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Virtual File Systems and Virtual Disk Drive technology

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Below is a question that came into to me and thought I would share the answer.

Hey Kevin, Not sure if you know much about this area but I have asked around my network of friends in the industry and haven't really heard response that I am happy with... Below is the post I have made on a few sites. If you don't know what would be a good answer do you know of any good support forums that might help?

VHD is Microsoft's answer and Sparsebundle is Apple's answer but neither are cross platform... (my note: see also File Vault)

Truecrypt is a nice alternative but if I move the image from one disk to another it will expand to its full size rather than the space actually used by the image. Is there another cross platform alternative?

I have tried using TransMac but the sparse bundles wont always open.

I'll explain what I use it for ... maybe I am going about this the wrong way. I run a (very) small videography/animation company. When I work on a new project for a client I make a Virtual Hard Disk and mount it. This way if I move the project to another drive or computer it wont break any references to files. Encryption isn't needed but Truecrypt is the only cross platform option I know. Just the volume size is quite limiting for my workflow.

I eventually want to be only on windows and when that happens I'll be fine with VHDs but I have too many projects on the Mac still. I have heard some talk of Virtual Box's format being somewhat cross platform. All my drives that I use between windows and mac are exFAT so I have decent read/write support. thoughts?

My answer:

As far a virtual file system (VFS)/disk technology I have not used any in many years. I used to use something in the 90's but the life of me I cannot remember what it was now.

A quick Google search yielded this free tool which claims to be cross platform:

I work a lot in virtual server space so I am more familiar with that technology. You could consider Oracle's VirtualBox as it's a free virtual machine manager not unlike Microsoft's Hyper-V (VHD) but is also cross platform including Linux, Mac and Windows (I use it regularly on all three particularly Mac). It has it's own virtual file storage VDI. But also supports other industry standard virtual disk technology such as VMware's VMDK and Microsoft's VHD.

I personally think however VirtualBox is what makes it truly cross platform as it ships with a media manager. I think you have to actually be in a VirtualBox guest to write to the VDI but that could be a win also as you can maintain your own mastering OS as a virtual and simply export/import VDI's into and out of it. The customer however would also have to be using VirtualBox so maybe that would not be so good. The reason for this is VirtualBox stores it's virtual machine configurations as XML files and uses UUID tags for each VDI making each one unique. You cannot just hand someone a VDI and have it work in another installation of VirtualBox it has to be either created under that installation (using the Virtual Media Manager) or exported and then imported into another installation. Since AFAIK you cannot get files onto or off of a VDI except as a booted guest this may not be useful to you. Anyway when I ship software builds around to other members in other parts of the world this is how I do it. But as I say I am more familiar with virtual servers than virtual disks.

Oh one other thing about VirtualBox it does support (and that is how I use it) dynamically expanding VDIs so in other words even though I create it to be say 15GB for a Linux guest it will only be physically sized to use what I have stored to it from within the guest. When I am done that is how large it is on the HDD not the original stated size. You mentioned how Truecrypt uses the original size and that make sense because of the encryption needs to check sum every thing for integrity.

Read-write ISOs as a virtual disk system:

In other words using ISO format as a virtual disk for later shipping to a customer.

Also I believe you can mount ISO's read-write in all three platforms unless you working beyond the roughly 3.5 GB limit for DVD's.

You can do it under Windows with WinISO.

For Linux and windows there is ISO Master

Software distribution

From Wikipedia article:

On computers running Mac OS X, disk images are now ubiquitous for software downloads, typically downloaded with a web browser. The images are typically compressed Apple Disk Image (.dmg suffix) files. They are usually opened by directly mounting them without using a real disk.

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Page last modified on February 12, 2012, at 03:28 PM EST