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Configuring an NFS Server (209.2)

Configuring an NFS Server (209.2)

Candidates should be able to export filesystems using NFS. This objective includes access restrictions, mounting an NFS filesystem on a client and securing NFS.

Key Knowledge Areas

  • NFS version 3 configuration files

  • NFS tools and utilities

  • Access restrictions to certain hosts and/or subnets

  • Mount options on server and client

  • TCP Wrappers

Awareness of NFSv4

Terms and Utilities

  • /etc/exports

  • exportfs

  • showmount

  • nfsstat

  • /proc/mounts

  • /etc/fstab

  • rpcinfo

  • mountd

  • portmapper

NFS - The Network File System

The abbreviation NFS expands to Network File System. With NFS you can make a remote disk (or only some of Configuring SMB Server NFS it) part of your local filesystem.

The NFS protocol is being adjusted, a process which has, so far, taken several years. This has consequences for those using NFS. Modern NFS daemons will currently run in kernel space (part of the running kernel) and support version 3 of the NFS protocol (version 2 will still be supported for compatibility with older clients). Older NFS daemons running in user space (which is almost independent of the kernel) and accepting only protocol version 2 NFS requests, will still be around. This section will primarily describe kernel-space NFS-servers supporting protocol version 3 and compatible clients. Differences from older versions will be pointed out when appropriate.

Note Details about this NFS work-in-progress are in [NFS protocol versions] below.

Client, Server or both?

The system that makes filesystem(s) available to other systems is called a server. The system that connects to a server is called a client. Each system can be configured as server, client or both.

Setting up NFS

This section describes NFS-related software and its configuration.

Requirements for NFS

To run NFS, the following is needed:

  • support for NFS (several options) must be built into the kernel

  • a portmapper must be running

  • on systems with NFS-server support, an NFS daemon and a mount daemon must be active

  • support daemons may be needed

Each point is discussed in detail below.

Configuring the kernel for NFS

When configuring a kernel for NFS, it must be decided whether or not the system will be a client or a server. A system with a kernel that contains NFS-server support can also be used as an NFS client.

Note The situation described here is valid for the 2.4.x kernel series. Specifications described here may change in the future.

FIXME new kernel versions

See Kernel options for NFS.

NFS file system support (CONFIG_NFS_FS):

  • If you want to use NFS as a client, select this. LinuxNFS Client If this is the only NFS option selected, the system will support NFS protocol version 2 only. To use protocol version 3 you will also need to select CONFIG_NFS_V3. When CONFIG_NFS_FS is selected, support for an old-fashioned user-space NFS-server (protocol version 2) is also present. You can do without this option when the system is a kernel-space NFS-server server only (i.e., neither client nor user-space NFS-server).

Provide NFSv3 client support (CONFIG_NFS_V3):

  • Select this if the client system should be able to make NFS LinuxNFS Client v3 connections to an NFS version 3 server. This can only be selected if NFS support (CONFIG_NFS_FS) is also selected.

NFS server support (CONFIG_NFSD): Kernel space only.

  • When you select this, you get a LinuxNFS Server kernel-space NFS-server supporting NFS protocol version 2. Additional software is needed to control the kernel-space NFS-server (as will be shown later). To run an old-fashioned user-space NFS-server this option is not needed. Select CONFIG_NFS instead.

Provide NFSv3 server support (CONFIG_NFSD_V3):

  • This option adds support for version 3 of the NFS LinuxNFS Server v3 protocol to the kernel-space NFS-server. The kernel-space NFS-server will support both version 2 and 3 of the NFS protocol. You can only select this if you also select NFS server support (CONFIG_NFSD).

When configuring during a compiler build (i.e., make menuconfig, make xconfig, etc), the options listed above can be found in the File Systems section, subsection Network File Systems.

Kernel options for NFS provides an overview of NFS support in the kernel.

