Mount an Ext2 or Ext3 partition in Windows

March 24, 2007
There are different ways of sharing files between GNU/Linux and Windows. Mostly we make use of the services of a FAT32 (or FAT16) partition which can be read and written to by both Linux and Windows. The disadvantage of using a FAT partition for sharing files between Windows and GNU/Linux is that you are forced to reserve a part of disk space solely for sharing files. But this is just one of the number of file sharing methods available for people who wish to dual boot between the two OSes.

Another method which comes to my mind is to use the new stable release of ntfs-3g module which allows you to mount an NTFS partition as read-write in GNU/Linux.

But the method which has caught my fancy the most is a project which allows me to mount a ext2/ext3 GNU/Linux partition in Windows and assign it a drive letter similar to C:, D: and so on. The project in question is the Ext2fs installable file system. This project is the brain child of Stephan Schreiber. Once this driver is installed on Windows (98/2000/XP), you can easily mount a Linux partition on your computer into Windows and assign a drive letter to it. Once that is done, the files in the Linux partition can be browsed, read and written to.

EXT2 Installable File SystemFig: Installing the Ext2 IFS driver

EXT2 Installable File SystemFig: Another installation screen shot

The first step is to download the setup program from the ext2fs site and install the ext2 driver for Windows. Once the driver is installed, you will find an icon named "IFS Drives" in the Control Panel in Windows (See figure below). Double clicking on the icon will open a dialog box which will show all the partitions on your machine including the Linux partitions. Using the drop down box on the corresponding partition, you can assign drive letters to them.

Windows XP Control PanelFig: Access the IFS GUI from the control panel in Windows

EXT2 Installable File SystemFig: Assign drive letters to the ext2/ext3 partitions from the Ext2 IFS GUI.

Viola! now you can access the files on the corresponding Linux partition from the Windows file explorer by clicking on the drive letter you assigned to that partition. What is more, if you have a floppy which is formatted using the ext2 file system, then it could also be accessed in Windows without any problem.

Advantages of Ext2 IFS
  • Read and write access to files residing in Linux ext2/3 file system from within Windows.
  • Read and write access to floppies with ext2 file system.
  • Seamless integration and use of ext2/3 file system in Windows to the extent that all applications have access to it.
Disadvantages of Ext2 IFS
  • This program has a drawback in that it mounts only Ext2/Ext3 partitions. So if you have installed Linux on any other file system such as reiserfs, JFS or XFS then you are out of luck.
  • Does not have support for Linux logical volumes. So if you use LVM in Linux, this software will be useless even if the underlying file system is ext2 or ext3.
  • Current version of Ext2 IFS does not maintain access rights. So mounting an ext2 partition in Windows will give full access to the files on it to all the users.
While there are some limitations to this software as noted above, one convenience I see in using this method of sharing files between Windows and Linux is that once you have finished, you can also hide the corresponding Linux partition by re-opening the "IFS Drives" GUI front-end from the control panel and then removing the drive letter you assigned to the partition previously.

If by any chance you do not like any of the methods explained here, you can transfer files between Windows and Linux using a floppy or a USB key too ;-).

29 comments:

  • Varun Chaudhari

    I use Ext2IFS often while working in Windows. But the problem with it is that after writing to a ext2/ext3 system for some uses (even 1 or 2) the Linux filesystem gets corrupted and I need to run fsck utility on rebooting to linux. I guess the software is not in its final state (since its number is 1.10c). But otherwise a very convenient utility.

  • Bob

    I also use Ext2IFS and it works great. I have heard some complain of problems, but I have never had problems.

    Another disadvantage of using FAT is the 4GB file size limit. Not the case with most other file systems.

  • Gary Bonzo

    I use Explore2Fs, for reading ext2/ext3 files from linux partition, this is very good utility, but no support for write operations. It would be great to try ext2IFS for ext3. Thanks for the Information.

  • Nicolas

    I formatted my 350GB USB HD to ext3 but wanted to be able to access it via windows, in case (I never use windows...)

    So I've put a small FAT16 partition at the beginning of the drive, and I've put there Explore2FS and Ext2 IFS. I was a bit disapointed with Ext2 IFS since the drive appeared permanent, meaning that after disconnecting the usb drive, the drive letter in windows was still present.

    Just for reading Explore2FS is ok.

  • Satish Madanwad

    I also used to use Explore2Fs, for reading files on linux partitions. Last I know, it provided experimental support for write operations.

