5.5. File systems

In each machine with a GNU/Linux system, we will find different types of file systems [Hin].


To start with, it is typical to find the actual Linux file systems created in various partitions of the disks [Koe]. The typical configuration is to have two partitions: that corresponding to "/" (root file system) and that corresponding to the swap file. Although, in more professional configurations, it is usual to separate partitions with "differentiated" parts of the system, a typical technique is, for example (we will examine other options later), to create different partitions so:

/   /boot     /home   /opt     /tmp     /usr     /var      swap

That will certainly be found mounted from different sources (different disks, or even the network in some cases). The idea is to clearly separate the static and dynamic parts of the system, so as to make it easier to extend the partitions when any overload problems arise. Or more easily isolate the parts to perform backups (for example, the user accounts in the /home partition).

The swap partitions are Linux swap type partitions and that corresponding to / tends to be one of the standard file systems, either ext2 (the default type up to kernels 2.4), or the new ones ext3, ext4, which is an upgrade of ext2 with journaling, which makes it possible to have a log of what goes on in the file system, for faster recoveries in the event of an error. Other file system types, such as Reiser or XFS are also typical.

Another typical configuration may be that of having three partitions: /, swap, /home, in which the /home will be used for the user accounts. This makes it possible to separate the system's user accounts, isolating two separate partitions and allocating the necessary space for the accounts in another partition.

Another configuration that is widely used is that of separating the static parts of the system from the dynamic ones, in different partitions; for example one partition is used for placing / with the static part (/bin /sbin and /usr in some cases), which is not expected to grow or, if it does, not by much, and another or various partitions with the dynamic part (/var /tmp /opt), supposing that /opt, for example, is the installation point for new software. This makes it possible to better adjust the disk space and to leave more space for the parts of the system that need it.

Where the supported file systems are concerned, we must point out the variety of these; we can currently find (among others):

Example 5-5. Note

The file systems howto document provides brief explanations of the various file systems as well as the websites that you may consult for each of these.

In most of these file systems (except in some special cases), GNU/Linux will allow us to create partitions of these types, build the file systems of the required type and mount them as an integrating part of the directory tree, either temporarily or permanently.

5.5.1. Mount point

Apart from the / root file system and its possible extra partitions (/usr /var /tmp /home), it should be remembered that it is possible to leave mount points prepared for mounting other file systems, whether they are disk partitions or other storage devices.

In the machines in which GNU/Linux shares the partition with other operating systems, through some bootloader (lilo or grub), there may be various partitions assigned to the different operating systems. It is often good to share data with these systems, whether for reading or modifying their files. Unlike other systems (that only register their own data and file systems and in some versions of which some of the actual file systems are not supported), GNU/Linux is able to treat, as we have seen, an enormous amount of file systems from different operating systems and to share the information.

Example 5-6. Example

If we have installed GNU/Linux in the PCs, we will certainly find more than one operating system, for example, another version of GNU/Linux with ext2 or 3 of the file system, we may find an old MSDOS with its FAT file system, a Windows98/ME/XP Home with FAT32 (or VFAT for Linux), or a Windows NT/2000/XP/Vista with NTFS systems (NTFS for Linux) and FAT32 (VFAT) at the same time.

Our GNU/Linux system can read data (in other words, files and directories) from all these file systems and write in most of them.

In the case of NTFS, up until certain points, there were problems with writing, which was experimental in most of the kernel drivers that appeared. Due mainly to the different versions of the file system that progressively appeared, as there were two main versions called NTFS and NTFS2, and some extensions such as the so-called dynamic volumes or the encrypted file systems. And accessing with certain drivers caused certain incompatibilities, which could result in data corruption or faults in the file system.

Thanks to FUSE, a module integrated in the kernel (as of version 2.6.11), it has been possible to develop the file systems more flexibly, directly in the user space (in fact, FUSE acts as a "bridge" between the kernel requests, and access from the driver).

