What Is NFS and How Does It Work? [This Might Help You]

Roxanne updated on Oct 25, 2022 to Knowledge Center

The Network File System (NFS) was created to enable computers to mount a disk partition on a remote computer as if it were a local disk. It makes file sharing across a network quickly and easily.

It is important to note that it opens the door for unauthorized individuals to access your hard drive via the network and therefore read your email, destroy all of your files, and corrupt your system if you set it up incorrectly.

Similar functionality of NFS is offered by other systems as well. Today, NFS has the advantage of being mature, standard, well-understood, and robustly supported across various systems.

What Is NFS? 

The Network File System (NFS) is a distributed file system protocol that was created by Sun Microsystems (Sun) in 1984. It enables users of client computers to access files via a computer network like they would access local storage. Like many other protocols, NFS uses Open Network Computing Remote Procedure Call (ONC RPC). Anyone may implement NFS because it is an open IETF standard described in a Request for Comments (RFC).

network file system

System administrators can use NFS to share all or a portion of a file system on a networked server so that remote computer users can access it. NFS shares, also known as shared file systems, can be accessed by clients who have permission to access the shared file system. Requests between clients and servers are handled over NFS using Remote Procedure Calls (RPCs).

NFS enables sharing any object, part of an NFS host file system. Hard drives, solid-state drives, tape drives, printers, and other peripherals fall under this category. Users can access the resource with proper permissions from their client computers as if they were mounted locally.

Advantages of NFS

The following are just a few of the many advantages NFS offers to businesses:

  • Mature: The majority of its implementation, security, and use, as well as any possible weaknesses, are all well recognized because NFS is a mature protocol.
  • Open: As a free and open network protocol, NFS is an open protocol whose ongoing evolution is available in the internet specifications.
  • Cost-effective: NFS is a simple-to-set up, low-cost network file-sharing solution that uses the current network infrastructure.
  • Centrally managed: NFS's centralized control reduces the requirement for additional software and disk space on individual user systems.
  • User-friendly: The simple-to-use protocol enables users to access remote files on remote hosts, in the same manner, they access local ones.
  • Distributed: The use of removable media storage devices can be decreased using NFS as a distributed file system.
  • Secure: The system is more secure with NFS since there are fewer removable media devices, including CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, diskettes, and USB drives.

Disadvantages of NFS

The following are a few limitations of using NFS:

  • NFS is inherently unsafe due to its reliance on RPCs and should only be used on a trustworthy network behind a firewall. If not, NFS will be exposed to online threats.
  • According to several studies, NFSv4 and NFSv4.1 have constrained bandwidth and scalability, and NFS slows down during periods of high network traffic. According to reports, NFSv4.2 has resolved the bandwidth and scalability problems.

How Does NFS work? Three Versions! (4 Versions Are Available)

NFSv4, the most recent version of NFS, and other versions after NFS version 2 (NFSv2) are typically compatible after client and server machines negotiate a connection.

Given below are the NFS versions, starting with the oldest and ending with the most recent:

  1. NFS Version 2 (March 1989)
  2. NFS Version 3 (June 1995)
  3. NFS Version 4 (April 2003)
  4. NFS Version 4.2 (November 2016)

NFS Version 2 (March 1989)

RFC 1094 contains the NFSv2 specifications. Its main characteristics are as follows:

  • As a transport protocol, it makes use of UDP. Implementing file locking outside the primary protocol makes it possible to make the server stateless.
  • Its file offsets are restricted to 32 bits. Hence the largest file that clients can access is 4.2 GB.
  • Its maximum data transfer size is 8 KB, and NFS servers must transfer any data written by a client to a disk or non-volatile random-access memory (NVRAM)before responding.

NFSv2 is no longer supported, and anyone should not use it.

NFS Version 3 (June 1995)

Due to built-in protocol improvements that can improve performance, NFS version 3 is strongly advised over NFS version 2.

  • Write throughput: Applications operating on client systems might continuously write data to a file, altering the file's content.
  • Decreased demand for file attributes: Clients must make sure that their cached data is still accurate if a change is made to the file by another program because read data might occasionally stay in the cache for lengthy periods in anticipation of demand. As a result, the NFS client periodically obtains the file's properties, including the most recent modification time. The modification time allows a client to check the validity of cached data.
  • Effective application of high-speed network technology: Reducing the RPC size restriction has made it possible for NFS to utilize high bandwidth network technologies like FDDI, 100baseT (100 Mbps), 1000baseT (Gigabit), and the SP Switch more effectively. This has significantly improved NFS's sequential read and write performance.
  • Reduced directory lookup requests: The server must provide name and attribute information for each entry in a complete directory listing, such as that produced by the ls -l command.

NFS Version 4 (April 2003)

According to RFC 3530, NFS Version 4 is the most recent protocol definition for NFS.

