Note: I'm not asking how... I know that. I'm currently using Paragon Software's drivers which let you access all drive formats from all OSes (e.g. the Linux drive from OSX or the OSX drive from Win7, etc.) I'm specifically asking which is the best and why?

For instance, I want to share a data partition for documents, music and even my Dropbox account between all three OSes and I've done that between Win7 and OSX by throwing it on a NTFS partition. Just wondering now that Linux too is in the mix, if its better to set up HFS+ or linux format instead?

I'd love to share a user directory between all three, but I'm pretty sure permissions will make that impossible. However, I'm not sure.

Again, to be clear though since I'ts brought up so much below, I am not asking for compatibility with the OSes as far as access is concerned. I have Paragon's drivers for all OSes to read and write to all formats. Again, it's a question of which format is best, and why.

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    Dropbox syncs files, not file systems, so the format of your partition doesn't matter. – jdigital Mar 7 '12 at 23:02
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    It absolutely does for file sizes, permissions and extended properties. Read their FAQ. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 7 '12 at 23:05
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    File sizes, permissions, and extended attributes can be stored in any filesystem (directly or indirectly). In any case, I took a look at the Dropbox help site and can't find any reference to file systems or formats, so can you provide a link? – jdigital Mar 8 '12 at 0:27

NTFS and REFS are a bad choice because Linux and Mac can't properly decode it and EXT2/EXT3/XFS are bad choices because you need custom Windows drivers for it to work.

CDFS is a bad choice because it's optimised for CDs

FAT16 and FAT32 are bad choices because they can only hold very small amounts of data ( < 4GB)

Which pretty much only leaves ExFAT (called EFS on Windows), which is readable by pretty much everyone, can hold large amounts of data and doesn't perform to badly on speed, fragmentation or corruptibility either.

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    You're incorrect about small amounts of data <4GB. Thats the limit of a single file. However, the filesystem itself is limited to 2TB. – Matt H Mar 7 '12 at 23:50
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    That's not necessarily true. FAT32 can hold more than 4GB, but it's file size limitations are set to 4GB. For XP Machines, as a side note, you would need to download a driver from Microsoft to read and write to ExFAT partitions. NTFS isn't a horrible choice since OSX can read and write to those partitions now. Also a simple apt-get install ntfs-3g will take care of the Ubuntu side. Ubuntu 12.04 BETA supports writing to NTFS natively now. – kobaltz Mar 7 '12 at 23:52
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    Are you sure Microsoft reused the EFS acronym to refer to ExFAT? In Windows' disk format utility, I see ExFAT as an option, not EFS. For many years, EFS been used to refer to Windows' on-the-fly filesystem encryption ("Encrypting File System"), which is part of NTFS. – rob Mar 8 '12 at 23:42
  • I have Paragon drivers. Compatibility isnt the issue, or question. I'm asking why one format is better/worse than the others. Limitations, benefits, security, stability. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 9 '12 at 7:39
  • Can anyone else chime in about ExFAT? Hadn't even heard about that until this post. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 10 '12 at 1:32

I recommend using NTFS. Ubuntu (and most other distributions) support full read/write usage with the ntfs-3g package.
Mac OS also supports full read/write to the NTFS drives.
My second choice would be ExFAT, because you need to download a driver from Microsoft in order to use those partitions in other operating systems.

After reading up on NTFS support in Mac OS, I have found that the only viable solution for you is to use ExFAT. The only "safe" NTFS/write solution for Mac is a paid one, and I'm not sure if that's what you are looking for.

