Re: Need information on NFS

Charles Hedrick (
Fri, 19 Dec 86 13:32:03 est

NFS has dealt with one set of machine dependencies: The RPC mechanism
is well-defined, and works across machines. So you can presumably
read directories and delete files. But once you want to get or put
data, it assumes a Unix file model, in the sense that the file is
assumed to be flat (no way to say get the Nth record, or retrieve
based on a record key). Furthermore, no translation of data is
defined. This shows up in the PC implementation. Unix uses LF as
a line terminator. MS-DOS uses eitehr CR or CR-LF [I don't remember
which]. So you can use your Unix directory to store you PC files,
but if you then go to edit them from Unix, the line terminators will
be odd. There is of course a utility to change formats. For many
purposes PC-NFS is just fine. It lets you use Unix disks to augment
your PC's disks, and the formats aren't different enough to cause
real trouble. But you'd like to see a real machine-independent
file system solve that problem. Unfortunately, it isn't clear to
me how one would do it. That's presumably why by and large it isn't
being done. You can't have the server just change line terminators,
for several reasons:
  - binary files (e.g. executables) would likely get munged
  - you can't tell which files are text and which are binary
  - if you turn LF into CRLF, you change the number of bytes, and
        so random access by byte number isn't going to work

I think NFS is useful across a reasonable set of operating systems.
I'm glad Sun put the work they did into making it as
machine-independent as they did. But I certainly don't think one
could claim it to be perfect.

By the way, several notes have talked about NFS "violating Unix
semantics". The most common example is that file locking doesn't work
across the network. It does now, in Sun release 3.2. I think it's
unfair to compare the first release of NFS, which we used in
production for 1.5 years across 2 different manufacturers' machines
(Sun and Pyramid), with System V release 3's network file system,
which still isn't very widely available. (The other major omission is
that you can't use devices across the network. Just disk files. I'd
certainly like to see that fixed, but I can't say that in practice it
causes much of a problem. I'll be interested to see whether that is
fixed in NFS by the time we have sVr3 in operation.)

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