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Linux/UNIX as a Cross-platform server

Experiences from readers

Are you using Linux or UNIX as a server for Macs and Windows clients? Tell us about it.

Last updated November 5, 2001

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August 5, 1998
From: Garth Gillespie, IS Director at Computer Currents

I would like to share some information on using Linux as another (and IMHO better) server solution for Mac-PC Integration than either NT or AppleShare.

Here at CC, we need to support about 25 Mac users both in the Production and Editorial Departments and have used both NT (4.0) and AppleShare (4.2.1) to try to accomplish a decent server solution. They both failed.NT crashes far too often and requires too many reboots. The other problem with NT would be the mysterious files that are on the server but not visible by the Mac Client and thus the client cannot replace the file with a newer version until the Mac Volume is rebuilt on the NT server.

Our next attempt was AppleShare 4.2.1 running on a Mac 8500. We were lucky if this would stay up for more than a week. While crashes in this scenario did not result in as much file corruption as crashes did on NT, it was annoying to have to babysit a server. Another problem with this solution was the wasted disk space due to the formatting scheme of the Mac. We had to split our 4 GB HDDs into 4 1-GB volumes to keep clustering issues to a minimum. This solution also lacked a native method of sharing files to PC's. Software to accomplish these ends would cost more money.

Enter Linux. I had been running Linux on our web server, as well as mail and DNS servers and had read about Netatalk as a method of sharing files from Linux to Mac Clients via AFP. (Current versions of Netatalk also support AFP over TCP/IP.) After conferring on the Netatalk mailing list with other users I set up our new Mac Server with 26 GB of storage space running Netatalk 1.4b2. It has worked like a charm and has had two consecutive runs of 53 and 59 days, interrupted by scheduled shutdowns for network and power system upgrades. No crashes. Current run is 20 days. I never had this kind of performance from either NT or AppleShare. Allowing PCs to access the same files as Macs can be done with another piece of software called SAMBA. Very easy to set up and this allows Windows users to map a shared directory as another drive letter. Samba can also take over Windows User Authentication, workgroup browsing profile management and more, effectively eliminating any need for NT. All the software above (Linux, Netatalk, Samba) is free. The only costs would be the hardware. As you know, Linux can run on PowerPC Macs, but the most cost effective solution is probably PC Hardware.

The one area that is problematic is backups, and is an area you didn't mention in your March CC column "Mac meets NT." Backing up Mac Volumes on NT with NT based network software (NetBEUI,IPX,TCP/IP) is problematic as the resource fork does not get read properly and any file restorations are garbled and unreadable by Macs. So the solution is to use Mac-based backup software which can connect to the Mac Volumes over AFP.This is also the solution on Linux. I am running Retrospect on a Mac in our room which mounts the Linux-based Mac Volumes and backs them up every night. All resource forks and other b-tree stuff is kept intact. When I was running AppleShare this part was easier as I could run Retrospect on the server.

[Note: a Retrospect client is now available for Windows NT, to back up NT. There is no Retrospect server for NT yet. Ryan Thomas points out that a Retrospect restore of Mac files from NT will not restore access privileges. -- Editor]

Sept 25, 1998
From: Garth Gillespie

I upgraded our Linux Netatalk Server to the most recent patch level which implements AFP over TCP/IP and we are seeing twice the speed over Appletalk. Our few G3's on switched 100 are screaming.

Sept. 31, 1998
From (Peter Koch)

I use Columbia AppleTalk Package and Samba on my two Sun SparcStation2 servers. They are file and print server for about 35 Mac's and 25 PC's. I use CAP 6.0 pl 198 and Samba 1.9.16 pl 11. The reason for this old Samba version is, that never versions didn't accept, that my Solaris 2.6 Suns are running BSD's lpd instead of the dreaded SysV printing system.

Macs and PC's can easily share a volume, but it is hard to teach the Mac people not to use fancy characters in filenames. We use several utilities to convert data from Mac to PC and vice versa:

  • File Buddy
  • File Typer
  • PhotoShop
  • Fontographer

As you can see, most utilities are for the Mac. I had some very bad experiences with utilities which run on PC's and should do something for the Mac...

