NFS is old. Its root can trace back to the remote file system in System V R3 while the first release of NFS (version 2) is in 1985 on SunOS 2.0. It must not be considered as a counterpart of Samba or CIFS, since NFS does not do user authentication while CIFS is created with user credentials.

Traditionally NFS is communicated using UDP — for it can be run stateless. One concern is the resilence of clients after server reboot. If we connect NFS over TCP, the stream protocol will never be recovered if server died. However, even if NFS is over UDP, the client will hang until the server respond back, which may take a few minutes, and in the meantime the client program that reads the NFS mount will look like a zombie process. This failure recovery behavior at the client side can be tuned using the following options during NFS mount:

mount -t nfs -o soft,intr,timeo=600,retrans=3 host:/path /mountpoint

where timeo is the response timeout in deciseconds and retrans is the number of retransmissions before the client determined that the server is not responding.

The issue of reliable communication between NFS server and client is profound, especially when the mount is writable. There are questions of whether the written data are committed at the server, issues of detecting data corruption in the channel, acknowledgement and retransmission of requests, cache consistency, file locking, and even quotas management. These are the problems addressed by the 2006 paper

The latest version of NFS is v4.2 (RFC 7862) but mostly we identify NFS by its major version. Besides security measures (e.g., Kerberos 5) support, NFSv4 distinguished from its predecessor versions that a distinguished filesystem root is identified. It is identified with fsid=0 option in /etc/exports and we cannot avoid that. Depends on how the server side is configurated, sometimes we will see the error message “exportfs: Warning: /mnt does not support NFS export.” This is what I encountered in exporting /mnt in OpenWRT. It turns out that a NFS kernel server will not see everything we see in the userland. If we are not going to use NFS user server (such as unfs daemon), we need to make share the NFSv4 root is not on a FUSE mount or anything special, such as an overlay mount in the case of OpenWRT:

root@openwrt:~# mount
/dev/root on /rom type squashfs (ro,relatime)
proc on /proc type proc (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,noatime)
sysfs on /sys type sysfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noexec,noatime)
tmpfs on /tmp type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,nodev,noatime)
/dev/ubi0_1 on /overlay type ubifs (rw,noatime,ubi=0,vol=1)
overlayfs:/overlay on / type overlay (rw,noatime,lowerdir=/,upperdir=/overlay/upper,workdir=/overlay/work)
ubi1:syscfg on /tmp/syscfg type ubifs (rw,relatime,ubi=1,vol=0)
tmpfs on /dev type tmpfs (rw,nosuid,relatime,size=512k,mode=755)
devpts on /dev/pts type devpts (rw,nosuid,noexec,relatime,mode=600,ptmxmode=000)
debugfs on /sys/kernel/debug type debugfs (rw,noatime)

In my case of OpenWRT, I make the mount point under /tmp (which is on a tmpfs) and NFS root under tmpfs instead of the overlay file system. Whether you can export a directory under NFS can be checked right away with exportfs -ra, which should print nothing if no issues. Afterwards, we can check at remote to see what the NFS server exported using showmount -e hostname.

One may see that such implementation in NFSv4 is restrictive. If we want to share /path1/dir1 and /path2/dir2, we must export the root directory in NFS as it is the first common parent directory. But then, everything under the root directory would technically be shared too (access control can still be set up, but files and directories not supposed to be exported are still visible). That is why an alternative set up is to create dedicated NFS root directory to export and bind mount the exportable paths under it. Below is an example from the Ubuntu NFSv4 how-to:

mkdir /export
mkdir /export/users 
mount --bind /home/users /export/users 

then the corresponding /etc/exports is


On client side, mounting NFSv4 is using the command:

mount -t nfs -o vers=4,soft serverhost:/users /mountpoint

which the server’s export to mount are provided as paths under the root export instead of the absolute path at the server as in NFSv3.

OpenWRT example

I am exporting NFSv4 mounts in OpenWRT (opkg install kmod-fs-nfs-v4 nfs-kernel-server). There are a few points that are quite different from other systems. First is the fstab. Instead of /etc/fstab, the one honoured by OpenWRT is indeed /etc/config/fstab, which can be initialized with the stdout of block detect command. The mount points specified over there will be automatically created. So we can safely point it to a tmpfs directory. If any more complicated set up is required, we probably need to create a new init script in /etc/init.d.

The second is the fsid option for NFSv4. It is required to say fsid=0 for the root directory in NFSv4 but the other should be automatically detected. However, I found that we still need to specify fsid in OpenWRT. So my /etc/exports now looks like this:

/tmp	*(rw,all_squash,insecure,no_subtree_check,sync,fsid=0)
/tmp/dir1	*(rw,all_squash,insecure,no_subtree_check,sync,fsid=1)
/tmp/dir2	*(rw,all_squash,insecure,no_subtree_check,sync,fsid=2)

MacOS issues

While MacOS shipped with NFSv4 client, the NFS server only supports v2 and v3. One issue common in MacOS is the //insecure mount//, which the client is using high ports instead of ports below 1024 as expected by most NFS servers by default. Therefore the NFS servers need to say insecure in /etc/exports.

The NFS server in MacOS, however, expects clients using low port numbers unless launched with the -N option. We can either use launchctl stop and then run /sbin/nfsd -N, or modify /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ to add the -N option by adding a row:


However, in MacOS 10.11+, we need to override the system integrity protection (SIP) before anything under /System can be modified (which is to use Command+R at boot to start recovery mode and run /usr/bin/csrutil disable in terminal and then boot back to normal MacOS; and we should do this again to re-enable SIP after modification).

The MacOS implementation is also using BSD syntax for /etc/exports. It looks like this:

/path/to/export -ro -alldirs -mapall=nobody -32bitclients -network -mask