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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

By Nathan Willis on April 16, 2008 (7:00:00 PM)

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So you just bought an external hard drive for backups. Now, with what filesystem should you format it? Ext2? FAT32? No matter which one you choose, there are trade-offs to consider.

You face the same choice whenever you buy a USB thumb drive, but for a backup drive, a lot more is at stake. Those backups have to be there and be reliable when disaster strikes. On the one hand, you need to preserve your data and your metadata, so not just any filesystem will do. But on the other, if you're not at your home base, you need to be able to access it from anywhere, so you can't be too obscure.

Back in February, my streak of never needing to restore from backup came to an end (though my no-hard-drive-failure streak is still running strong at 11 years). Filesystem corruption zapped some work from my laptop while I was on the road. It was not a sizable amount in the grand scheme of things, but inconvenient in that it happened while I was away from home base. Once I returned, I started shopping for a pocket-sized external hard drive to carry around to deal with such occasions in the future.

Evil number one: Old and FAT

If a drive comes formatted out-of-the-box, it likely uses FAT32 -- the old Microsoft classic guaranteed to be readable on any computer modern enough to have the right physical connector. You can use FAT32 for a backup drive and be safe in the knowledge that you can retrieve files from it on a Linux, Windows, or Mac OS X system. But FAT32 limits individual file sizes to 4GB, a restriction way too small for video editing and increasingly for DVD ISOs and virtual machine images. More importantly, FAT32 does not support Unix file permissions, adding hassle to restoring ownership and write permission to backup recovery.

NTFS overcomes those technical limitations, but its write support under Linux and OS X is, at best, a problematic hurdle. That makes it risky: a backup system that is a daily hassle to write to is a backup system that doesn't get used. Getting out of that habit is the last thing you want to do.

Evil number two: Nobody understands me

Ask for advice on formatting an external drive in a Linux forum, and the traditional answer is ext2. It is the standard native-to-Linux filesystem -- a reliable, no-nonsense choice for well over a decade, and thanks to its compatibility with successor ext3, unlikely to disappear from Linux in the foreseeable future.

All of which makes ext2 a good option as long as you live in a perfect world, in which no matter where you go there is a Linux computer handy. But if you occasionally find yourself in a room with one of the 90% of the world's PCs that run Windows, you will find it unable to read ext2 partitions.

There are two actively developed projects to bring ext2 support to Windows. The Ext2 Installable File System (IFS) implements system-level read/write access for Windows systems from NT 4.0 to Vista. It is regarded as generally stable, although it does not respect Unix file permissions, and cannot read Logical Volume Manager (LVM) volumes. It is freeware, but not open source.

Ext2fsd is GPL-licensed, and supports many of the same features as Ext2 IFS. It does not run on Windows NT or on Vista, though, and its developer cautions that it is not to be regarded as stable. It does not support LVM, but the latest development builds do support reading ext3 journals.

On Macs, the only option is ext2fsx, an open source project that appears to have gone dormant late in 2006. It was last verified to support OS X version 10.4. Recent rumblings among a new set of developers in the project's discussion forum indicate a growing interest in resuming development, so 10.5 users may not be left out in the cold for long.

Calculating which is the lesser

Not a particularly heartening choice, is it? Everything can read FAT32, but you'll lose your file permission settings and will have to take special measures to split up oversized files. Ext2 will be a breeze to use in Linux, but you will have to find another Linux system to read it.

You can address the latter point by always carrying around a bootable Linux CD or flash drive, or perhaps keeping a copy of the ext2 tools for Windows and Macs on portable storage as well. That is a workable solution, although it adds complexity and additional points of failure. Scratch or lose your portable Linux image and you are back to square one. Plus, the ext2 solutions for the proprietary OSes all require administrator privileges to install -- something you may not have access to in an emergency disaster recovery scenario.

But then again, how many files do you actually have that exceed 4GB in size? Are file ownership and permissions for data (i.e. not system) files really that difficult to restore, compared to the time required to reinstall the OS itself after a hard drive failure?

What I have done in the past is use ext2 for the bulky 3.5-inch backup disk attached to my desktop system at home, and FAT32 on the pocket-sized portable drive I take on the road. Neither approach is a perfect solution, but considering the different steps I'd likely have to take to recover from a failure in both circumstances, at least that approach simplifies a quick recovery in both.

But my choice certainly isn't the only reasonable way to look at it. What strategy do you use, and when disaster strikes, how has it fared?

