Mixed perceptions with NetApp multiprotocol NAS access

EDIT: As the original post for this was super long, I’ve since broken it up into a 2 part post. I moved the vserver security information to the following post:

Managing ACLs via the ONTAP Command Line

NetApp’s ONTAP operating system is one of the few storage operating systems out there that supports data access from both CIFS/SMB and NFS clients. NetApp’s been doing this for a long time – longer than I’ve been there, and I’m going on 10 years!

Despite the fact that it’s been around so long and is one of *the* core competencies in ONTAP, it’s one of the most frequently misunderstood configurations I see. When I was in support, it was one of the biggest case generators. As the NFS TME, it’s one of the most common emails I get that customers need assistance on.

I can tell you what it’s not….

Multiprotocol NAS is NOT “Mixed Mode”

Many people use this terminology for describing access from multiple clients. Unfortunately, it only adds to the confusion, because there is also a security style called “mixed” (see below) and that makes people associate the two and then they start setting mixed security styles when they don’t need to…

So, call it what it is – Multiprotocol NAS. 🙂

What’s so hard about it?

The reason it seems to confound so many people is two fold:

  • Windows administrators are generally not UNIX-savvy
  • UNIX administrators are generally not Windows-savvy

To truly understand multiprotocol NAS, you either have to know both Windows and UNIX file systems/security sematics pretty well, or be open to the fact that Windows and UNIX have similarities and differences.

That said, when you do understand how it works and get it configured properly, it’s a pretty powerful tool for serving data for multiple client types.

There’s currently a Multiprotocol TR in the works, but will be a ways out. However, I just dealt with a recent multiprotocol NAS issue and wanted to do a brain dump before the information got stale and I had to revisit it. This blog is intended to be a quick hit guide to multiprotocol NAS in ONTAP. Some of the ideas will make their way into official TR format.

What makes multiprotocol NAS possible in ONTAP?

ONTAP is fairly agnostic when it comes to file systems and ACL styles. SMB and NFS clients use different security semantics, but the general concepts of those are the same.

Users, groups, permissions.

From there, things tend to skew a bit. Windows uses NTFS security concepts. NFS clients use mode bits for NFSv3/NFSv4.x or ACLs for NFSv4.x. NFSv3 had the concept of POSIX ACLs, but ONTAP doesn’t support those.

The issue is that NTFS ACLs are more complex than mode bits, but match up pretty nicely with NFSv4.x ACLs. Mode bits only do Read, Write, eXecute (RWX), so Windows ACLs don’t match up 1 to 1, especially when you have “special permissions” in the mix. As a result, when dealing with ONTAP file systems, we have the concept of a security style that helps us choose the style of ACL we want to implement. The choices we have:

  • NTFS – NTFS ACLs only
  • UNIX – UNIX style permissions only
  • Mixed – UNIX or NTFS permissions, depending on who last changed permissions
  • Unified (Infinite Volume only)

To properly address permissions, ONTAP has to pick one security style over the other. This allows the storage system to decide which direction a user will map to determine the correct permissions. After all, what’s the point of permissions if they don’t work properly?

User mapping

ONTAP is not unique in the concept of user mapping, but it is still a concept that gets people confused on occasion.

Essentially, to get the proper permissions on a NetApp storage system, a client must first pass a “test” in the form of initial authentication.

The initial test is “Who are you?”

The storage system needs to know that the user you are claiming to be is actually you. There are varying degrees of how secure this test is, mostly dependent on the protocol you’re using, but the bottom line is this: authentication helps us get a user name. That user name allows us to map to another user name, depending on the volume security style.

In general:

  • SMB clients always map to a UNIX user because ONTAP is UNIX-based, even if NTFS security style is in use
  • If no name mapping rules or 1:1 name mappings exist, SMB users map to a default UNIX user set in CIFS options (pcuser/65534 by default)
  • 65534 is “nobody” or “nfsnobody” in most UNIX clients
  • NFS clients only map to Windows users when the security style is NTFS
  • NFS clients cannot chmod or chown on NTFS style volumes; SMB clients cannot take ownership or change ACLs on UNIX style volumes

One a user has authenticated, the permissions can be discerned based on access control lists. One can see those ACLs via the CLI of the storage system with “vserver security file-directory show.”

cluster::*> vserver security file-directory show -vserver parisi -path /cifs

                 Vserver: parisi
               File Path: /cifs
       File Inode Number: 64
               Security Style: ntfs
         Effective Style: ntfs
          DOS Attributes: 10
  DOS Attributes in Text: ----D---
 Expanded Dos Attributes: -
            UNIX User Id: 0
           UNIX Group Id: 0
          UNIX Mode Bits: 777
  UNIX Mode Bits in Text: rwxrwxrwx
                    ACLs: NTFS Security Descriptor
                            DACL - ACEs

User/name mapping is one of the most important pieces of the multiprotocol NAS puzzle. Get that part right and most everything else is easy.

Name mapping can be done either locally (via name mapping rules) or with LDAP. TR-4073 covers this sort of thing in pretty finite detail.

Name services/LDAP

The easiest way to handle name mapping in ONTAP for multiprotocol NAS is to leverage a name service server like LDAP. When dealing with both SMB and NFS, the most logical choice is to use the existing Active Directory infrastructure to host UNIX identities. While you can host name mapping rules for users that don’t have the same UNIX and Windows names, it’s best to try to have UNIX and Windows user names match 1:1. (I.e., DOMAIN\nfsdudeabides == nfsdudeabides in UNIX).

