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Installing and configuring OpenAFS on MacOS X

OpenAFS is a freely available implementation of the distributed filesystem known as AFS (the Andrew File System), which works on Unix, Windows, and MacOS X. These notes outline the very easy installation and configuration of OpenAFS on MacOS X, along with a comparison to how things are done on other Unix installations.

Last updated: 2 October 2009

OpenAFS is a freely available implementation of AFS (the Andrew File System), a distributed filesystem originally developed by Carnegie Mellon University and Transarc Corporation (now IBM Pittsburgh Labs). OpenAFS provides a scalable, location independent, client-server architecture for sharing files across both a local network domain and across the entire Internet. More detailed information about OpenAFS is available from www.openafs.org.

OpenAFS runs on a wide range of platfroms, which includes Windows NT/2000, just about every popular flavour of Unix, and MacOS X. Installation of OpenAFS is almost as easy as installing most other software packages for Mac OS X. These notes outline the steps required for installation and compare it to the configuration of AFS on other Unix platforms.


  1. Get the OpenAFS package for Mac OS X from http://www.openafs.org/release/.

    As of January 2005 the latest stable release of OpenAFS won't mount on my MacOS X 10.3.6 machine, due to problems with the mountpoint /Network/afs . I have found that the latest developmnet release (version 1.3.79) works fine.

    The software is packaged as a gzip'd tar file containing an Installer package. On MacOS X this should automatically unpack itself when downloaded, leaving the Installer package on the desktop called OpenAFS.pkg If it does not unpack automatically then double-click on the file and that should uncompress it and extract the package.

  2. Launch the installer package (double-click) and go through the installation steps. The instructions are very clear, and about the same as the steps required to install any system software on a Mac. At some point you will have to enter the username and password for the administrative account for your machine. When the installation is finished you will have to reboot. But don't reboot immediately....

  3. OpenAFS will not start automatically at boot time unless your computer is configured to be part of an existing AFS cell, and this is no longer the case by default. All you have to do to have your computer join an AFS cell is put the name of the cell in the file ThisCell in the directory (folder) /var/db/openafs/etc. If you do not have a working cell you wish to join you can start with openafs.org as an example.

    You can't create or edit system files in /var/db using GUI tools on MacOS X, so the simplest way I've found to create this file is to open the Terminal application and give a command like:

         echo openafs.org > /var/db/openafs/etc/ThisCell     
    Use a different cell name, like physastro.vassar.edu or umich.edu in place of openafs.org to join that particular cell.

  4. Optionally, you can also edit the file CellServDB in the same directory to list only those cells which should be accesible from the desktop. The default that comes with the OpenAFS package lists all cells known to OpenAFS.org, but not all of them are accessible to the public.

  5. Now you can reboot.

    When the machine comes up again there should be an icon on the desktop for a Network Volume called AFS. The icon may also appear in the sidebar of any Finder window you open. You can control whether or not the icon appears in both places in the Preferences menu for the Finder.

    Each AFS cell appears as a folder on this Network Volume. Each cell can also be accessed via the command line under the directory path /afs. Again, keep in mind that not all cells are open for public viewing.

Comparison to other Unix platforms

Since my experience with AFS, and that of many of my peers, is based on Unix,* here is a side-by-side comparison of OpenAFS on Mac OS X and on other Unix platforms. A few things are different, but most of OpenAFS on MacOS X is the same as it is on any version of Unix.

AFS ItemUnixMac OS X
Configuration files /usr/vice/etc/ /var/db/openafs/etc/
Startup Script /etc/rc.d/init.d/afs /Library/StartupItems/OpenAFS/OpenAFS
Startup configuration /etc/sysconfig/afs /Library/StartupItems/OpenAFS/StartupParameters.plist
Mount point /afs /afs**

*Yes, I know that MacOS X is also based on Unix, but there are sufficient differences that I'm comparing it here to the other forms of Unix which I'm familiar with.
**This was /Network/afs but the recent development version of OpenAFS uses the more traditional /afs.

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