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on What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 82.35.192.193] on April 16, 2008 07:26 PM
While relying on a liveCD does sound like a risk, if you have access to a networked win/mac and a rewritable disc( it will take a serious amount of damage to stop you being able to write a disc) your pretty safe.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 170.171.10.32] on April 16, 2008 07:32 PM
Rather than a live cd, why not just set up the external drive to be linux bootable with NTFS and VFAT support. Then you can always boot to the hard drive and move the files you need to the host OS. GIven most external s drives are measured in hundreds of gigs these days, what a few hundred meg for a linux bootable system?

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 70.182.160.140] on April 16, 2008 07:37 PM
My solution to the problem was to partition my USB backup drive and put a version of BartPE on the first small primary partition. I would thing it would be just as easy to put a small Linux distro ther as well and put the files needed to access the rest of the drive on it- beit NTFS3G for NTFS write support in Linux or Windows ext2 drivers.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 71.131.206.46] on April 16, 2008 08:53 PM
I'm not sure why the author says NTFS-3G write support is problematic. I haven't seen any issues other than lack of ACLs support, which most home users aren't likely to be using anyway.

Also, if you can partition your external device, simply set it up to take both FAT32 and ext3 file systems. I have my internal hard drives set that way - several partitions for files that need to be accessed by Windows, the rest by my day-to-day Linux.

Also the risk that your bootable live CD isn't going to work is fairly rare. More likely than a scratched disk is that some unusual hardware on the other PC you're booting on isn't supported. Most of the time you're going to be recovering on your own machine, not somebody else's anyway. So that issue is rare. You solve scratched disk problems by having more than one copy. It's not rocket science.

In the end, the obvious solution is "bare metal restore": make a bootable image of your OS partition to several CDs or DVDs, and backup the rest of your data separately on your external device. That way you'll always have a bootable recoverable OS, and then your backups can be recovered with the same OS. The same applies to any live CD - make multiple copies.

It really isn't rocket science. The hard part is remembering to do this regularly as your OS changes, and setting up an automated backup system that really does grab everything correctly.

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 65.195.245.6] on April 16, 2008 09:32 PM
> I'm not sure why the author says NTFS-3G write support is problematic. I haven't seen any issues other than lack of ACLs support, which most home users aren't likely to be using anyway.

I've always heard that too "NTFS in linux is unreliable" or that it'll cause corruption. But I've also not had any problems with it though I don't use it much.

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Re(1): What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 83.219.124.35] on April 17, 2008 01:58 PM
I've had BitTorrent download for days on an ntfs-3g mounted partition and experienced absolutely no corruption, so as far as I'm concerned, ntfs-3g is bullet-proof.

I format all my drives using NTFS, as it is the best supported format among Linux/Windows. And yeah you could also have a tiny FAT32 linux bootable partition just in case.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.92.218.124] on April 16, 2008 09:03 PM
I format my little thumb drives as vfat because I tend to bring these to Windows machines or to my DVD player (which has a USB interface and can play movies off a FAT32 formatted drive).

For large external drives I use ext3. I use SATA drives as backup cartridges (I recommend the Thermaltake BlacX SATA-to-USB dock). I don't have much need to give these to Windows users.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.203.49.175] on April 16, 2008 10:13 PM
I need >4 GB file access. Ext3 has been my choice, since you can almost guarantee access to Linux via liveOS but not Win. Multiple liveCD copies is a good solution (I carry several), with the most hardware-robust (Knoppix, DSL, Puppy, your fav?) being most reliable. Simpler is best in such cases. Also one of the system rescue distros would be handy. Note that flash drives don't scratch. I haven't had problems with NTFS-3g, but that version is only ~1 year old - before that writing wasn't good, right?

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Dummy00001 on April 17, 2008 12:27 PM

I use now ext2 and FAT partitions mostly. (I do not need journaling on external volumes - no ext3)

Before I had a practice to create a small FAT partition and put Explore2Fs since it doesn't require installation. You can't write onto ext2 - but at least under Windows you can get the info from the drive. And I normally moved info from Linux to Windows so I had few problems.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 72.242.3.146] on April 17, 2008 12:34 AM
Would putting a CD-RW filesystem like UDF be a possibility?