TR-4073 covers LDAP and TR-4379 covers name service best practices, for your reference.

Mixed Security Style

Fun fact – Mixed security style isn’t truly “mixed.” When you use mixed security style, it’s always either NTFS or UNIX security style at any given moment. This is known as the “effective” security style, which can be seen in “vserver security file-directory show.”

cluster::*> vserver security file-directory show -vserver parisi -path /cifs

                 Vserver: parisi
               File Path: /cifs
       File Inode Number: 64
               Security Style: ntfs
         Effective Style: ntfs

The “effective” style changes based on  the last permission change. If an NFS client does a chmod or chown, the mixed security style volume changes to effective UNIX security style. If an SMB client changes owner or sets an ACL, the effective security style changes to NTFS. When these effective styles change, how the storage does name mapping changes (ie; win-unix to unix-win, etc).

Is mixed security style recommended?

Generally speaking, you don’t want file systems changing something behind the scenes without the knowledge of the storage administrators. Plus, these changes can affect functionality, and even access. As a result, mixed security style is generally not recommended. The only time you’d want to use mixed security style is if your environment requires the ability for clients or applications to change permissions from both NFS and SMB. And even then, if you do set up mixed security style, consider limiting the ability for regular users to take ownership or change permissions on folders and files via NTFS ACLs.

Otherwise, I personally recommend picking either NTFS or UNIX and sticking with it. That choice would be based on how you want your users to manage their ACLs, as well as how granular you want control to be on those file systems. For example, mode bits in UNIX only allow setting an owner, group and everyone else. There’s no way to set multiple groups with different access on the object unless you use NFSv4 or NTFS ACLs.

I usually prefer NTFS because you get the granularity, as well as the GUI functionality many users are accustomed to.

If you do decide to use mixed security style, keep the following in mind:

  • If a volume is using mixed security style and the effective style gets flipped from NTFS to UNIX and then back to NTFS by way of the clients, the previous NTFS ACLs are lost.
  • When a volume flips from UNIX effective to NTFS effective, you get the mode bit translation. For example, if the UNIX volume was 755, you get “Owner – Full Control” and “Everyone – Read/Execute” as Windows ACLs. 700 gives “Owner – Full Control” only.
  • Administrator always gets added onto the ACL with Read/Write access when we flip to NTFS from UNIX.
  • With mixed security style, there are two types of owners – UNIX owner and Windows owner. When Windows “takes ownership,” the UNIX owner does not change.
  • When the effective style of the volume is NTFS, UNIX clients will see permissions as 777 unless the NFS server option ntacl-display-permissive-perms is set to “disabled.”

For information on how to manage permissions in ONTAP, see the following post:

Managing ACLs via the ONTAP Command Line

Be on the lookout for a multiprotocol TR in the future that covers this and more!

Got any questions? Feel free to post in the comments!


7 thoughts on “Mixed perceptions with NetApp multiprotocol NAS access

  1. Pingback: Managing ACLs via the ONTAP Command Line | Why Is The Internet Broken?

  2. Hi Justin,
    Many thanks for your article, very interesting !
    Just one question,

    We have a netapp volume (NTFS mode), many users and groups AD have different rights in this share, no problem,

    for some project we will need to create or delete some files in this volume from a linux account (Redhat server), regarding exportfs, usermap.cfg, everything seems to be ok, but effectively i see data in this volume with the root account but not with other linux account,




    I created the account linuxaccount123 in our AD, this account has R/W rights in the cifs share, but unable to see data from the linux mount –> permission denied

    Is there any other things to do ?

    thanks for your help

    Best regards



  3. Justin –
    I have what may be a related question. We migrated a ton of data from an old Solaris system running ZFS with (ACLs) to NFSv4 running on a NetApp filer which we have mapped to a Linux cluster. We wrote a conversion script to pick up the ZFS ACLs and put them down as NFSv4. The Linux servers accessing the NFSv4 all use Active Directory authentication and all the id’s and ownership map through properly to the NFSv4 volume. We run Samba on one of the Linux servers and users can access anything where the Linux file mask lets them in, but of course the NFSv4 ACLs are not honored (they got around this on Solaris as they had a special vfs module which supported ZFS ACLs in Samba), this doesn’t appear to be an option for Samba and NFSv4. Long story short, I am wondering if we can put the NetApp filer in a mode so that users could access the volume directly from Windows as a CIFS share and respect the ACLs present on the NFSv4 share.


    • If the users map properly and you use UNIX security style, you should be able to access volumes from Windows CIFS and honor the existing v4 ACLs. However, if you’re planning on going to Windows anyway, it might be better in the long run to use NTFS security style so that Windows users can change ACLs. UNIX security style won’t allow permission changes from Windows.

      That said, converting v4 ACLs to NTFS ACLs will be a pain in the ass, so it may be easier to simply leave as is if you don’t need Windows users to be able to modify ACLs.


  4. Hi Justin,
    thanks for clarification on this. I was one of the users who got confused by “mixed mode” definition and not aware of username-mapping.


  5. Pingback: NetApp Multiprotocol Tutorial Part 1 - FlackBox

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