Feb 9, 2008

Read and Write Access to Linux File Systems From Windows

I love Linux! My distro of choice is Ubuntu. I have been using Ubuntu pretty actively for the last three years. However, no matter how hard I try I can't remove Windows from my life. That is because my wife is an avid Windows user. I have tried and tried to convert her, but the fact is she is too lazy to learn a new operating system.

So picture this scenario; You have a couple of windows machines and one of them starts blue screening like crazy. You decide after hours of troubleshooting to re-image. You want to back up the files so you decide to take the hard drive out, put it in another Windows box using your IDE to USB adapter. No big deal right? You now have access to all of your files on your other Windows box.

What if you're like me, and one of your computer's is running on Ubuntu? If your Windows box crashes, you can connect the drive, and mount it in Linux because most Linux distros now days have NTFS-3G installed which is a driver to read and write to NTFS from Linux.

Now what if your Ubuntu box decided to go into a kernel panic, or some other problem keeping it from booting? How are you going to attach it to Windows using your IDE to USB? Windows doesn't natively understand other file systems other than FAT or NTFS.

ext2, ext3 on windowsWhat you need is a driver that will tell Windows how to read Linux file systems. Now, there are quite a few Linux file systems out there including ReiserFS, JFS, EXT2, and EXT3 to name a few. I would argue that the most widely used in the Linux world are EXT2 and EXT3. If your Linux distro is formatted with one of those two you are in luck!

There is a program called EXT2 IFS for Windows, or EXT2 Installable File System. It is a driver that you install on Windows that will let Windows read and write to partitions or drives formatted using EXT2 or EXT3 file systems.

Here is a list of features from the website:

  • Supports Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 2003 and Windows Vista [new].
  • Supports both the 32 bit x86 and the 64 bit x64 platform [new].
  • Includes drivers with a digital signature for Windows Vista x64 [new].
  • All operations you would expect: Reading and writing files, listing directories, creating, renaming, moving and deleting files or directories, querying and modifying the volume's label.
  • UTF-8 encoding [new].
  • Files larger than 2 GBytes. (Please read the FAQ section, too.)
  • Supports hash indexed (htree) directories (utilizes the so-called dir_index feature of Ext3) [new].
  • Full plug-n-play functionality. When a drive is removed, the corresponding drive letter is deleted [new].
  • Supports use of the Windows mountvol utility to create or delete drive letters for Ext2 volumes [new] (except on Windows NT 4.0). This is useful for scripts. (Please read the FAQ section, too.)
  • A global read-only option is provided [new].
  • File names that start with a dot "." character are treated as hidden [new].
  • Supports GPT disks if the Windows version used also does [new].
  • Paging files are supported. (A paging file is a file "pagefile.sys", which Windows swaps virtual memory to.) Users may create paging files at NT's control panel at Ext2 volumes.
  • Specific functions of the I/O subsystem of NT: Byte range locks, notification of changes of directories, oplocks (which are required by the NT LAN manager for sharing files via SMB).

Now I have a question for you. Do you know of a similar program that will allow Windows to read and write to HSF file systems used on Macs? The reason I asked is I had a friend with a scenario similar to the one above, except using Linux, his graphic artist wife uses a Mac. He had tried to mount the hard drive in his Windows box with no joy. I was able to help them out with my IDE to USB adapter and connecting the Mac hard drive to his Mac iBook. If he didn't have the iBook also, he would have been screwed. Do you know of such software? Let me know in the comments.

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