  • Mac OS doesn't support writing to NTFS drives. You can enable it using something like SL-NTFS. – fideli Mar 8 '12 at 2:49
  • As i have already said in the beginning of the question, I already have drivers for reading and writing all formats from all OSes. I am asking about technical benefits and limitations of the formats and why one may be better than the other. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 9 '12 at 7:38
  • FYI, afteer playing around with exFAT more, this is definitely the choice to run with. The only caveat is to not use OS X to format it because Windows seems to barf over it, then when you go back to Mac, it's gone. (Tried this four times to confirm. Others have noted the same thing.) So make sure you use Windows, and specifically the Disk Management console as the standard 'Format' dialog doesn't give you exFAT as an option. Do that and you're golden... cross-platform read/write with large file support. Perfect. – Mark A. Donohoe Oct 23 '12 at 20:41
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    Problem is, exFAT doesn't support symlinks: superuser.com/a/384849 – user72923 Jul 7 '14 at 16:15

FAT32 is definitely the most friendly format between OSX/Windows/Linux.
It has a 4GB single file limit and 2TB partition size.

However, I don't think this is an issue at all with Dropbox. I've not had to even think about partition types and file system permissions, etc., and I sync between Mac/Linux and Windows often.

I think Dropbox will use certain features if they are available, but it doesn't stop you syncing to other file system types/operating systems.

I think it may skip some files. See: http://www.dropbox.com/help/145. But for basic files it seems to work fine for me.

  • That's true for Dropbox syncing via each of its respectful platform apps, but if you do that, you're duplicating data. What I'm trying to do is something like have my host OS, say Mac, actually run the Dropbox app, but be able to access the partition with that data on it from all the other OSes. Ran into problems there too bc Mac is seeing files that the other OSes are writing which are normally hidden in those OSes, and Mac is doing the same when viewed from those OSes. TLDR, don't think I can do exactly what I want, at least in regards to Dropbox. – Mark A. Donohoe Jun 10 '16 at 16:25

I would use HFS+ - for one simple reason. Mac bundles. For instance if you use OS X, and Omnigraffle or Pages then that file is saved as a bundle. This is just a special directory - but for some reason it fails to work (at least for me) via other filesystems.

If for some reason you need to use the hard drive and Dropbox is not working, you can access those bundles on HFS+. But you can't on NTFS or ext4 if you manage to mount it in the other OS.

At the very least I'd pick the fs which supports hidden files with '.' format (leading dot). Also HFS+ is supported on Linux fine as long as you avoid journaling - so you will have two OS which can access that fs, and it supports massive files. HFS+ is my favorite, and my second is XFS which is only on Linux.

  • Actually, bundles open as just another directory when accessed from Windows (with a HFS+ driver like Boot Camp (r/o) or Paragon (r/w) of course) But permissions seem to be an issue. Still, I'm leaning HFS+ myself. I like the journaling, although I'll have to make it case-insensitive for the other OSes. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 9 '12 at 7:44

SMB shares (Samba or Windows Server shares) should work fine.

I have one OpenWRT router (could be a PC, but commercial routers spend less electricity) with external harddrive sharing between Linux, Windows, and multiple OS X version from Tiger to Lion via wireless or wired Ethernet.

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    Thats a completely different topic. I am asking about disk formats. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 9 '12 at 7:41
  • I know, but having such NAS will allow all systems 24x7 to access full disk capacity with arbitrarily sized files, be it 1k or 1T Technically on-disk format will be UFS, EXT2/3/4 or ZFS depending on choice of NAS software, but lowest level accessed by external system will be SMB aka windows shares - supported everywhere without potentially unstable drivers. IMHO having shared storage available at all times also saves on reconnecting drive. – ZaB Mar 9 '12 at 9:52
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    -1, Not only are network sharing and partition formats entirely different things — this isn't even a viable solution thinking about performance or portability. /cc @MarqueIV – slhck Mar 9 '12 at 11:33
  • It is 100% viable and 100% portable and 100% supported by all systems in question. And costs on par with Paragon drivers. – ZaB Mar 9 '12 at 12:07
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    @ZaB. No it isn't! You can't set up a NAS on the same box. Your solution requires having a NAS let alone a network with access to it. I am asking about disk formats and why one is better than the other for sharing data on the same machine. Please stay on topic and refrain from trying to solve a problem not asked. – Mark A. Donohoe Mar 10 '12 at 1:28

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