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 79.64.102.82] on April 17, 2008 01:04 AM
it depends what your backup solution is, i have my personal files (which were on a different partition anyway) rsync'ed onto an ntfs drive and a compressed disc image for the rest of the operating system.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.167.17.100] on April 17, 2008 02:09 AM
A good article, correct from my experience too.

NTFS write support is problematic. There is a reason the folks working on it say it is in beta or whatever, and describe the known problems. In my case, took the risk for good reason back in mid-2007, and had regular issues with the (already known) truncated file problem. A couple of times when the disk got full, it became corrupted (no error message about disk full, just merrily carried on writing the data wherever). And that reminds, the statistics on disk usage were sometimes "behind the times" until I learnt better, that is what led to attempted overfilling.

It remains a work in progress today. Still, it is far better than no NTFS access. Those working on it have been honest about its beta status, and for their years of hard work, mostly to figure out various tricks that MS has stuck in there in an attempt to prevent anybody else from accessing and writing NTFS, they deserve much praise.

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 91.153.140.219] on April 17, 2008 11:36 AM
> There is a reason the folks working on it say it is in beta or whatever, and describe the known problems.

We claim stability since February of 2007, more than a year ;-) Please see our web site: http://ntfs-3g.org. There is no known reliability problem with the driver.

Actually, not only we use NTFS regularly as a reliable backup but apparently many other people too, based on the daily almost 1,000 downloads besides the driver being available or included in over 140 Linux distributions and several very popular ones (like Ubuntu, Mandriva) use it as the default NTFS driver to read and write this file system.

> A couple of times when the disk got full, it became corrupted

This problem was fixed 1.5 years ago in a BETA release, before NTFS-3G became stable:
http://ntfs-3g.org/releases.html

Thank you,

Szabolcs Szakacsits

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 84.69.189.20] on April 17, 2008 02:52 AM
This article seems a little sparse to me.

Where's the flash-drive-specific filesystem?
What about reiser or xfs etc?

Is it simply better to use a tar archive in fat?
What are the performance differences?

My personal backup strategy is an LVM mirror - although that still doesn't protect me from the dreaded [delete] key.
If I were to choose, I'd partition my USB key into three partitions. The first ext3, the second fat32, the third ext3. The first would hold a bootable linux install which would allow me to recover any problems. The second would hold windows drivers for READING the third partition. The third would hold my data.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.14.166.244] on April 17, 2008 03:45 AM
I love and hate file systems but have learned a long time ago. That using the most used file formats is a plus and very handy. Like a rain coat in the spring. Live CD's are great! I have a keyring full of thumb drives and back up everything all over and even to G-space if I need to travel. Anyway, it's a good idea to partition and use ext3 /boot /user /root or your pleasure. Fat32 is good too have around but not so easy to fix and recover. Seems much easier now to have access to your files. Back in the day of fat16 we crossed our fingers. Back in the day we used boot loaders for DOS's,OS/2,windows, and Linux. Just amazing what we can do today!

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.68.124.253] on April 17, 2008 05:27 AM
Fat 32 does not respect linux permission but a tar archive does.
So, it is quite simple to use an automatic archive program that targzipify (?) your files when performing his task.
Backerupper is such a program but there are many more.

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 74.53.155.214] on April 18, 2008 12:24 AM
Anonymous said:
"Fat 32 does not respect linux permission but a tar archive does."
I agree. Use fat32 for the compatibility with all OS's and use tar/gzip/zip to create ~4GB spanned chunks. This way, you get the best of both worlds: compatibility and functionality. After all, isn't that what tar, gzip and zip were originally designed for?

Codifex Maximus

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 194.126.220.31] on April 17, 2008 06:48 AM
For NTFS filesystem you can use the ntfs-3g program which work just fine.

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DVD-RAM - What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 81.171.224.180] on April 17, 2008 11:15 AM
I usually make backups on DVD-RAM disks. They are supported by modern DVD drives (look for "Multi" drives). They are much more reliable than normal DVDs. You do not have to "burn" them, you use them like a harddisk. They come in 4.7GB and 9.4GB sizes.
If you format a DVD-RAM with the UDF file system, you can access it from any OS.
Can be rewritten over 100,000 times (DVD±RW can be rewritten approx. 1,000 times).
Data is retained for an estimated 30 years minimum!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dvd-ram

Give them a try!

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Data for 30 years? Nope.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.69.85.120] on April 18, 2008 08:32 AM
Better read up on this... the surface of any "disc" is of different quality and can be also inferior due to batch production mistakes. I know of no rating for DVD or CD writable discs that in reality last very long at all.


