Portable Home Directories

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by dogbait, Jun 3, 2008.

  1. dogbait macrumors regular

    Feb 4, 2005
    London, England
    Portable home directories sound like a compelling reason to get OS X Server but I was wondering what happens when the portable home directory is bigger than the client's hard disk?

    Does it not work at all, half work?
  2. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    We've had portable home directories in BSD Unix long before Apple adopted Unix. You don't need "Server". I remember having a "512K mac" with no hard drive at the same time as also having a Sun Workstation running a BSD derived OS. At that that my files in the home directory would follow me to whatever machine I logged into.

    All you need is to run the automouter on all your clients so that when users log in their home directory is mounted. The size of the client hard drive does not matter if the user data stays on the file server.
  3. Sky Blue Guest

    Sky Blue

    Jan 8, 2005
    You would plan accordingly before hand and give each user a quota.
  4. twoodcc macrumors P6


    Feb 3, 2005
    Right side of wrong
    care to share a little more on this? what automouter do you speak of?
  5. ffakr macrumors 6502a

    Jul 2, 2002
    PHDs aren't Network Home Directories

    You're talking about Networked Home Directories. PHD is different than mounting a home directory via NFS, SMB, AFP or whatever.

    PHDs are portable. It's a synchronization of your files between a local home directory and a fileserver. With a PHD, you work locally instead of over the wire, and your changes are pushed/pulled down regularly. Some 'chatty' apps like Safari run just terribly with a network home directory because it's writing caches, history.. lots of stuff, all the time.
    PHDs are like IMAP mail. You mirror the content on the server and the client. You can disconnect your laptop and you've still got your 'stuff' while you're on the airplane.
    Windows offers the same functionality and it's nicer in some ways (live background updates as you modify files).

    Yes, you can have a PHD where the local and remote home directory are different sizes.
    You can apply rules to synchronization. By default, caches and such are ignored. It's a good idea to ignore the user's Mail directory because it's always changing and Apple's Mail.app stores each mail as a separate file.
    You can write custom rules.. like don't sync any folder with "nosync" in the name. You can have your users put personal movies in ~/Movies/nosync/ or in ~/Movies/movies that are nosync/

    I have a low use PHD setup where the clients know they're Guinea Pigs. I ignore most of ~/Library/ as well as ~/Music/iTunes/ ~/Documents/Parallels/ and so on.
    You want to ignore monolithic stuff like Parallels or VMWare drive images.
    You might want to ignore the Downloads folder
    You want to ignore anything that is machine specific (some stuff in your library)
    You want to ignore stuff that doesn't need to be synced.. like IMAP mail (since IMAP is designed to sync on it's own (between client and mail server)).

    I'm just getting ready to roll out a large 10.5 PHD system. I've been waiting on AD fixes in 10.5 and I'm ready to go.
    Clients will sync with a fileserver (XSAN volume). The Web Server will have access to the XSAN so users can edit their personal website on their local hard drive and it will auto-magically update their real website with each sync. Files will be available from several locations via PHD syncing to multiple machines, network home directories, or file serving.
    I have one Prof who syncs his office desktop with his home desktop. He works at home.. syncs.. then his work is waiting at work.

    Almost forgot.
    10.5 Server can track PHD changes on the server side. The PHD client is tied into the filesystem so it knows exactly which files have been written (created, modified..) and it only syncs those files. 10.4 used to scan the filesystems and it took a while and hit the drives noticeably.

  6. ffakr macrumors 6502a

    Jul 2, 2002
    Automounter is a daemon (system software that provides a service) which automatically mounts shares.

    You can do a static mount, where the remote filesystem is always there.. or you can auto mount the remote file system when you need it. In the config he described.. you would 'export' your home directory from the server (or client acting as a server) and you'd map it to /Users/yourUserName
    When you touched ~yourUserName, like when you log in, automounter would make that connection for you.

    In OS X, this type of stuff is handled by "mountd" (for NFS at least)

  7. dogbait thread starter macrumors regular

    Feb 4, 2005
    London, England
    Many thanks ffakr for your informative and detailed reply! :)
  8. Don.Key macrumors regular

    Jan 11, 2005
    PHD are not without quirks.

