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Accessing any File or Folder, Windows <-> Linux

Started by Donald Darden, December 15, 2007, 05:12:30 AM

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Donald Darden

A modern distribution of Linux should give you access to your FAT, FAT32 and NTFS partitions with no problem, but in some cases you may not be able to detect the assigned drive letter (per Windows) or the volume name (also from Windows).  However, if you know the arrangement of your partitions, you can figure out how Linux identifies them.  Then you can read or write to any folder or file on those partitions.

Now normally, Windows does not recognize the native file structures that Linux uses, but there is a driver available for Windows that will add that support, so that when running Windows, you can access your Ext2 and Ext3 partitions set up by your Linux Distribution.  Ext3 partitions are actually Ext2 structures, but have added journalling, which can correct for errors caused by abrupt system shutdowns.  With this driver installed, you can now read and write to these volumes from Windows.  Aside from reducing the number of times that you may have to reboot from one OS to another, it gives you more common ground for sharing files and information. and reduces the number of copies you have to make of things, and cuts the time needed for making and processing those copies.


Charles Pegge

USB flash drives are natively supported by most Linux distros and Windows 2000/XP/Vista. This can be very useful for sharing files between different systems. But one caveat to bear in mind is that these devices, with the current technology, are only good for about 50,000 rewrites, which makes them unsuitable for direct use in applications that frequently write to disk.

Donald Darden

Any hard drive can be used and shared between operating systems, as long as they can manage the format used with the drive, and removable or external drives can also be used between different computers.  Having it so that Windows can access Linux partitions just gives you more flexibility overall.  I know many people like the more limited flash drives, but for capacity at the least cost, a regular HDD gives you far more bang for the buck, and there is no maximum number of write cycles.

When I installed the driver for Ext2/Ext3 on my Windows 2000 Pro system, I was given a chance to assign drive letters to the four Ext3 partitions I've set up on the 320 GB hard drive, and I used drive letters P, Q, R, and S.  I had to reboot Windows, somehting I was not informed of previously, but after that, all of the drives showed up with no problems.  Accessing folders and files was without any problems.  Under Windows, there is no such thing as restricted access to files, so owner, group, and other mode settings are ignored.

While I have a 145 GB NTFS partition on that 320 GB hard drive, I had to allow significant hard drive space to be allocated for the several Linux partitions.  Now that I can access four of the Linux partitions from within Windows, it is almost like I have that drive space back if I need it.  I don't have to second think my original decisions about how much space to set aside for Linux alone.  And porting anything between the different OS partitions is now a breeze.

Donald Darden

Last night I took my Windows 2000 Pro VDI that I had made using VirtualBox, and copied it from the Ext3 Linux partition to a folder on my large NTFS partition.  I was running Ubuntu 7.10, and using the NTFS driver that comes already installed with Ubuntu.  The 3.5 GB file took 8 hours 19 minutes to copy over.  I thought that was rather long.  I can back up my whole 480 GB system in less than four hours.

Some time back it was suggested that I use NTFS-3G as the driver for my NTFS partitions.  I posted back, asking if their was any advantage in doing this, but no reply.  And I wondered if that would make a difference.  So I used gedit to edit my /etc/fstab tile, and for my NTFS partition, I changed the ntfs designated driver to ntfs-3g.  I also ensured I had the latest driver downloaded with apt-get install ntfs-3g.  Then I rebooted my system, and ran the copy operation again.  The same file copied this time in 3 hours 53 minutes, which is slightly over twice as fast.  So now I will go though my /etc/fstab table and change all the ntfs entries to ntfs-3g.

My next step will be to boot to Windows and run the same copy process from that side, using the Ext2 installable driver for Windows, and see how fast that is.  For large file copying, it might be worth a reboot in order to use the fastest approach possible.

NTFS is a slow system to write to, because it does a lot of housekeeping and transaction tracking along the way.  If a write operation fails, because of the details that are tracked during the write phase, there is every prospect that a full recovery of the contents will happen automatically.  On the other hand, because of the high use of indexing, NTFS is a fast system to retrieve data from.  A sector-by-sector backup and restore process is only concerned with capturing the current contents of the hard drive, so it can proceed very quickly at that task.  This is why the full backup and restore of my system is so fast by comparison.  But if you were to use your backup to restore individual folders and files, it would also be slow, because then the NTFS driver would need to index and track them, just as it would in normal operations.

Donald Darden

Oaky, I downloaded and installed the Ext2 file system driver for Windows.  I then use Administrator Tools and Disk Manager to assign a path and drive letter to each Linux volume, which is all that is required to make them show up in My Computer.  Then I walked the directory tree in my Ubuntu partiton to locate /home/[username]/.VirtualBox/VDI, and found my VDI image, then copied it over to my NTFS partiton.  This time the 3.5 GB file only took about 16 minutes to copy.

Obviously the ntfs-3g driver is an improvement over the ntfs driver that ships in Ubuntu, but at the same time, it clearly looks as though the ntfs-3g driver has room for further optimization in terms of speed.