If you are keeping mission critical data on DVD or CD disc for very long, then you need to read a bit more about how some serial number batches of discs are better than others (there is a whole community that follows this). The only DVD or CD media that will last a long time is if the media is "pressed" meaning that the data on the disc lives a mechanical type of lifetime on the disc.... A CD burner or DVD burner does not do this... it only takes the disc and changes the chemical nature of the surface to make it readable in a binary way... and it is a well know fact that the chemical surface on the burned CD or DVD will break down (and some disc surfaces, depending on the quality of the disc, simply will not last very long at all.... certainly not even close to 30 years... and if exposed to sunlight might not last 2 months.

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Re: Data for 30 years? Nope.

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.1.4.39] on April 21, 2008 07:43 PM
From Anonymous: "A CD burner or DVD burner does not do this... it only takes the disc and changes the chemical nature of the surface to make it readable in a binary way... and it is a well know fact that the chemical surface on the burned CD or DVD will break down"

The surface of a CD/DVD is plastic. Nothing more. There is a dye that is encased **inside** of the plastic. This dye is changes by the laser that the burner uses to record the data. By changing the dye, it changed the reflectivity of light shining through the plastic (and bouncing back from the reflective surface). The dye can either break down chemically, the seal can break, or the reflective surface can deteriorate. There are even reports of some sort of fungus or something that eats CD-R (dunno about DVD-R) dyes that is down in central or south america.

Factory-pressed means that the data is stamped into the disc (again ***NOT*** on the surface of the disc). Factory-pressed discs can still detriorate, but it's the reflective layer that is breaking down/oxidizing.

While manufacturing processes can affect certain batches of discs (and this has nothing to do with the surface of the disc), the most important thing is the quality of the dye used (i.e. which dye a certain manufacturer uses). The most highly regarded discs are Taio Yuden (sp?). They are an original manufacturer (not a repackager like Memorex or Verbatim). They also sell discs to repackagers that sell discs as well. I've heard the if a batch is from TY, it will have "Made in Japan" on the packaging.

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Unusual solution that makes the question mute is

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 99.201.108.52] on April 17, 2008 12:10 PM
I carry an AppleTV running Debian as my backup device. It is smaller in size than a 3.5in external disc+power brick and I can always connect via ethernet, wireless or USB to mount a samba volume or nfs. Tricky to setup but rewarding. Previously I carried a Mac Mini but that power brick was a hassle, the AppleTV plugs in directly
to the AC and is very thin in comparison.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 38.102.29.250] on April 17, 2008 01:49 PM
As far as permissions on fat32, why not make a backup using tar. The files inside the archive will have the appropriate permissions when you extract them back to an ext2/3 fs. You can also do the same with files larger than 4gb. Yes, it may be a hassle, but if you think about it, it'll give you the best of both worlds.

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Nathan Willis on April 17, 2008 08:09 PM
(for the record, this applies to the other questions about tar as well)

Yes, tarring your files onto the backup drive will allow you to preserve permissions. But on FAT32, you still face the maximum file size limit -- except that now you must worry about keeping the tar archive itself (holding all of your files) under the maximum size limit, not each individual file. There are other criticisms and caveats to using tar for backup that you can find by Googling, but they don't have anything to do with the filesystem format.

Nate

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Re(1): What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 123.243.116.129] on April 21, 2008 06:40 AM
@Nate

I guess you never found out what the 'tar' command got its name, it means tape archiver. People have been using it for archiving for some time now. The tar command can also create multi volume archive files to any file size specified.

Personally I don't use Tar and FAT32, I use NTFS on my external hard drives since FAT32 has a fairly low (by standards today) maximum partition size. NTFS is supported under Windows, Mac OS X, [Free, Net]BSD, and Linux.

If you can sacrifice the first 750MB of your drive you can also copy over the contents of the Ubuntu Live CD which has NTFS read/write capabilities enabled.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.167.23.226] on April 17, 2008 03:49 PM
Szabolcs Szakacsits, thanks for the reply & info. Glad to learn. Will give NTFS another try soon.

About NTFS-3G being stable since February 2007, maybe it missed being included in Ubuntu 7.0.4 & its Synaptic package manager, while I was using NTFS filesystems from May to September 2007? I had too much other work at the time to even think about looking up how to install newer releases manually.