The new protocol offers several significant functional advances in security, scalability, and back-end data management, even though it is identical to earlier versions of NFS, particularly Version 3. Due to these features, NFS Version 4 is a superior option for large-scale distributed file-sharing systems.

The following are some of the NFS Version 4 protocol's features:

  • Implementation change of NFS operations: Version 4 of NFS has just two RPC operations: NULL and COMPOUND, in contrast to versions 2 and 3 of NFS.
  • TCP requirement: For better performance in WAN situations, the NFS version 4 protocol requires a transport protocol incorporating congestion control.
  • Protocol for integrated locking: Support for advisory byte range file locking is present in NFS version 4. NFS version 4 now supports file system mounting through protocol operations.
  • Enhanced security measures: Support for the RPCSEC-GSS security protocol is present in NFS version 4.
  • Support for internationalization: String-based data is encoded in UTF-8 instead of delivered as raw bytes in NFS version 4.
  • Extended attribute model: The attribute model in NFS version 4 makes it simpler for users to add attribute definitions and improves interoperability with non-UNIX implementations.
  • Access Control List support:  NFS version 4 includes decisions of ACL attributes.

NFS Version 4.2 (November 2016)

RFC 7862 contains information on NFSv4.2. It updated and added the following new features:

  • Improved modern scale-out storage systems; support for server-side copy allows any NFSv4.2 storage server to clone and take snapshots of data.
  • Space bookings to guarantee a file's accessibility to storage;
  • Support for scanty files, which have big blocks of zero-valued data that are read from the file as zeros;
  • Support for application data blocks, which specify a file's format;
  • Support for tagged NFS, which, when used with Protection-Enhanced Linux, enables additional security.

NFS vs. CIFS vs. SMB: What Is The Difference? 

Like Microsoft's Server Message Block (SMB) protocol, NFS permits networked resource sharing. Many distinct operating systems support SMB and NFS.

  NFS CIFS SMB
Developer Sun Microsystems Microsoft IBM
Write and Read Operation Write operation: Files: 1 file of 3.5 GB NFS write time: 323 seconds Read operation: Files: 1 file of 3.5 GB NFS read time: 330 seconds Unable to find correct answer. Write operation: Files: 1 file of 3.5 GB SMB write time: 324 seconds Read operation: Files: 1 file of 3.5 GB SMB read time: 347 seconds
Function File sharing across servers, desktops, laptops, and other devices is made possible through a client-server program. A server application running on a different computer responds to a client program's request for a file. A client-server communication protocol is used to distribute access to network resources.
Security Innately unsafe, and ought to be only used behind a firewall on a network you can trust. Not very secure and difficult to maintain End-to-end encryption and Advanced Encryption Standard.
Supported By Unix, Linux, OSes, and Windows Obsolete Windows, Unix supported by Samba
Pros NFS provides security while reducing the need for portable media storage such as USB devices or DVDs. It permits network-wide file transfers that are secure. SMB is easier to set up on both Linux and Windows computers
Cons RPC, on which NFS is built, is not very secure. Without a firewall, RPC communications are dangerous. Only secure networks should be used for this. It could be challenging for the client or user to identify and fix faults with CIFS. SMB's interoperability with Microsoft's implementation is not always optimal because Samba is an open-source project.

Final Words

NFS was first designed as a straightforward network file system for local area networking, but since then, it has been modified and embraced for use with practically all types of distributed file systems. NFS version 4.2, released in 2016, is the latest version of the modern scale-out storage system that one can use. From this article, you can also understand the distinction between the pros and cons, functions, etc., of NFS, CIFS, and SMB.

Reserved Storage FAQs 

Here are some frequently asked questions and their answers about NFS:

1. What NFS mean on Tiktok?

When searching for NFS on TikTok, the actual meaning is very different. We may access the videos associated with the well-known video game Need for Speed by performing a quick search using hashtags (NFS).

Thus, the popular game is the actual meaning based on TikTok videos. On TikTok, there are other additional interpretations as well. NFS is an acronym for "Not For Sale", according to Cyber Definitions.

2. What can I use instead of NFS/CIFS?

The most popular Unix file-sharing system, NFS, is not the only one that allows users to share files over a network. NFS substitutes include AFS, DFS, and RFS.

3. Is NFS better than SMB?

SMB and NFS are two client-server communication protocols for networked data exchange. NFS works better in Linux-based setups, whereas SMB is best for Windows file sharing. However, in terms of data security, SMB is safer than NFS.

4. What ports are needed for NFS?

NFS uses the same port for both TCP and UDP in each case:

  • For Server – 111 port
  • For operations – 2049 port
  • For checking client status – 1110 port
  • To access NFS lock manager – 4045 port

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