Thanks to the features of FUSE, we have more or less complete support for NTFS, (provided Microsoft does not make any further changes to the specifications), especially since the appearance of the driver (based on FUSE) ntfs-3g (http://www.ntfs-3g.org), and the combination with the ntfsprogs utilities.

Depending on the distribution, different ones are used, or we may also create it ourselves. Normally, they exist either as root subdirectories, for example /cdrom /win /floppy or subdirectories within /mnt, the standard mount point (they appear as /mnt/cdrom /mnt/floppy...), or the /media directory, which is lately preferred by the distributions. According to the FHS standard, /mnt should be used for temporary mounting of file systems, whereas /media should be used to mount removable devices.

The mounting process is performed through the mount command, with the following format:

mount -t filesystem-type device mount-point

The type of file system may be: MSDOS (FAT), VFAT (FAT32), NTFS (NTFS read), ISO9660 (for CD-ROM)... (of the possible ones).

The device is the in point in the /dev directory corresponding to the location of the device, the IDEs had /dev/hdxy where x is a,b,c, or d (1 master, 1 slave, 2 master, 2 slave) e and, the partition number, the SCSI (/dev/sdx) where x is a,b,c,d ... (according to the associated SCSI ID, 0,1,2,3,4 ...).

We will now look at some examples:

mount -t iso9660 /dev/hdc /mnt/cdrom

This would mount the CD-ROM (if it is the IDE that is in the second IDE in master mode) at point /mnt/cdrom.

mount -t iso9660 /dev/cdrom /mnt/cdrom

This would mount the CD-ROM; /dev/cdrom is used as a synonym (it is a link) for the device where it is connected.

mount -t vfat /dev/fd0H1440 /mnt/floppy

This would mount the diskette, /dev/fd0H1440. It would be a high-density (1.44 MB) disk drive A; /dev/fd0 can also be used.

mount -t ntfs /dev/hda2 /mnt/winXP

This would mount the second partition of the first NTFS-type IDE device (C:) (for example, a Windows XP).

If these partitions are more or less stable in the system (in other words, they are not changed frequently) and we wish to use them, the best thing will be to include the mounts so that they take place during the execution period, when booting the system, through the configuration of file /etc/fstab:

For example, this configuration includes some of the standard systems, such as the root in /dev/hda2, the swap partition that is in hdb3, the proc system (which uses the kernel to save its information). The diskette, the CD-ROM and, in this case, a Flash-type USB disk (which is detected as a SCSI device). In some cases, auto is specified as a type of file system. This permits the autodetection of the file system. If unknown, it is better to indicate it in the configuration and, on another note, the noauto option will mean that it is not always mounted automatically, but upon request (or access).

If we have this information in the file, the mounting process is simplified, as it will take place either on execution, when booting up, or upon demand (noautos). And it may now be performed by simply asking that the mount point or device be mounted:

mount /mnt/cdrom mount /dev/fd0

given that the system already has the rest of the information.

The reverse process, umounting, is quite simple, the umount command with the mount point or device:

umount /mnt/cdrom umount /dev/fd0

When using removable devices, such as CD-ROMs (or others), eject may be used to extract the physical support:

eject /dev/cdrom

or, in this case, only:


The mount and umount commands mount or umount all the available systems. The file /etc/mtab maintains a list of the mounted systems at a specific point in time, which can be consulted, or a mount, without parameters, may be executed to obtain this information.

5.5.2. Permissions

Another subject that we will have to control in the cases of files and directories is the permissions that we wish to establish for each of them, whilst remembering that that each file may have a series of permissions: rwxrwxrwx where they correspond with the owner rwx, the group rwx to which the user belongs, and the rwx for other users. In each one, we may establish the access rights for reading (r), writing (w) or executing (x). In the case of a directory, x denotes the permission for being able to access that directory (with the cd command, for example).


In order to modify the access rights to a directory or file, we have the commands:

  • chown: change file owner.

  • chgrp: change file owner group.

  • chmod: change specific permissions (rwx) of the files.

The commands also provide the -R option, which is recursive if affecting a directory.