Five tips for sharing files on a mixed-platform network

File sharing is pretty straightforward when everyone is on the same platform. But when different operating systems come into play, things can get tricky.

If your network includes various platforms, file sharing can be problematic. Windows, Mac, and Linux all need to play together without requiring the administrator to constantly jump through hoops to enable access to files on the shared drives. How can you ensure that your end users will be able to access their files easily? Let's examine five tips that can help ease this issue a bit.

1: Deploy a specific device for folder/file sharing

Many times, SAN and NAS devices are set up so that they can be accessed from nearly any platform. This makes the life of the administrator much easier. The downfall? These devices can be rather costly. Of course, it's possible to create a device in-house. Just make sure you take the time to set it up properly or you'll be right back where you started -- having issues with sharing documents and folders.

2: Avoid Windows 7 Home Group

If you're on a business network, more than likely you're not using the Windows 7 Home Group feature. But if you aren't on a domain and are having trouble accessing shares from Windows 7 machines, check to make sure those machines are not employing Home Group. It has been my experience that enabling Home Group interferes with Windows 7's ability to share with other platforms. If your network consists entirely of Windows 7 machines, have at the Home Group; otherwise, avoid it.

3: Choose the right security group in Samba

If you are using Samba for your file sharing, make sure you use the right security group. There are five of them:

  • user
  • share
  • domain
  • ads
  • server

If you choose the security group wisely, you will lessen the number of issues you have with various platforms. For more information on each type, read my article DIY: Understanding Samba Security Modes.

4: Match usernames and passwords

This one is the hard sell for many, but sometimes it's the only fix. What this entails is making sure usernames and passwords are the same on client and server. This is not an issue with a domained environment. But if the environment is a workgroup, you might need to have the same username/password combo on the sharing machines. This can be a real pain when users are required to change passwords every 30 days --another good reason to use Active Directory or LDAP for authentication.

5: Create a sharing group

Sharing groups can make your life infinitely easier when working in Active Directory. Instead of dealing with individual user permissions, create sharing groups you can add users into. Make sure the group is set up so that the sharing permissions are correct. For users who work on different platforms, the permissions might need to be a bit more open than those on similar platforms. For example, if you have a security group called "Linux Users," you'll want to make sure that group's permissions are set to access the shared folders with the proper read/write permissions. This will avoid any chance of using the old "Everyone" in a desperate attempt to share out a folder to users with different operating systems.

Trial and error

Sharing folders and files on a network with different platforms can be a challenge. But with enough experimentation (with the particular combination of environments you might have), the right methods will reveal themselves.

Additional resources

By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....