Description option(s) allows / provides
NFS file system support CONFIG_NFS_FS allows both NFS (v2) client and user space NFS (v2) server
NFSv3 client support CONFIG_NFS_FS and CONFIG_NFS_V3 allows NFS (v2 + v3) client
NFS server support CONFIG_NFSD provides NFS (v2) kernel server
NFSv3 server support CONFIG_NFSD and CONFIG_NFSD_V3 provides NFS (v2 + v3) kernel server

Selecting at least one of the NFS kernel options turns on Sun RPC (Remote Procedure Call) support automatically. RPC This results in a kernel space RPC input/output daemon. It can be recognised as [rpciod]in the process listing.

The portmapper

The portmapper is used to interface TCP/IP connections to the appropriate RPC calls. It is needed for all NFS traffic because not only does it map (incoming) TCP connections to NFS (RPC) calls, it also can be used to map different NFS versions to different ports on which NFS is running. Most distributions will install the portmapper if NFS software (other than the kernel) is being installed.

The portmapper itself need not be configured. Portmapper security, however, is an issue: you are strongly advised to limit access to the portmapper. This can be NFSportmapper security done using the tcp wrapper.

Securing the portmapper

First, make sure the portmapper has support for the tcp wrapper built-in (since it isn't started through inetd, portmapper needs its own built-in tcpwrapper support). You can test this by running ldd /sbin/portmap. The result could be something like

4 => /lib/ (0x40018000) => /lib/ (0x40020000) => /lib/ (0x40036000)
    /lib/ => /lib/ (0x40000000)

The line with (libwrap belongs to the tcp wrapper) shows that this portmapper is tcp wrapper compiled with tcp-wrapper support. If that line is missing, get a better portmapper or compile one yourself.

A common security strategy is blocking incoming portmapper requests by default, but allowing specific hosts to connect. This strategy will be described here.

Start by editing the file /etc/hosts.deny and adding the following line:

    portmap: ALL

This denies every system access to the portmapper. It can be extended with a command:

    portmap: ALL: (echo illegal rpc request from %h | mail root) &

Now all portmapper requests are denied. In the second example, requests are denied and reported to root.

The next step is allowing only those systems access that are allowed to do so. This is done by putting a line in /etc/hosts.allow:

    portmap: 121.122.123.

This allows each host with an IP address starting with the numbers shown to connect to the portmapper and, therefore, use NFS. Another possibility is specifying part of a hostname:


This allows all hosts inside the domain to connect. To allow all hosts of a NIS workgroup:

    portmap: @workstations

To allow hosts with IP addresses in a subnet:


This allows all hosts from to to connect (examples from ???).

portmap and rpcbind

Some linux distributions use portmap. Other linux distributions use rpcbind.

The portmap daemon is replaced by rpcbind. Rpcbind has more features, like ipv6 support and nfs4 support.

General NFS daemons

The nfs-utils package

NFS is implemented as a set of daemons. These NFSrpc.nfsd NFSrpc.mountd NFSrpc.lockd NFSrpc.statd can be recognized by their name: they all start with the rpc. prefix followed by the name of the daemon. Among these are: rpc.nfsd (only a support program in systems with a kernel NFS server), rpc.mountd, rpc.lockd and rpc.statd.

The source for these daemons can be found in the nfs-utils package (see NFS for more information on nfs-utils). It will also contain the source of other support programs, such as exportfs, showmount and nfsstat. These will be discussed later in Exporting NFS and Testing NFS.

Distributions may provide nfs-utils as a ready-to-use package, sometimes under different names. Debian, for example, provides lock and status daemons in a special nfs-common package, and the NFS and mount daemons in nfs-*server packages (which come in user-space and kernel-space versions).

Each of the daemons mentioned here can also be secured using the tcp wrapper. Details in Securing NFS.