    I came from Windows environment, in our offices we had several workstations and ppl where roaming around with windows profiles with little to no issues for many many years.

    After switching to OSX we found that PHD are a little more troublesome, for example:

    1) If one of your machines crashes or is put offline during sync, your network home might come into "already in use" state which is a PITA to remove / resolve.

    2) If PHD sync encounters any error / question it will greet you with popup, this popup will not time out like in windows, it will stay up until user confirms it or says system what to do.

    The popups are rather common, the most annoying ones just tell you that something could not be synced, which is the case with all files in the users home which do not belong to him, unfortunately some suid binaries tend to leave .someting files there with suid user.

    This is a problem because sometimes users will say logout on one machine and walk away, then popup comes and blocks sync, when same user tries to login on another machine: home is in use.

    Problem becomes even worser because ARD connections are not possible during login / logout procedure... so there is no way to resolve this but to physically walk to machine and confirm popup.

    3) Sooner or later you will loose sync with server on one or another machine, ether because users logged in and worked from 2 workstations at the same time for long time without logout or because some sync got stuck as specified in 2, then quite often phd gets confused and will not cleanly sync files anymore, it will give you bunch of popups for conflicts AND will not sync some files which it does not ask about too. The only way to resolve this is to delete local account on troubled computer and recreate it again.

    We tried to drop PHD and go with Network Homes but this is also not possible in our case because some software we use requires locking which is not available on AFP or NFS mounted homes. (Komodo IDE for example). Also Firefox 3 RC2 seems to have serious issues with network homes in our case.

    So, enjoy....

    And ehm, all of above is based on my observations with 10.5.2 on both workstation and server.
  9. ffakr macrumors 6502a

    Jul 2, 2002
    minimize sync errors

    I've yet to do significant testing with 10.5.x PHDs. We've been waiting on functioning AD support.

    I've noticed, particularly in 10.4, that you can minimize both sync time and conflicts by being rather draconian with your sync rules.

    I try for Documents without {Microsoft*, Eudora*, Parallels*, ...}, Only Safari bookmarks in Library, Desktop, Pictures without iPhoto stuff, Music without iTunes stuff.. and so on.

    There is a bug in 10.4 that I haven't looked for in 10.5 yet. Local admin accounts seem to ignore their exclusion rules.

  10. dogbait thread starter macrumors regular

    Feb 4, 2005
    London, England
    Gaaahh, your description sounds like a nightmare.

    Windows Folder Redirection coupled with Offline Files works very well in my experience. I suppose I'll try using Chronosync to manually synchronize the few Macs I use now. Hopefully 10.5.4+ or 10.6 (more likely) will have something approaching the level of features Windows has in this area.
  11. yamahito macrumors newbie

    Sep 1, 2008
    Fear not: you can over-ride most if not all of those settings with policies in OD for managed systems.
  12. dubweiser macrumors newbie

    Nov 24, 2002
    I am in the situation where, we want our users home folders to sync, but we DON'T want their Music and Movies folder to sync (for obvious reasons).

    What I have found is, if I put a list of folders that I want sync'd in the login/logout sync preference box in workgroup manager, it ignores it and syncs ALL the folders.

    See this discussion
  13. ChrisA macrumors G4

    Jan 5, 2006
    Redondo Beach, California
    What??? You can have a portable home directory on a diskles client. That is a worksation that has no disk at all.

    The data are NOT copied over the network to the local machine, it stays on the file server.

    You don't need Mac OS X Server for portable home directories. All you need is an automouter on the client machines and a network file server. I had this running on a small network of a few dozen machine 20 year ago
  14. Les Kern macrumors 68040

    Les Kern

    Apr 26, 2002
    How about an even more elegant solution? Don't sync. Make them carry their own files around. Get them a few 8GB pen drives or even an external 200GB Firewire drive. Show them how to back up.
    Now you don't need any network overhead, they can take files home, everything works faster.
    Just an idea I am considering for the 2500 students in our high school.

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