Accessing Linux (Ext2/3) Disks from Windows with EXT2IFS

Posted on Tuesday 31 March 2009

One bright star in my recent Linux system corruption, was that my computer was dual-booting (could boot into Windows or Ubuntu), so that even thought my Linux partition was corrupted, I could still go back to Windows to do my research on what to do next.

One of my big concerns was, what all was impacted during the overwrite of Debian on top of Ubuntu. And especially were all my documents and files still okay and if so, could I rescue them if I had to overwrite my corrupted system with a new installation.

The big problem was that Windows could not read the advanced file system structures on my Ubuntu drives (in my case EXT3 ) and partitions. So the first thing I needed to find was a tool that allowed me to do that, and was free… So off to Google I went.

I found a real Gem of a program called EXT2IFS (Ext2 Installable File Systems) which allowed Windows to not only see files on my original Ubuntu partition, but also edit them as well (which actually came in handy during my restoring efforts!) Here is their explanation…

It installs a pure kernel mode file system driver Ext2fs.sys, which actually extends the Windows operating system to include the Ext2 file system. Since it is executed on the same software layer at the Windows NT operating system core like all of the native file system drivers of Windows (for instance NTFS, FASTFAT, or CDFS for Joliet/ISO CD-ROMs), all applications can access directly to Ext2 volumes. Ext2 volumes get drive letters (for instance O:). Files, and directories of an Ext2 volume appear in file dialogs of all applications. There is no need to copy files from or to Ext2 volumes in order to work with them.

The real joy of this small piece of software is that it helps make all of your drives, and hence your computer fully available in both Windows and Ubuntu! Linux has all sorts of wonderful utilities already built into it to allow one to access Windows drives, but by using EXT2IFS it opens the channel in both direction and gives one HUGE flexibility and compatibility within ones own computer system and really frees up disk space requiring one to have only one data depository that can be used by either system (so no longer needing to keep two copies of everything if you are in the habit of bouncing back and forth between these two operating systems.) This is extremely liberating, trust me!

For the “Techies” out there, here are some of the features, again from their website:

  • Supports Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows 2003, Windows Vista and Windows 2008.
  • Supports both the 32 bit x86 and the 64 bit x64 platform.
  • Includes drivers with a digital signature for Windows Vista x64.
  • All operations you would expect: Reading and writing files, listing directories, creating, renaming, moving and deleting files or directories, querying and modifying the volume’s label.
  • UTF-8 encoding.
  • Files larger than 2 GBytes. (Please read the FAQ section, too.)
  • Supports hash indexed (htree) directories (utilizes the so-called dir_index feature of Ext3).
  • Full plug-n-play functionality. When a drive is removed, the corresponding drive letter is deleted.
  • Supports use of the Windows mountvol utility to create or delete drive letters for Ext2 volumes (except on Windows NT 4.0). This is useful for scripts. (Please read the FAQ section, too.)
  • A global read-only option is provided.
  • File names that start with a dot “.” character are treated as hidden.
  • Supports GPT disks if the Windows version used also does.
  • Paging files are supported. (A paging file is a file “pagefile.sys”, which Windows swaps virtual memory to.) Users may create paging files at NT’s control panel at Ext2 volumes.
  • Specific functions of the I/O subsystem of NT: Byte range locks, notification of changes of directories, oplocks (which are required by the NT LAN manager for sharing files via SMB).

For anyone running a dual-boot system using EXT2/3 file systems and Windows this is a must have tool. Once installed Windows will treat all the available/connected Linux drives as just another disk drive, which for some of us avoids the necessity of rebooting and copying from to disk or memory stick then rebooting back again to either ensure compatibility of data, or just to allow you to use tools not available on the other system.

Bottom Line: If you are dual booting with Windows and any EXT2 format disk system, get and install this small utility and the benefits will amaze you – it’s a 5 Star product with amazing benefits – so go get it!

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