Using the Amd Automounter

How to use the Amd automounter to provide uniform and easily controlled access to all your file servers from anywhere.

Administrators today manage large sites with many Network File System (NFS) file servers and clients. Users like to be able to log in to any host and access the same files from any remote server. The naïve way of providing this access to all users is to hand mount all file servers on each client. Not only is this unwieldy to manage, but any unreachable server can cause all the clients to hang. Furthermore, users have to know what name to use to access files from certain servers.

The solution to these problems is an automounter. An automounter is configured with the knowledge of all file servers, such that administrators need only maintain the automounter's configuration in one place. Moreover, an automounter provides access to remote file servers on demand when users first try to access a pathname that leads to that server; this ensures that only servers in use and reachable are mounted on clients, minimizing the chances for hangs. Finally, the automounter provides a uniform namespace for the resources. For example, the pathname /src/kernel can hide the fact that the actual location of those files is server1:/n/raid/l/ksrc/v2.4/21preX.

Most commercial vendors and Linux distributions include an automounter. However, such automounters often work on only a single platform, use incompatible configurations or provide a limited feature set. The Amd Automounter, also known as the Berkeley Automounter, was developed with portability and a rich feature set in mind. It runs identically on numerous UNIX systems, provides a superset of features found in other automounters and supports a large set of features for even the most demanding administrator. If you are an administrator of a site with heterogeneous UNIX systems and want to make your life easier, Amd is the way to go.

This article explains how Amd works and provides a set of examples to demonstrate Amd's capabilities. The article is aimed at site administrators and anyone with a perversion for filesystems. We assume basic familiarity with Linux, NFS and filesystems. It is impossible to cover the Amd Automounter in detail in only a few pages; it would take a whole book to do that. Nevertheless, our examples are designed to start with the simpler, more common uses of Amd and gradually increase in complexity.

How Amd Works

Amd is a user-level dæmon that attaches itself to a directory, called an automount point. Amd receives requests from the kernel whenever users try to access that automount directory. Amd then ensures the actual resource the user is requesting is available and responds to the kernel's request. Finally, the kernel returns the appropriate status code to the user, and the user magically sees the desired files in the pathname requested.

Let's follow an example. Suppose Amd is started and attaches itself to the directory /src. A user runs ls -l /src/kernel. The kernel knows that the Amd dæmon is the valid file server for the /src directory, so the kernel suspends the user's ls process and sends a message to Amd asking it to resolve the name kernel within the automount point /src. When Amd starts, it loads automounter maps for each automount point. These automounter maps can be read from plain files, NIS/NIS+, LDAP, N/DBM and more. The map that Amd loads for /src is a list of key-value pairs. The key represents the name that Amd should provide within the automounted directory, and the value contains the information that Amd requires to resolve access to the named key. For our example, the map might contain:

kernel  type:=nfs;rhost:=server1;\
          rfs:=/n/raid/l/ksrc/v2.4/21preX

In this example, the key is kernel and it is separated from its value by whitespace. The value consists of three variable assignments, delimited by a semicolon. We use a back slash as a multiline continuation character. Variables are assigned values using the := Pascal-style syntax. Here, the type variable says the map entry describes an NFS mount. The rhost variable gives the name of the remote NFS server. Finally, the rfs variable describes the pathname of the exported directory on that remote host.

Going back to the suspended ls process, when Amd receives a lookup request from the kernel for the name kernel, Amd consults its map and finds the entry with that name. Amd mounts the /n/raid/l/ksrc/v2.4/21preX directory from the remote host server1. It then returns enough information back to the kernel about the type and actual location of that NFS-mounted directory for the kernel to resume the ls process. The ls process resumes listing the contents of the directory /src/kernel, unaware of the flurry of activity that transpired between Amd and the kernel, let alone where the actual location of the files for /src/kernel is.

Amd also checks to see when was the last time an automounted entry was used and automatically unmounts unused entries. This ensures that a system mounts only entries actively in use. In case you're wondering if you could control the timeout period, yes, you can. In fact, you can control dozens of parameters. Now you're wondering if you have to spend days configuring Amd. No, you don't; most parameters have been tuned carefully with appropriate defaults.

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