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How to mount and manage non-native file systems in OS X with FUSE

Topher Kessler | Dec. 5, 2014
If you've ever dreamed of using Linux's Ext3 file system or writing to NTFS formatted volumes, FUSE is for you.

fuse in list

Mac OS X supports a handful of common file systems--HFS+, FAT32, and exFAT, with read-only support for NTFS. It can do this because the file systems are supported by the OS X kernel. Formats such as Ext3 for Linux systems are not readable, and NTFS can't be written to. But that doesn't mean that there aren't occasions when you'd want to use one of them. With FUSE (Filesystem in Userspace) you can.

FUSE mimics the kernel's handling of file systems and allows OS X to both interact with unsupported formats and use many other storage routines, some of which are rather creative. With FUSE, such formats can be handled very similarly to natively supported file systems and allow you to interact with drives your Mac otherwise could not read to or write from. Here's how you can put FUSE to work.

What is FUSE?

FUSE works by providing a behind-the-scenes interface between Apple's storage routines and specially programmed modules that you install on your Mac. These modules can read various storage formats, and then, with FUSE's help, can be mounted and accessed as a drive-like storage medium. For instance, if you have several cloud-based storage accounts, you can write a small module that will connect all of these services with FUSE. You can then mount them as a single volume on the system, much like you'd plugged in a USB drive.

FUSE has its limitations, however. File system access performs less well than with native kernel support, for example. On the other hand it offers vast flexibility in storage options. For instance, in addition to using multiple Web storage services as a single drive, FUSE modules have been written to use PNG image files for storing drive data. In this case a mounted storage device's data will be spread out among a number of garbled PNG images (a perhaps amusing, but frankly bizarre, way to manage your files).

These approaches are experimental and fun, but FUSE does have useful options that allow you to expand your Mac's file system support beyond the natively supported formats, including allowing access to Ext3 drives, full NTFS support, and even letting you mount SFTP shares as local drives.

To get started, download and install FUSE for OS X. Once installed, you can install the desired module for the various file systems you would like to manage on your Mac. Keep in mind that some modules are well tested and regularly used, while others might not be. And some are more integrated in OS X while others will require Terminal commands to mount their file systems.


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