How to automatically mount an NFS drive (UNIX network) on OS X

This article is a variation/enhancement to a post I found at for a FreeNAS server. Of course purely Mac folks would likely want to stick with the AFP protocol. In terms of generalities the NFS server does not necessarily have to be running FreeNAS. It just has to work. FreeNAS is basically a “Swiss Army Knife” of external storage. I find it does a lot of things very easily. It doesn’t work on all machines (I’ve had a 60% success rate) but when it works, it works well.

The question of why anyone would want to run storage of any sort connected to a network drive over their LAN is simple. When people upgrade to new machines they frequently have the old machine sitting around doing nothing. In the case of some Intel Macs (or PCs) they can just throw in a HUGE amount of storage for the price of adding a little amount of storage to a current Mac. In my case I have access to free/cheap old PCs and parts. This allows me to use these machines to experiment and learn for free. Since we were looking at a problem regarding NFS at the lab this is exactly what I did.

First off the person doing this needs access to a working NFS machine. As I suggested before, FreeNAS isn’t necessary but is easy to install and configure. This step is one I will leave to the reader.

Second, go into a terminal and edit the /etc/auto_master file. The reader will have to use the sudo command to do so since it is a system file. If the reader is paranoid like me they should back up the file first so they can recover if there are any mistakes. The author of the article I used as reference wanted to install things under the /home directory. This is fine. Personally I wanted to see if I could put things in a different location. In this case I wanted them in /nfs. Rather than modify the existing line I added the following line…

/nfs                    auto_nfs        -nobrowse

The first part says where to mount the drive. The second is another file with further instructions. I have no idea what the third part does, but it was made clear it was to be there.

Third was to create the auto_nfs file. In this case I copied the auto_home file to auto_nfs. At that point I’ll skip ahead an hour and a half to the point where I replaced the last line in the file with the following line… 😉

server 192.168.X.Y:/mnt/main           # Use directory service

First there has to be the name of a directory. In this case the drive will be mounted under /nfs/server. I gather it is set up this way because there is the possibility someone may want to mount multiple machines this way. Then is the location of the NFS device. The 192.168 part refers to a non-internet LAN. The reader should replace “X” and “Y” with the detailed location of the NFS server. The /mnt/main is the location on the server where the area to mount is located. The final part is a coment left over from the previous file and sort of kind of makes sense.

Apart from Step 5 everything is the same as in the reference article. Essentially all the reader has to do is type “sudo automount -vc”, test things, and they are done.

The down side is it appears to be mounted as read only. I’ll post an update when I figure out how to make it read and write. It may just be a permissions issue but it may be something else.

As a final thing I thought it would be a good idea to have quicker access to the device. I made a symbolic link to the mounted directory in my home area. This can be done in a number of ways. I just went into the terminal and typed “ln -s /nfs nfs”. So now I don’t have to go hunting through the whole computer to find the directory.

Considering I can access things with less trouble through afp, I’m not sure I’ll keep this available on the Mac.

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About the Author


Mike Pfaiffer was President of A.P.P.L.E. and also the president of Digital Civilization magazine, a monthly UNIX magaine. Mike wrote a number of articles for A.P.P.L.E. and sadly passed away 19 July 2013 at age 54.