NFS server software

The NFS daemon

When implementing an NFS server, you can install support for an kernel-space or an user-space NFS server, depending on the kernel NFSkernel space NFSuser space configuration. The rpc.nfsd command (sometimes called nfsd) is the complete NFS server in user space. In kernel space, however, it is just a support program that can start the NFS server in the kernel.

The kernel-space NFS server

  • The kernel-space NFS server is part of the running kernel. A kernel NFS server appears as [nfsd] in the process list.

    The version of rpc.nfsd that supports the NFS server inside the kernel is just a support program to control NFS kernel server(s).

The user-space NFS daemon

  • The rpc.nfsd program can also contain an old-fashioned user-space NFS server (version 2 only). A user-space NFS server is a complete NFS server. It can be recognized as rpc.nfsd in the process list.

The mount daemon

The mountd (or rpc.mountd) mount-daemon handles incoming NFS (mount) requests. It is required on a system that provides NFS server support.

The configuration of the mount daemon includes exporting (making available) a filesystem to certain hosts and specifying how they can use this filesystem.

Exporting filesystems, using the /etc/exports /etc/exports file and the exportfs command exportfs will be discussed in [Exporting NFS].

The lock daemon

A lock daemon for NFS is implemented in rpc.lockd.

You won't need lock-daemon support when using modern (2.4.x) kernels. FIXME modern kernels These kernels provide one internally, which can be recognized as [lockd] in Linuxlockd the process list. Since the internal kernel lock-daemon takes precedence, starting rpc.lockd accidentally will do no harm.

There is no configuration for rpc.lockd.

The status daemon

According to the manual page, the status daemon rpc.statd implements only a reboot notification service. It is a user-space daemon - even on systems with kernel-space NFS version 3 support. It can be recognized as rpc.statd in the process listing. It is used on systems with NFS client and NFS server support.

There is no configuration for rpc.statd.

Exporting filesystems

Exporting a filesystem, or part of it, makes it available for use by another system. A filesystem can be exported to a single host, a group of hosts or to everyone.

Export definitions are configured in the file /etc/exports and will be activated by the /etc/exports exportfs command. The current export list can be queried with the command showmount --exports. showmount

Note In examples below the system called nfsshop will be the NFS server and the system called clientN one of the clients.

The file /etc/exports

The file /etc/exports contains the definition(s) of filesystem(s) to be exported, the name of the host that is allowed to access it and how the host can access it.

Each line in /etc/exports has the following format:

        /dir hostname(options) ...
  • Name of the directory to be exported

  • The name of the system (host) that is allowed to access /dir (the exported directory). If the name of the system is omitted all hosts can connect. There are five possibilities to specify a system name:

    single hostname

    • The name of a host that is allowed to connect. Can be a name (clientN) or an IP address.


    • A group of systems is allowed. All systems in the domain will be allowed by the * wildcard.

    IP networks

    • Ranges of ip numbers or address/subnetmask combinations.


    • Leaving the system part empty is mostly done by accident (see the Caution below). It allows all hosts to connect. To prevent this error, make sure that there is no spacing between the system name and the opening brace that starts the options.


    • NIS workgroups can be specified as a name starting with an @.
  • Options between braces. Will be discussed further on.

  • More than one system with options can be listed:

        /home/ftp/pub clientN(rw) *

    Explanation: system clientN is allowed to read and write in /home/ftp/pub. Systems in are allowed to connect, but only to read.

Make sure there is no space (not even white) between the hostname and the specification between braces. There is a lot of difference between

    /home/ftp/pub clientN(rw)


    /home/ftp/pub clientN (rw)

The first allows clientN read and write access. The second allows clientN access with default options (see man 5 exports) and all systems read and write access!

Export options

Several export options can be used in /etc/exports. Only the most important will be discussed here. See the exports(5) manual page for a full list. Two types of options will be listed here: general options and user/group id options.

ro (default)

  • The client(s) has only read access. NFSro


  • The client(s) has read and write access. Of course, the NFSrw client may choose to mount read-only anyway.