BTW: The PC's are all running Win95 and this will be our PC-Platform for at least the next few months. Win98 is not an option; i think NT will drop in before 2000. Our Macs are running 7.5.3 or 7.5.5.

This setup works painlessly for Mac and UNIX, but there is one one ugly Win95 pitfall: On some of my PC's, the "network neighbourhood" occasionally didn't show all of my servers. After a week of Samba debugging, I heard the solution in a newsgroup: It's Win95's fault. You have to start file sharing on the PC. Then it asks for the Win95-CD and installs some files. After this (and a reboot), you can even switch file sharing off again, but the nasty effect has vanished.

April 3 , 2000
Victor S.

I had a old P133 PC sitting around at work. I added a $15 100Mb NIC, RedHat 6.1 and installed NetATalk+patches.(BTW the latest Adrian Sun patches are at I now have a cheap ASIP fileserver that averages around 7.8MB/s on the Helios Lantest. While compiling/configuring NetATalk is far from trivial, it's fairly straightforward to anyone who's worked with Linux for awhile.

Linux Netatalk AFP server losing files

July 26, 2001
Robert Niessner reports that his Linux server started losing Mac files:

We have had a Linux-Server with Suse-Linux 6.4 and Netatalk 1.4b2 since September 1999. So far we had no problems but since a few months ago we encountered big troubles were files just disappeared on our server. All in all we lost about 30 Gig of files, most of them not backed up recently (as I do not work in the company any more and just help them out when they run into troubles).

We experienced the problems where suddenly and as it seems randomized files just appear to be in the Mac Trash can and get deleted after a reboot. Another noteworthy thing: the normally invisible folder "Network Trash Folder" suddenly shows up on the volume on some Macs. Sometimes it also happens that some folders get deleted and other get moved into a root folder.

And at last, it also happened that files residing at the desktop of a Mac just disappeared - all Macs where this happened had OS 9.1 and were G4s.

July 31, 2001
Tom Stovall

I had to stop using AFP this was happening so much. I don't know what the problem is. A work around is to put the linux box on SMB networking and use DAVE for OS X. That was what I finally had to do.

Literally my files would be there one minute and gone the next. There was no rhyme or reason to the disappearance. It was so frustrating.

Some suggestions:

July 31, 2001
Manny Veloso

Sounds like he might want to take a look at the logins on the server. There may be someone logging in as root and messing with the server.

Also, he should make sure he's running Netatalk-1.4b2+asun2.1.3.tar.gz, which isn't quite the latest. The latest is 1.5beta something, but the 1.4b2 seems to be rock solid on my Solaris system.

Netatalk files get moved to the Trash

This may be related to the problem directly above:

November 2, 2001
Sean McCollough

After upgrading our production computers G3 Macs and G4's to OS 9.2.1, 9 (clean installs and after installing the Apple IP patch 2.0 (that I learned about on your website) we have had huge problems with folders getting moved to the trash or vanishing! The error seems to be triggered by simply moving a single item to the trash. We were having the problem before installing the apple update and have seen no improvement. We have also seen odd read/write speeds...1mb/sec write yet 7mb/sec read!! Normal is approx 5.5 mb/sec read and write.

We lost 5BG of data and thousands of files without a trace! We see these problems on a Linux server running netatalk and a larger server running TAS (on Sun Solaris) No problems at all with NT 4.0 over AppleTalk - just the normal slow speeds of about 3mb/sec read& write. We are looking at a new server and are trying to decide between Windows 2000 Server and the Apple OSX Server.

If you've seen this problem, please let us know.

A possible explanation:

November 5, 2001
Daniel Lautenschleger

I suspect the Netatalk issue mentioned on your site is a problem with DID conflicts on the volume. I don't believe this is an issue with the OS but is a known issue with Netatalk. I work closely with the current developers on the Netatalk SourceForge site.

A persistent DID database feature is under development at this time. It's looking very promising. You might have your reader post to the Netatalk developers list with more details and see what he/she finds out.

Older versions of Netatalk do not support some of the newer features such as DID tracking, encrypted logons, and Network Trash fixes.

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