems. The 4.4BSD kernel supports the NFS protocol, although the implementation was done independently from the protocol specification Macklem, 1994. The NFS protocol is described in Chapter 9.

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