Also relevant is the way NFS handles user and group permissions across systems. NFS software considers users with the same UID and the same username as the same users. The same is true for GIDs.

The user root is different. Because root can read (and write) everything, root permission over NFS is considered dangerous.

A solution to this is called squashing: NFSsquashing all requests are done as user nobody (actually UID 65534, often called -2) and group nobody (GID 65534).

At least four options are related to squashing: root_squash, NFSroot_squash no_root_squash, NFSno_root_squash all_squash and NFSall_squash no_all_squash. NFSno_all_squash Each will be discussed in detail.

root_squash (default)

  • All requests by user root on clientN (the client) will be done as user nobody on nfsshop (the server). This implies, for instance, that user root on the client can only read files on the server that are world readable.


  • All requests as root on the client will be done as root on the server.

    This is necessary when, for instance, backups are to be made over NFS.

    This implies that root on nfsshop completely trusts user root on clientN.


  • Requests of any user other than root on clientN are performed as user nobody on nfsshop.

    Use this if you cannot map usernames and UID's easily.

no_all_squash (default)

  • All requests of a non-root user on clientN are attempted as the same user on nfsshop.

Example entry in /etc/exports on system nfsshop (the server system):

    /    client5(ro,no_root_squash) *

System nfsshop allows system client5 read-only access to everything and reads by user root are done as root on nfsshop. Systems from the domain are allowed read-only access, but requests from root are done as user nobody, because root_squash is true by default.

Here is an example file:

    # /etc/exports on nfsshop
    # the access control list for filesystems which may be exported
    # to NFS clients.  See exports(5).

    / client2.exworks(ro,root_squash)
    / client3.exworks(ro,root_squash)
    / client4.exworks(ro,root_squash)
    /home client9.exworks(ro,root_squash)

Explanation: client2, client3 and client4 are allowed to mount the complete filesystem (/: root). But they have read-only access and requests are done as user nobody. The host client9 is only allowed to mount the /home directory with the same rights as the other three hosts.

The exportfs command

Once /etc/exports is configured, the export exportfs list in it can be activated using the exportfs command. It can also be used to reload the list after a change or deactivate the export list. Exportfs and fstab shows some of the functionality of exportfs.

Command Description

exportfs -r reexport all directories exportfs -a export or unexport all directories exportfs -ua de-activate the export list (unexport all)

: Overview of exportfs

Note Older (user-space) NFS systems may not have the exportfs command. On these systems the export list will be installed automatically by the mount daemon when it is started. Reloading after a change is done by sending a SIGHUP signal to the running mount-daemon NFSSIGHUP process.

Activating an export list

The export list is activated (or reactivated) with the following command:

    exportfs -r

The r originates from the word NFS-r re-exporting.

Before the exportfs -r is issued, no filesystems are exported and no other system can connect.

When the export list is activated, the kernel export table will be filled. The following command will show the kernel export table:

    cat /proc/fs/nfs/exports

The output will look something like:

    # Version 1.1
    # Path Client(Flags) # IPs
    /   client4.exworks(ro,root_squash,async,wdelay) #
    /home   client9.exworks(ro,root_squash,async,wdelay) #
    /   client2.exworks(ro,root_squash,async,wdelay) #
    /   client3.exworks(ro,root_squash,async,wdelay) #

Explanation: all named hosts are allowed to mount the root directory (client9: /home) of this machine with the listed options. The IP addresses are listed for convenience.

Also use exportfs -r after you have made changes to /etc/exports on a running system.

When running exportfs -r, some things will be done in the directory /var/lib/nfs. Files there are easy to corrupt by human intervention with far-reaching consequences.

Deactivating an export list

All active export entries are unexported with the command:

    exportfs -ua

The letters ua are an abbreviation for NFS-ua unexport all.

After the exportfs -ua no exports are active anymore.

The showmount command

The showmount command shows information about the exported file systems.

