Using a Linux Box as a File Server

Ever heard of Samba? You should.

Samba is an open-source project “that provides seamless file and print services to SMB/CIFS clients.” That’s from the project’s website, but what the hell does it mean? In a nutshell, it’s an open-source application that lets non-Windows machines share files and printers with Windows machines. In most cases, people use Samba to share files on a Linux box in a really simple setup. I’ve read about several cases, though, where superhuman admins have used Samba machines to set up a Windows domain. I’m talking full-scale domain login, domain machine registration, and everything. I tried that once and all my Windows machines stopped working. It sucked.

I’m going to be lazy again and not tell you how to configure it. Or am I smart and efficient and saving it for another article? Either way, I wanted to talk about what Samba can get you. Samba lets you provide a way to store files on a network share. If you set up a share for everyone to use, everyone can edit an address spreadsheet or view a home inventory sheet. You can set up Samba to share your home directories to every machine on the network. Everything’s on the same machine. Think about that for a second. If everyone’s files are on the same box, it’s easy as pie to back everything up, and, since everything’s on the network, you can have access to your stuff from everywhere.

I use Samba for file sharing. Home directories for me and the wife are shared out to local drives on our laptops. If I log in to hers and I see my home drive. I also took some time and put in a Highpoint Tech 1740 with a set of 4 300G SATA drives attached to it (hot-swappable and full fault-tolerant, by the way). These guys are put into a RAID5 array to provide about 900G of space to the operating system. I used Logical Volume Manager to split this beast up into a bunch of different volumes — images, music, videos, and a share. Samba shares all these guys out, and our machines have each of these mapped to a drive. When the wife has new images to share, she just drops them on the images drive. When I finish a new video, I drop them in the videos drive.

Samba works well and is easy to set up. Give it a try. It doesn’t really scale very well, though, so using it in an enterprise may cause problems. There’s a whole new article brewing in there about file locking and sharing, but I won’t go there yet.

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Remember that I mentioned backing stuff up if everything’s on the same box? It’s not related to Samba technically, but I wrote a quick and dirty bash script that takes a list of directories and tars them all up to a 400G external drive I have attached to the file server. If I didn’t implement Samba, I’d really have no easy way to back it all up in one fell swoop.

Aaron Conaway

I shake my head around sometimes and see what falls out. That's what lands on these pages. If you have any questions, the best way to contact me is through Twitter at @aconaway.

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