My experience of the free disk space numbers suddenly showing up correctly after a long time matches the fix/improvement of September 2007. And we were using torrent files to transfer large files between multiple offices, so the fix in October 2007 for sparse files would have been applicable. Ha! It is always good to have been at least half-right about a problem.

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 41.242.196.176] on May 14, 2008 11:06 AM
In the end, the obvious solution is "bare metal restore": make a bootable image of your OS partition to several CDs or DVDs, and backup the rest of your data separately on your external device. <a href="http://www.buy-specialist.com">buy online</a> That way you'll always have a bootable recoverable OS, and then your backups can be recovered with the same OS. The same applies to any live CD - make multiple copies.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 80.46.104.22] on April 17, 2008 04:22 PM
Another drawback of FAT32 (which can be addressed by either ext2 or using tar archives) is that it doesn't support the same range of characters in file names that standard Linux filesystems do. Specifically, I back up Maildir folders which contain lots of files with colons in their names -- colons aren't allowed in FAT32 or NTFS filenames.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 66.28.19.69] on April 17, 2008 10:38 PM
The one drawback I have found with ext3 is permissions when you add it to fstab. I haven't found a way to make fstab treat it as an external drive so if I boot without it, I get errors. If I put files on as root (my backup does that), I am told I do not have permission to mount it when I plug it in and have to use sudo to mount the drive.

That said, I'm not overly concerned with not being able to recover files. ext2ifs works for reading/writing under Windows and I run Linux most of the time anyway. If I have to recover files it will likely be under Linux anyway. I don't travel with my laptop so that probably makes a difference.

Tar is a pain mainly because it has to be read sequential. The backup program I use (Simple Backup) uses tar format and keeps its own index. Finding the file you want to restore is fast, actually recovering it can take a long time because it has to search the entire archive for the file. However, it has worked well enough the couple of times I needed it, so I don't have too many complaints.

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ntfs-3g.org is working great

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 67.88.249.34] on April 17, 2008 10:46 PM
I have been using the NTFS driver for awhile now for my duel boot and not a single problem. Since it's become stable to writing I have been using it without a single problem.

This does not mean my backup solution is perfect yet. I am dropping the USB drive idea and going to NAS. Get a NAS with at least raid1 and that can do both NFS shares and SMB and you should be in business. I am worried about permissions and ownership so I am making sure the NAS is linux based, but even then I don't know if it's a guarantee. Then from the NAS I plan to scrip the important items to one of my FTP servers using http://duplicity.nongnu.org/.

Raid, networkable, off-site backup give me a solution any business would be proud of. At work I created an entire backup system to disk for our 25+ remote offices using debian servers with software raid. I wish I would have used a NAS as expandability is getting a little ruff (setup in 2004) but if I would have used LVM that probably would not have been an issue.

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If use Ext3 - then better know how to use chown...

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 75.69.85.120] on April 18, 2008 08:25 AM
I formatted an external USB hard drive using Ext3. And the files I transferred then had the proper permissions.

Then - I moved the USB drive over to an other computer that had a different disto, and a different user name and password. Guess what? Could not access the files on the USB drive.

So - searched around and found that I needed to get to root and change the ownership of the USB folders or files on the drive.

The command that you use is chown

The problem is that newbies would be stopped in their tracks and lost when they could not access their files. I made a suggestion that a script should exist that runs when a USB drive is attached to a system where the files are not readable (no permissions), and that the script (written to work with the USB device detection part of LINUX) would then pop up a password screen (running the sudo chown command in the back ground and looking for the password to change the ownership of the USB device to the current logged in user. Of course, you would have to know the root password to the machine, but hey that is ok and understandable.

Otherwise - chown is your friend when using Ext3 on an external usb drive device. Google chown and you will find some nice pages on how to use the command.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.167.11.212] on April 18, 2008 02:21 PM
Highly educational ... thanks all. A couple of questions and comments come to mind.

Do you find it advisable/necessary to manually check portable filesystems for damage frequently, via fsck or CHKDSK or whatever (the OS would never initiate checks by itself on portable drives as they might do for fixed drives, right)? How about those convenient GParted boot CDs, do you find the filesystem checks as robust as fsck, or is it even actually fsck?

File permissions are a constant headache for me too. Different machines, different userids. chown is an answer, but a feature to disable permissions entirely on a filesystem would make me happy. Any automated solutions, other than using FAT and working around 4GB limitations?

