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I have a 1 Tb USB external hard drive which I want to use to backup data from my home and office desktops (both running Linux).
Should I format the drive (possibly split into a few partitions) as vfat or ext3?

I don't anticipate using the drive with Windows very often so this is not a primary concern. The main thing holding me back from just using ext3 is the problems you can have when two different users (home and work accounts) try to access each others data.
Is there any way to mount an ext3 drive with user id mapping?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

Definitely ext3/4 over VFAT.

  • Ext3/4 are journaling file systems, which means no fragmentation issues.
  • Read/writes will be significantly faster with Ext.
  • VFAT has a 4 GB maximum file-size, which can come back to haunt you when you need to store a large file on it after you already have it loaded up with data.
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If you only want to access it from linux I'd go with ext3 at any rate.

The issues with VFAT are that you will lose much of the overall capacity due to fragmentation and it access will be noticeably slower.

For the permissions, that has not been much of a problem for me so far. Either I don't care about the permissions, then I make the files world readable on my USB or eSATA drives or I do care then I tar the stuff.

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The answer should be NTFS/exFAT if there's need to exchange files with Windows. NTFS supports files larger than 4GB and also has journal like ext3/4. NTFS has long been supported perfectly by Linux. Otherwise ext4 would be recommended.

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