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9.4. autofs

One drawback to using /etc/fstab is that, regardless of how infrequently a user accesses the NFS mounted file system, the system must dedicate resources to keep the mounted file system in place. This is not a problem with one or two mounts, but when the system is maintaining mounts to many systems at one time, overall system performance can be affected. An alternative to /etc/fstab is to use the kernel-based automount utility. An automounter consists of two components:
  • a kernel module that implements a file system, and
  • a user-space daemon that performs all of the other functions.
The automount utility can mount and unmount NFS file systems automatically (on-demand mounting), therefore saving system resources. It can be used to mount other file systems including AFS, SMBFS, CIFS, and local file systems.

Important

The nfs-utils package is now a part of both the 'NFS file server' and the 'Network File System Client' groups. As such, it is no longer installed by default with the Base group. Ensure that nfs-utils is installed on the system first before attempting to automount an NFS share.
autofs is also part of the 'Network File System Client' group.
autofs uses /etc/auto.master (master map) as its default primary configuration file. This can be changed to use another supported network source and name using the autofs configuration (in /etc/sysconfig/autofs) in conjunction with the Name Service Switch (NSS) mechanism. An instance of the autofs version 4 daemon was run for each mount point configured in the master map and so it could be run manually from the command line for any given mount point. This is not possible with autofs version 5, because it uses a single daemon to manage all configured mount points; as such, all automounts must be configured in the master map. This is in line with the usual requirements of other industry standard automounters. Mount point, hostname, exported directory, and options can all be specified in a set of files (or other supported network sources) rather than configuring them manually for each host.

9.4.1. Improvements in autofs Version 5 over Version 4

autofs version 5 features the following enhancements over version 4:
Direct map support
Direct maps in autofs provide a mechanism to automatically mount file systems at arbitrary points in the file system hierarchy. A direct map is denoted by a mount point of /- in the master map. Entries in a direct map contain an absolute path name as a key (instead of the relative path names used in indirect maps).
Lazy mount and unmount support
Multi-mount map entries describe a hierarchy of mount points under a single key. A good example of this is the -hosts map, commonly used for automounting all exports from a host under /net/host as a multi-mount map entry. When using the -hosts map, an ls of /net/host will mount autofs trigger mounts for each export from host. These will then mount and expire them as they are accessed. This can greatly reduce the number of active mounts needed when accessing a server with a large number of exports.
Enhanced LDAP support
The autofs configuration file (/etc/sysconfig/autofs) provides a mechanism to specify the autofs schema that a site implements, thus precluding the need to determine this via trial and error in the application itself. In addition, authenticated binds to the LDAP server are now supported, using most mechanisms supported by the common LDAP server implementations. A new configuration file has been added for this support: /etc/autofs_ldap_auth.conf. The default configuration file is self-documenting, and uses an XML format.
Proper use of the Name Service Switch (nsswitch) configuration.
The Name Service Switch configuration file exists to provide a means of determining from where specific configuration data comes. The reason for this configuration is to allow administrators the flexibility of using the back-end database of choice, while maintaining a uniform software interface to access the data. While the version 4 automounter is becoming increasingly better at handling the NSS configuration, it is still not complete. Autofs version 5, on the other hand, is a complete implementation.
Refer to man nsswitch.conf for more information on the supported syntax of this file. Not all NSS databases are valid map sources and the parser will reject ones that are invalid. Valid sources are files, yp, nis, nisplus, ldap, and hesiod.
Multiple master map entries per autofs mount point
One thing that is frequently used but not yet mentioned is the handling of multiple master map entries for the direct mount point /-. The map keys for each entry are merged and behave as one map.

Example 9.2. Multiple master map entries per autofs mount point

An example is seen in the connectathon test maps for the direct mounts below:
/- /tmp/auto_dcthon
/- /tmp/auto_test3_direct
/- /tmp/auto_test4_direct