I would like my external drives to be readable and writable from Linux, Mac OS X and Windows.
FAT32 works, but the 4 GB file size limit is a showstopper these days. Are there any alternatives?
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As Breakthrough said, use NTFS. In both Mac OS and Linux, you can use NTFS-3G to enable read/write to an NTFS partition.
These projects are free, open-source and mature. I've used this setup on a Mac and I've had no problems accessing data from an NTFS partition.
try exFAT, which becomes available for more and more OSes. Accordings to the linked wikipedia article (see sources) there's an open source kernel module for linux in development. OS X supports it since 10.6.5, Windows supports it since Vista. There are updates for oler Microsoft OSes.
exFAT supports large files.
Well you have two solutions. Many Linux distributions include tools for reading and writing to NTFS drives...
An alternative would be to use Ext2. There is a windows utility which integrates the filesystem with the Windows operating system. I think this would be your ideal solution:
It installs a pure kernel mode file system driver Ext2fs.sys, which actually extends the Windows operating system to include the Ext2 file system. Since it is executed on the same software layer at the Windows NT operating system core like all of the native file system drivers of Windows (for instance NTFS, FASTFAT, or CDFS for Joliet/ISO CD-ROMs), all applications can access directly to Ext2 volumes. Ext2 volumes get drive letters (for instance O:). Files, and directories of an Ext2 volume appear in file dialogs of all applications. There is no need to copy files from or to Ext2 volumes in order to work with them.
FAT32 is something that you can be sure of to work almost anywhere.
I struggle from the file size limit, which by today's standards isn't that large anymore. Since exFAT isn't available on Linux yet, I was looking for alternatives, and it's really hard to find something suitable.
UDF was once meant to be a cross platform and cross media filesystem, but it kinda got forgotten. There is an option to format UDF for hard drives, which is quite suitable for removable drives, but from what I experienced, support on Windows is minimal, if at all. I don't know if Windows 7 supports UDF drives other than BluRay discs.
I settled on using NTFS for my external drives, that need to be plugged in into Windows computers, as well as Linux computers. For my removable drives, that are mainly, if not only used on Linux computers, I use XFS.
The same problem applies to encryption as well: I use LUKS on Linux, which has some support on Windows. TrueCrypt can't be integrated into Linux systems too well, compared to LUKS, so I settled on that one.
If your cross-platform requirements do not include Windows my understanding is that ZFS is the best option for popular modern operating systems in wide use as of late 2017. See the OpenZFS implementation which includes support for OSX/macOS, Linux, FreeBSD: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/OpenZFS http://www.open-zfs.org/wiki/Main_Page
It should be possible to use Windows through a virtual machine (or another resource) but my needs are met without Windows.
To be honest, there is no file system like that. NTFS is read/write mode for Linux/Mac but it is not advisable for Linux installation. In fact, I didn't see anyone installing Linux on NTFS. Linux is usually installed on ext2/ext3 filesystems. FAT32 may work right now, but future releases of Windows like with Windows 7 will not work.
You can read/write on the Linux partitions while working on Windows using some of the softwares/drivers mentioned here.