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What is the best cross-platform file system, for Linux, Windows, MacOSX and FreeBSD?

NTFS would be the best option but isn't open source. FAT has important limitations like 4GB per file.

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    I'd pitch in for ext3, don't understand why open source is important – Sathyajith Bhat Dec 31 '10 at 14:47
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    If you care about interoperability i'm sorry but fat32 or NTFS are the way to go, all the other FS i've checked are badly supported in one or more of the plataforms you mention. – Guillermo Siliceo Trueba Dec 31 '10 at 14:54
  • @Sathya Because I don't like proprietary software. NTFS will be, probably, my option. Could you give me a good documentation of NTFS? – rigon Dec 31 '10 at 15:12
  • @Sathya Does ext3 work well with Windows? – Daniel Beck Dec 31 '10 at 15:41
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NTFS is now supported by open source software, through NTFS-3G, on recent versions of Linux, OSX and FreeBSD.

Windows also indirectly supports (with a performance penalty, but hey, it's Windows anyway) any filesystem that Linux supports, if you run Linux in a virtual machine. The VM can be coLinux, for tighter integration that a generic platform VM.

All the systems you mention, except Windows unless you use coLinux, support FUSE, so any filesystem that has a FUSE implementation meets your criteria. In particular ZFS is a possible choice.

  • NTFS is still the easiest way to share disks between Mac, Linux and Windows in 2016. With native drivers though, it will be slow and resource intensive on Linux and is read-only on Mac OSX by default. However, Paragon has free Linux drivers which they claim are very fast and efficient. On the Mac, NTFS works well if you use the optimized Paragon or Tuxera drivers. – Jonathan Cross Jun 11 '16 at 14:32
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UDF (Universal Disk Format, primarily used for DVDs) can be used as a read/write filesystem on traditional harddrives and flash media. Read/write support is available on Linux, BSD, MacOSX, and Windows (Vista and later only).

Not all versions of UDF are supported on all systems, so more research will be needed to determine what version and options would be better to use for cross platform usage.

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Sadly, FAT32 is still the only thing you can nearly always guarantee to work from any platform. There are tools for ext2 and ext3 for Windows and Mac OSX, that should be fairly stable, and there are numerous other file systems with varying levels of support, quality and stability.

I am not fully familiar with FreeBSD but expect similar support to that found on Linux, albeit perhaps omitting some of the more unstable drivers found on many Linux distros.

  • There's no ext3 driver for windows -- there's only an ext2 driver. It can open ext3 volumes, but it isn't going to journal anything. – Billy ONeal Dec 31 '10 at 15:42
  • Thanks, I had assumed that there would be a suitable driver by now, but it has been a few years since I last needed to read a Linux volume from Windows. – IanGilham Jan 5 '11 at 14:59
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for ext there is something called ext2ifs http://www.fs-driver.org/download.html but unfortunately the development of the tool hasn't been satisfactory ( at least for me) see how it was last released in 2015 and with incomplete ext4 feature-list. I had tried to talk to the developer but he wasn't forthcoming in any details for the future.

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This question has recently been cross-referenced from over on unix.SE.

If you're wanting to go down the extN route, consider the ext2fsd driver for Windows. From the somewhat sparse documentation, it seems to support journal replay and most of the more common ext3 journal features.

Caveat: I myself have used this driver under Windows for reading extN filesystems. I have not used it for writing in a production environment.

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