Command Description
showmount --exports show active export list
showmount` show names of clients with active mounts
showmount --directories show directories that are mounted by remote clients
showmount --all show both client-names and directories

showmount accepts a host name as its last argument. If present, showmount will query the NFS-server on that host. If omitted, the current host will be queried (as in the examples below, where the current host is called nfsshop).

With the --exports option.

showmount lists the currently active export list:

    # showmount --exports
    Export list for nfsshop:
    / client2.exworks,client3.exworks,client4.exworks
    /home client9.exworks

The information is more sparse compared to the output of cat /proc/fs/nfs/exports shown earlier.

Without options.

showmount will show names of hosts currently connected to the system:

    # showmount
    Hosts on nfsshop:

With the --directories option.

showmount will show NFS--directories names of directories that are currently mounted by a remote host:

    # showmount --directories
    Directories on nfsshop:

With the --all option.

the showmount command lists both the remote client (hosts) and the mounted directories:

    # showmount --all
    All mount points on nfsshop:

NFS client: software and configuration

An NFS client system is a system that does a mount-attempt, using the mount command. The mount needs to have support for NFS built-in. This will generally be the case.

The NFS client-system needs to have appropriate NFS support in the kernel, as shown earlier (see Configuring NFS). Next, it needs a running portmapper. Last, software is needed to perform the remote mounts attempt: the mount command.

Note Familiarity with the mount command and the file /etc/fstab is assumed in this paragraph. If in doubt, consult the appropriate manual pages.

The mount command normally used NFSmount mount to mount a remote filesystem through NFS:

    mount -t nfs remote:/there  /here
  • This specifies the filesystem /there on the remote server remote.

  • The mount point /here on the client, as usual.

Example: to mount the /usr filesystem, which is on server system nfsshop, onto the local mount-point /usr, use:

    mount -t nfs nfsshop:/usr /usr

Fine-tuning of the mount request is done through options.

    mount -t nfs -o opts remote:/there /here
  • Several options are possible after the -o option selector. These options affect either mount attempts or active NFS connections.

ro versus rw

  • If ro is specified the remote NFS filesystem will be mounted read-only. With the rw option the remote filesystem will be made available for both reading and writing (if the NFS server agrees).

    The default on the NFS server side (/etc/exports) is ro, but the default on the client side (mount -t nfs) is rw. The server-setting takes precedence, so mounts will be done read-only.

Note -o ro can also be written as -r; -o rw can also be written as -w.

rsize=nnn and wsize=nnn

  • The rsize option specifies the size for NFSrsize NFSwsize read transfers (from server to client). The wsize option specifies the opposite direction. A higher number makes data transfers faster on a reliable network. On a network where many retries are needed, transfers may become slower.

    Default values are either 1024 or and 4096, depending on your kernel NFS1024 NFS4096 version. Current kernels accept a maximum of up to 8192. NFS8192 NFS version 3 over tcp, which will probably production-ready by the time you read this, allows a maximum size of 32768. This size is defined with NFSSVC_MAXBLKSIZE in the file NFSNFSSVC_MAXBLKSIZE include/linux/nfsd/const.h found in the kernel source-archive.

udp and tcp

  • Specifies the transport-layer protocol for the NFS connection. Most NFS version 2 implementations support only udp, but tcp implementations do exist. NFSudp NFStcp NFS version 3 will allow both udp and tcp (the latter is under active development). Future version 4 will allow only tcp. See NFS protocol versions.


  • Specifies the NFS version used for the transport (see NFS protocol versions). Modern versions of mount will use version 3 by default. Older implementations that NFSnfsvers= still use version 2 are probably numerous.


  • The retry option specifies the number of NFSretry= minutes to keep on retrying mount-attempts before giving up. The default is 10000 minutes.


