CIFS vs. NFS: What’s the Difference?

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CIFS vs. NFS: What’s the Difference?

CIFS and NFS are two widely used network file-sharing protocols that enable users to share files between network devices. Despite the fact that both protocols serve the same purpose, they differ in several ways, including in their technology and history.

The file-sharing protocols Common Internet File System (CIFS) and Network File System (NFS) allow users to access and share files over a network. Microsoft created CIFS as the successor to the Server Message Block (SMB) protocol. NFS, on the other hand, was created in the 1980s by Sun Microsystems and is an open standard protocol.

Let’s compare CIFS and NFS and take a close look at their uses, technology, benefits, and history to give you the full picture.

CIFS vs. NFS: Side-by-Side Comparison

TechnologyClient-Server Model using SMB protocolStateless Model using UDP/TCP
PortPort 445Port 2049
SecuritySupports encryption and signingSupports encryption and signing
AuthenticationCan use Kerberos or NTLMCan use Kerberos or NFSv4 ACLs
PerformanceTypically slower than NFSTypically faster than CIFS
Operating SystemPrimarily used on Windows OSPrimarily used on Unix/Linux OS
File LockingSupports only opportunistic lockingSupports both advisory and mandatory locking
Platform SupportLimited support for non-Windows platformsWide support for different platforms
ScalabilityLimited scalability for large file systemsHighly scalable for large file systems
Access PermissionsSupports file-level and folder-level ACLsSupports file-level and directory-level ACLs

CIFS vs. NFS: Key Differences

CIFS is primarily used on Windows operating systems to share files and it employs a client-server model. It supports encryption and signing for secure file sharing and it can authenticate using Kerberos or NTLM. For very detailed control over file access permissions, CIFS supports file-level and folder-level access control lists (ACLs). However, it only supports opportunistic locking, which may cause performance problems in high-concurrency environments. For larger file systems, CIFS also has limited scalability.

NFS, on the other hand, is primarily used on Unix and Linux operating systems to share files and utilizes a stateless model. It accepts UDP and TCP connections and can use Kerberos or NFSv4 ACLs for authentication. NFS supports access control at the file and directory levels, allowing for greater control over shared resources. In high-concurrency environments, NFS supports both advisory and mandatory file locking, ensuring data consistency and reliability. NFS is also highly scalable for large file systems, making it a good choice for high-performance computing environments.


To accomplish their tasks, CIFS and NFS employ different technologies. CIFS utilizes a client-server model. The client requests files from the server, and the server responds by providing the requested files. It employs the SMB protocol and communicates via TCP/IP.

NFS, on the other hand, employs a stateless model in which the client sends requests to the server, which responds by delivering the requested files. It communicates using the User Datagram Protocol (UDP) or the Transmission Control Protocol (TCP).


Microsoft first introduced CIFS in 1996 as an enhancement to the SMB protocol. It was created to improve remote file access and printer-sharing support. Sun Microsystems, on the other hand, created NFS in the 1980s as a way to share files between Unix-based systems. It was originally intended to be used over UDP, but it was later modified to work over TCP as well.

Use Case Differences

In Windows environments, CIFS is suitable for file sharing. It supports encryption and signing and uses the SMB protocol for secure file sharing. CIFS supports ACLs at the file and folder levels, allowing for very detailed control over file access permissions. However, CIFS’s scalability for large file systems is limited, which can cause performance issues in high-concurrency environments.

In contrast, NFS is appropriate for file sharing in Unix and Linux environments. It employs a stateless model and communicates via UDP and TCP. In high-concurrency environments, NFS supports both advisory and mandatory file locking, ensuring data consistency and reliability. NFS also supports file- and directory-level ACLs, giving you more control over shared resources. Furthermore, for large file systems, NFS is highly scalable, making it suitable for high-performance computing environments.

NFS is typically faster than CIFS in terms of performance, especially in high-concurrency environments. In Windows environments, CIFS offers superior support and allows for file and folder-level ACLs in specific situations.

file sharing documents data
CIFS is best for Windows while NFS is used mostly in Unix and Linux environments.

CIFS vs. NFS: 8 Must-Know Facts

  • CIFS (Common Internet File System) and NFS (Network File System) are both network file sharing protocols used for sharing files between computers.
  • CIFS is made by Microsoft, while NFS is made by Sun Microsystems.
  • In Windows environments, CIFS is more commonly used, whereas NFS is more common in Unix/Linux environments.
  • CIFS is a more complex protocol that includes features like file locking and access control, whereas NFS is a simpler protocol with less overhead.
  • CIFS operates across multiple operating systems, while NFS is best for a single operating system environment.
  • CIFS requires more configuration and setup, whereas NFS is simpler to install and use.
  • CIFS supports more advanced file operations such as compression and encryption, whereas NFS does not naturally support these features.
  • Both protocols have advantages and disadvantages, and the choice between them is dependent on the user’s specific needs and environment.

CIFS vs. NFS: Which One Should You Use?

While both CIFS and NFS have advantages and disadvantages, CIFS has some advantages over NFS that make it the better choice in most situations.

CIFS supports Windows environments better than NFS. It integrates seamlessly with Active Directory, simplifying user authentication and management in a Windows environment. In a Windows environment, CIFS supports file-level and folder-level ACLs, which provide very detailed control over file access permissions.

CIFS is also easier to set up and configure than NFS. While NFS necessitates more manual configuration and can be difficult to set up in some environments, CIFS is simpler to set up and can be done quickly.

Plus, CIFS has better performance than NFS in certain scenarios. While NFS is generally faster than CIFS, CIFS can be faster in environments where the file size is small, and the number of files being accessed is large.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is CIFS and how does it work?

CIFS, or Common Internet File System, is a network protocol for accessing shared folders and files. It supports permissions and authentication, as well as remote access to network files and printers. CIFS works by establishing a connection between a client and a server, allowing the client to request files and the server to provide them over a network using TCP/IP.

What is CIFS used for?

CIFS is used for sharing files and folders between computers on a network, especially on Windows-based systems.

What ports do NFS and CIFS use?

NFS uses port 2049 and CIFS uses port 445. These ports allow communication between the client and server for file-sharing.

What is the difference between CIFS, SMB, and NFS?

On Windows, CIFS (Common Internet File System) and SMB (Server Message Block) are file-sharing protocols, whereas NFS (Network File System) is a Unix/Linux file-sharing protocol. CIFS and SMB are both file systems, with SMB being the more recent version. NFS is more efficient for file-sharing between Unix/Linux systems, whereas CIFS/SMB is more efficient for file-sharing between Windows systems.

Which is better, CIFS or NFS?

The answer to this question is dependent on the specific use case and user needs. In general, NFS performs better for large files, while CIFS is more compatible with Windows systems.

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