The comment on CD and DVD media not lasting long is a sore point for me too. It is true that most "expected lifetime" ratings have to be given for storage under good if not ideal conditions, basically cool, clean, dark. But from personal experience, I agree with the writer earlier, having found even high grade expensive medium (Taiyo-Yuden for instance) simply cannot be assumed to last under computer room conditions where magnetic media do fine, let alone in even AC offices. The magnetic disk people have generally done a superb job with reliability, so I have come to favor 2-3 portable HDs for backup over any number of DVDs. Better ideas?

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 98.21.139.146] on April 18, 2008 02:48 PM
Don't forget what I consider the biggest detractor of FAT32 & NTFS: Case Insensitivity... I cannot count the number of times I've copied one of my various huge file collections from one of my linux machines to a windows machine, only to have random files stepped upon due to the case insensitivity.. For example... Three files "image.jpg", "IMAGE.jpg", "iMaGe.JPG" ... All different under linux with ext2/3/xfs/reiser/whatever... All the same under FAT32, FAT, NTFS...

I might be talking out of my other orifice here, but I think its less to do with the filesystem chosen and more to do with the operating system.... *ix are POSIX compliant which I believe requires case sensitivity. Windows is only partially POSIX compliant and ignores case.

In any case, it sucks to have files trampled due to case insensitivity.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 68.164.34.114] on April 18, 2008 09:37 PM
There is a very nice little Windows program called LinuxReader from the
folk at DiskInternals, which can read both ext2 and ext3 from Windows.
It's installer-less, too, like the rest of their tools.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 86.45.14.177] on April 19, 2008 01:29 AM
Make two partitions on the drive, a small initial FAT partition and the rest ext3 - the presence of the FAT with a "DON'T REFORMAT, CABRON" readme file protects against "little mishaps", like your little brother assuming the drive is empty because windows can't read it, and reformatting to store gigabytes of soft core porn or mp3s of butterflies or whatever the youth of today are into. If you need to restore, use a linux livecd, don't screw with windows.


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What's the right file system to use to avoid file system corruption?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 76.94.15.251] on April 19, 2008 05:23 AM
If the computer with the corrupt files can no longer boot, then FAT and NTFS are not viable options because restoring the computer to a bootable state requires permissions to remain intact. I can understand wanting to use the drive to transfer files to other computers, but then it isn't really just a backup drive anymore.

As for what format to use, I would use JFS. I started formatting my drives to JFS after I had problems with ext3 that the journal should have prevented, but instead probably helped cause. I chose JFS over other options because it was developed and still used by IBM. I took IBM's continued use of JFS as an indicator it's reliability. JFS also has limits and features that make it unlikely to become obsolete for a while. For instance, ns timestamps are fun to stare at.

So far, I have had no problems with JFS. The main disadvantage is probably that it does not work with Windows and Mac OS X, but I tend to rely on LANs and memory cards to transfer files between computers with different operating systems. Memory cards are for temporary storage only and are usually formatted FAT16 because that's what cameras and other devices require. I also still have some NTFS-formatted drives left over from when I was using Windows. It's always a pain to borrow a Windows computer from someone just so I can run chkdsk.

I like the idea of making a small FAT partition with a "don't reformat" message. Though it might take me a while to adjust to typing /dev/sdx2 instead of /dev/sdx1 (I don't automount).

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 122.167.16.142] on April 19, 2008 04:15 PM
JFS is a production filesystem for Linux? Had skipped over it earlier, but now I see its info per Wikipedia looks impressive, will put it on my list to try out. The database performance feature (Concurrent I/O) mentioned in the second article also caught my eye:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_file_systems
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JFS_file_system
There are a couple of good tutorial links at the bottom of the latter page for anybody interested.

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What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 10.1.4.39] on April 21, 2008 07:48 PM
As soon as ZFS comes into it's own it will be a great cross-platform filesystem. I don't know about Windows support (but given all of it's great features I think MS might have to adopt it), but there is Linux support developing with FUSE, Mac OSX is supposed to support it in Leopard, and Solaris/OpenSolaris supports it.

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Re: What's the right filesystem for your portable backup drive?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip: 69.19.14.22] on April 22, 2008 10:36 PM
I use HFS+ (non journaled) on my MacOS X and Linux backup drive as I have no need for Windows. It doesn't have the file size limits of FAT32, and is well supported in Mac OS X.... :)

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