  • The timeo option specifies after how much time a mount-attempt times out. The time-out value is NFStimeo= specified in deci-seconds (tenth of a second). The default is 7 deci-seconds (0.7 seconds).

hard (default) versus soft

  • These options control how hard the system will try. NFShard


    : The system will try indefinitely.


    : The system will try until an RPC (portmapper) timeout NFSsoft occurs.

intr versus nointr (default)

  • With these options one is able to control whether the user NFSintr NFSnointr is allowed to interrupt the mount-attempt.


    : A mount-attempt can be interrupted by the user if intr is specified.


    : A mount-attempt cannot be interrupted by a user if nointr is set. The mount request can seem to hang for days if retry has its default value (10000 minutes).

fg (default) and bg

  • These options control the background mounting facility. It is off by default.


    : NFSbg This turns on background mounting: the client first tries to mount in the foreground. All retries occur in the background.


    : All attempts occur in the foreground.

    Background mounting is also affected by other options. When intr is specified, the mount attempt will be interrupted by a an RPC timeout. This happens, for example, when either the remote host is down or the portmapper is not running. In a test setting the backgrounding was only done when a "connection refused" occurred.

Options can be combined using comma's:

    mount -t nfs -o ro,rsize=8192 nfsshop:/usr/share /usr/local/share

A preferred combination of options might be: hard, intr and bg. The mount will be tried indefinitely, with retries in the background, but can still be interrupted by the user that started the mount.

Other mount options to consider are noatime, noauto, nosuid or even noexec. See man 1 mount and man 5 nfs. NFSnoatime NFSnoauto NFSnosuid NFSnoexec

Of course, all these options can also be specified in /etc/fstab. Be sure to specify the noauto option if the filesystem should not be mounted automatically at boot time. The user option will allow non-root users to perform the mount. This is not default. Example entry in /etc/fstab:

    nfsshop:/home /homesOnShop  nfs ro,noauto,user   0  0

Now every user can do

    mount /homesOnShop

You can also use automounters to mount and unmount remote automount filesystems. However, these are beyond the scope of this objective.

Testing NFS {#TestingNFS}

After NFS has been set up, it can be tested. The following tools can help: showmount, rpcinfo and nfsstat.

The showmount --exports command

As shown in showmount, the showmount --exports command lists the current exports for a server system. This can be used as a quick indication of the health of the created NFS system. showmount Nevertheless, there are more sophisticated ways of doing this.

The /proc/mounts file

To see which file systems are mounted check /proc/mounts. It will also show nfs mounted filesystems.

    $ cat /proc/mounts


portmapper The rpcinfo command reports RPC information. This can be used to probe the portmapper on a local or a remote rpcinfo system or to send pseudo requests.

rpcinfo: probing a system

The rpcinfo -p command lists all registered services the portmapper knows about. Each rpc... program registers itself at startup with the portmapper, so the names shown correspond to real daemons (or the kernel equivalents, as is the case for NFS version 3).

It can be used on the server system nfsshop to see if the portmapper is functioning:

    program vers proto   port
    100003    3   udp   2049  nfs

This selection of the output shows that this portmapper will accept connections for nfs version 3 on udp.

A full sample output of rpcinfo -p> on a server system:

    rpcinfo -p
    program vers proto   port
     100000    2   tcp    111  portmapper
     100000    2   udp    111  portmapper
     100024    1   udp    757  status
     100024    1   tcp    759  status
     100003    2   udp   2049  nfs
     100003    3   udp   2049  nfs
     100021    1   udp  32770  nlockmgr
     100021    3   udp  32770  nlockmgr
     100021    4   udp  32770  nlockmgr
     100005    1   udp  32771  mountd
     100005    1   tcp  32768  mountd
     100005    2   udp  32771  mountd
     100005    2   tcp  32768  mountd
     100005    3   udp  32771  mountd
     100005    3   tcp  32768  mountd

As can be seen in the listing above, the portmapper will accept RPC requests for versions 2 and 3 of the NFS protocol, both on udp.

