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NTFS support gets a significant boost in Linux kernel 5.15

A new NTFS patch is coming to the Linux kernel that will bring much-needed relief to Linux system administrators everywhere. Linus Torvalds had something to say about it.

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The Linux kernel has included NTFS support for some time. However, up until now, working with NTFS filesystems on Linux has been a bit of a headache. One of the biggest issues with NTFS support in the Linux kernel to date has been fully functioning read/write support. The old captive NTFS driver hasn’t been maintained for quite a while, and the NTFS-3G driver from Tuxera is far too slow for acceptable use (especially for enterprise use cases). So, a new driver has been needed for some time.

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That’s where Paragon comes in. The company has had a functioning NTFS driver for a while now, only it was a proprietary product with a price tag. 

What’s really interesting about this new change is how it came to be that the Paragon driver came to land in the 5.15 kernel. This fully functional read/write driver is a big deal for Linux (especially admins) because it will make dealing with NTFS filesystems easier and more reliable. 

So what were the events that led to this addition?

Warning: This is speculation on my part, but I think it’s pretty obvious. 

First, Microsoft joined the Open Invention Network to help protect Linux and open-source technology. Next, Linux has become the single most widely used operating system in cloud deployments. Along with the massive rise of containers (which also depend on Linux), it became clear that NTFS wasn’t going to continue holding court as the ruler of filesystems. In an IT world that is more and more diverse, practically everything needs to work with everything else. 

The next issue facing NTFS is that it’s not exactly the darling of the industry it once was. With exFAT pulling much of the focus, it’s clear that the profitability of keeping an NTFS driver as a proprietary solution was less and less viable.  

On top of that, prior to Paragon adding its NTFS driver to the mainline kernel, it was having to maintain this driver out of tree for its customers. My guess is that the effort to keep this up (probably having to patch kernels on a customer-by-customer basis) wasn’t profitable for Paragon.

But then comes the credibility the company gains by submitting the driver to the official Linux kernel. This move makes Paragon look almost like a hero to some, bringing much-needed relief to those who have to deal with NTFS filesystems with Linux. And given Linux system administrators have been struggling with NTFS for decades, this new driver could be a game-changer.

Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, did have an important message to Paragon, when he said, “The one other thing I do want when there’s big new pieces like this being added is to ask you to make sure that everything is signed-off properly and that there is no internal confusion about the GPLv2 inside Paragon, and that any legal people, etc., are all aware of this all and are on board. The last thing we want to see is some, “Oops, we didn’t mean to do this” brouhaha six months later. I doubt that’s an issue, considering how public this all has been, but I just wanted to mention it just to be very obvious about it.”

It seems to me that Torvalds was tossing a bit of shade to Paragon to say, “Make sure your entire company is on board with this move before you fully commit.” 

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Paragon founder and CEO Konstantin Komarov had this to say to Torvalds: “We can confirm that we will be maintaining this implementation. Also, this is planned to be in fs/ntfs3 at this point, at least for now—until the code and implementation becomes known and trusted within the community. And then we can discuss if it should replace the fs/ntfs and when it’s convenient to do.”

Given it’s the CEO of the company in communication about this driver, one could speculate that Torvalds’ concern should be considered unfounded. But this is Torvalds’ baby, and everyone in the Linux community knows how protective he is of the Linux kernel. So, good on him for ensuring every I is dotted and every T is crossed.

Read more about the Paragon solution on the official NTFS for Linux driver page. This will probably change, once the patch is officially merged into the mainline kernel (as the company will either no longer have a reason to sell the product or it’ll start offering customer-proprietary solutions based on the driver).

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