Note As can be seen, each RPC service has its own version number. The mountd service, for instance, supports incoming connections for versions 1, 2 or 3 of mountd on both udp and tcp.

It is also possible to probe nfsshop (the server system) from a client system, by specifying the name of the server system after -p:

    rpcinfo -p nfsshop

The output, if all is well of course, will be the same.

rpcinfo: making null requests

It is possible to test a connection without doing any real work:

rpcinfo -u remotehost program

This is like the ping command to test a network connection. However, rpcinfo -u works like a real rpc/nfs connection, sending a so-called null pseudo request. The -u option forces rpcinfo to use udp transport. The result of the test on nfsshop:

    rpcinfo -u nfsshop nfs
    program 100003 version 2 ready and waiting
    program 100003 version 3 ready and waiting

The -t options will do the same for tcp transport:

    rpcinfo -t nfsshop nfs
    rpcinfo: RPC: Program not registered
    program 100003 is not available

This system obviously does have support for nfs on udp, but not on tcp.

Note In the example output, the number 100003 is used instead of or together with the name nfs. Name or number can be used in each others place. That is, we could also have written:

    rpcinfo -u nfsshop 100003

The nfsstat command

The nfsstat command lists statistics (i.e., counters) about connections. This can be used to see whether something is going on at all and also to make sure nothing has gone crazy.

table_title provides an overview of relevant options for nfsstat.

       rpc     nfs     both

server -sr -sn -s client -cr -cn -c both -r -n -nr

: Some options for the nfsstat program

Sample output from nfsstat -sn on the server host nfsshop:

    Server nfs v2:
    null       getattr    setattr    root       lookup     readlink   
    1       0% 3       0% 0       0% 0       0% 41      0% 0       0% 
    read       wrcache    write      create     remove     rename     
    5595   99% 0       0% 0       0% 1       0% 0       0% 0       0% 
    link       symlink    mkdir      rmdir      readdir    fsstat     
    0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 7       0% 2       0%

    Server nfs v3:
    null       getattr    setattr    lookup     access     readlink   
    1     100% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 
    read       write      create     mkdir      symlink    mknod      
    0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 
    remove     rmdir      rename     link       readdir    readdirplus
    0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 
    fsstat     fsinfo     pathconf   commit     
    0       0% 0       0% 0       0% 0       0%

The 1's under both null headings are the result of the rpcinfo -u nfsshop nfs command shown earlier.

Securing NFS

NFS security has several unrelated issues. First, the NFS protocol and implementations have some known weaknesses. NFS file-handles are numbers that should be random, but are not, in NFSsecuring reality. This opens the possibility of making a connection by guessing file-handles. Another problem is that all NFS data transfer is done as-is. This means that anyone able to listen to a connection can tap the information (this is called sniffing). Bad mount-point names combined with human error can be a completely different security risk.

Limiting access

Both sniffing and unwanted connection requests can be prevented by limiting access to each NFS server to a set of known, trusted hosts containing trusted users: within a small workgroup, for instance. Tcp-wrapper support or firewall software can be used to limit access to an NFS server.

The tcp wrapper.

Earlier on it was shown how to limit connections to the portmapper from specific hosts. The same can be done for the NFS related daemons, i.e., rpc.mountd and rpc.statd. If your system runs an old-fashioned user-space NFS server (i.e., has rpc.nfsd in the process list), consider protecting rpc.nfsd and possibly rpc.lockd, as well. If, on the other hand, your system is running a modern kernel-based NFS implementation (i.e., has [nfsd] in the process list), you cannot do this, since the rpc.nfsd program is not the one accepting the connections. Make sure tcp-wrapper support is built into each daemon you wish to protect.

Firewall software.

The problem with tcp-wrapper support is that there already is a connection inside the host at the time that the connection-request is refused. If a security-related bug exists within either the tcp-wrapper library or the daemon that contains the support, unwanted access could be granted. Firewall software (e.g., iptables) can make the kernel block connections before they enter the host. You may consider blocking unwanted NFS connections at each NFS server host or at the entry point of a network to all but acceptable hosts. Block at least the portmapper port (111/udp and 111/tcp). Also, considering blocking 2049/udp and 2049/tcp (NFS connections). You might also want to block other ports like the ones shown with the rpcinfo -p command: for example, the mount daemon ports 32771/udp and 32768/tcp. How to set up a firewall is shown in detail in ???.

Preventing human error

Simple human error in combination with bad naming may also result in a security risk. You would not be the first person to remove a remote directory tree because the mount point was not easily recognized as such and the remote system was mounted with read-write permissions.

Mount read-only.

Mounting a remote filesystem read-only can prevent accidental erasure. So, mount read-only whenever possible. If you do need to mount a part read-write, make the part that can be written (erased) as small as possible.

Design your mountpoints well.

Also, name a mount point so that it can easily be recognized as a mount point. One of the possibilities is to use a special name:


Best NFS version

Progress has been made in NFS software. Although no software can prevent human error, other risks (e.g., guessable file-handles and sniffing) can be prevented with better software.

Note NFS version 4 is a new version of the NFS protocol intended to fix NFSversion 4 all existing problems in NFS. At the time of this writing (May 2014) versions 4.0 and 4.1 have been released; version 4.2 is being developed. More about NFS version 4 and differences between earlier versions is covered in NFS protocol versions.

Guessable file handles.

One of the ways to break in a NFS server is to guess so-called file-handles. The old (32-bit) file-handles (used in NFS version 2) were rather easy to guess. NFSfile handles Version 3 of the NFS protocol offers improved security by using 64-bit file-handles that are considerably harder to guess.

Version 4 security enhancements.

Version 4 of the NFS protocol defines encrypted connections. When the connection is encrypted, getting information by sniffing is made much harder or even impossible.

Overview of NFS components

table_title provides an overview of the most important files and software related to NFS.

program or file description
The kernel provides NFS support
portmap handles RPC requests
rpc.nfsd NFS server control (kernel space) or software (user space)
rpc.mountd handles incoming (un)mount requests
/etc/exports defines which filesystems are exported
exportfs command (un)exports filesystems
showmount --exports shows current exports
The rpcinfo command reports RPC information
The nfsstat command reports NFS statistics
showmount --all shows active mounts to me (this host)
`mount -t nfs mounts a remote filesystem
umount -t nfs -a unmounts all remote filesystems

NFS protocol versions

Currently, there are a lot of changes in the NFS protocol that can affect the way the system is set up.

Protocol version Current status kernel or user space udp or tcp transport
1 never released
2 becoming obsolete user, kernel udp, some tcp impl. exist
3 new standard kernel udp, tcp: under development
4 new standard kernel tcp performance improvements; mandates strong security; stateful protocol

The trends that can be seen in this table are: kernel space instead of user space and tcp instead of udp.

A note on the transport protocol.

Connections over tcp (NFS v3, v4, some v2) are considered better than connections over udp (NFS v2, v3). The udp option might be the best on a small, fast network. But tcp allows considerably larger packet sizes (rsize, wsize) to be set. With sizes of 64k, tcp connections are reported to be 10% faster than connections over udp, which does not allow sizes that large. Also, tcp is a more reliable protocol by design, compared to udp.


NFS version 4 (NFSv4) offers some new features compared to its predecessors. Instead of exporting multiple filesystems, NFSv4 exports a single pseudo file system for each client. The origin for this pseudo file system may be from different filesystems, but this remains transparent to the client.

NFSv4 offers an extended set of attributes, including support form MS Windows ACL's. Although NFSv4 offers enhanced security features compared to previous versions of NFS, and has been around since 2003, it was never widely adopted. Users are encouraged to implement NFSv4.1 which has been ratified in January 2010.