  • I always prefer to read windows from linux and not vice versa for my paranoid opinion that the less windows knows about linux, the fewer chances that a windows virus might touch my Linux distro :)

  • It's a little unfair to say that a disadvantage of this software is that it cannot mount other filesystems like JFS and reiserfs. It wasn't meant to, its an ext2,3 driver, not a generic Linux filesystem driver.

  • Joe

    One thing i have noticed with ext2 ifs, is that if the disk has not been unmounted cleanly, ifs will not mount the disk.

    You need to mount it and run e2fsck (should happen automatically) on linux before you can mount it on windows.

    This is worth keeping in mind if you have backup disks in ext2/3 format and plan on mounting them under windows in the event of a hardware failure.

  • newnix world

    I've used ext2fsd, http://ext2fsd.sourceforge.net/,
    for a long time and it has been working quite well. Matt, the main developer, is very friendly and responsive to user questions.

    Ext2FSD supports reading of ext2/3 and writing to ext2 file system.

  • Evan

    One other minor nit is that the driver is read/write only, no support for mounting read-only. This is mostly a linuxism, windows typically reserves read-only mounts for r-o media, however, it stops me from using it extensively.

    What I would like is to be able to suspend-to-disk my laptop in either windows or linux and have each access the others drives. This only works if each OS unmounts the foriegn drive before suspending AND access the foriegn drive read-only. Linux can do this fine, but I can't make windows do it.

  • eris23

    There's also Ext2fsd at http://ext2fsd.sourceforge.net/ with a project page at http://sourceforge.net/projects/ext2fsd/. It seems to have more active development that ext2fs.

  • there is also Virtual Volumes (http://www.chrysocome.net/virtualvolumes)

    it seems to be the future of explore2fe

    it suppose to open lvm and others.

    I've not used it extensively, the gui version sometimes freeze on start, but if it start or using the cmd version seems to work well.

  • Since there are at least three free and one commercial ext2 drivers for Windows, a comparison of them would make for an interesting article.

    Things like access rights handling, large file support, symlink support, character set mapping and performance would be nice to know.

  • Virtual Volumes seems very promising. I think, I'll wait for a while, for a stable version, since it offers a lot of FS support.

    From Madagascar !

  • John

    Installed Ext2IFS_1_10c.exe under Win2K and it works perfectly. Tried to insatll it under Vista, and it refuses to install (wants Win2K, XP, etc but not Vista).

    When will a Vista version be available? Or, is there a way to "trick" it to install on Vista, and if so, will it cause any problems?
    -John-

  • Use the compability mode if Win Vista and set Win XP or 2k as your sys. It works on my PC and causes no problems.

  • I'm testing storage systems for digital cinema and one contender is based on WUDSS (64bit). I am looking for a program which will allow me to mount usb hard drives formatted with ext2 or ext3 file systems and copy the data to the server's local array.
    I've tried all of these:

    explore2fs-1.08beta9.exe
    Ext2Fsd-0.31a.exe
    Ext2IFS_1_10c.exe
    ext2read-9x.zip
    Linux_Reader.exe

    and the only one that works is explore2fs. The others either will not install, say the drive is raw or don't recognize the file system.

    I'd like to know the name of the commercial product, so I can try that too.

    Thanks.

  • Another option is to use a VM (paraller, vmware player - check out Nuke) and mount the drive on the VM, and copy the file to the host drive or make it shareable from the VM. -- Logue

  • Chris

    Just loaded Ext2FS onto Vista and it works fine, as it did under win2K. I too have noticed more fsck action on Linux booting than in the past. It is probably this driver but also I notice no corruption so I'm not worried.

  • i just downloaded the driver, and you listsed windows98 which is what i'm on and it won't install, on windows98, so you should change that. ;p

  • As far as I am aware, the difference between ext2 and ext3 is that on ext3 filesystems there are some special files (journals) that speed up access to files. According to newnix (see above) Ext2FSD can write only to ext2. My guess is that if you write on ext3, the files are written correctly, but the journal is not updated, hence fsck and corrupted filesystems.

  • Giacomo

    Actually, journals offer some sort of protection from power loss. Basically, when a write operation occurs, it gets written temporarily to the journal, which later gets flushed to the proper place on disk on commit. If you lose power, the FS can "replay" transactions on the journal, giving a degree of insurance against corruption. If an EXT3 journal is empty (AKA unmounted properly from Linux), it's pretty much functionally the same as ext2 (ext3 is nothing but ext2 plus a journal, 100% backward compatible). The only corruption that may happen if there are unflushed transactions in the journal when the FS is mounted as an EXT2 volume, which the ext2 ifs refuses to do anyway.

    cheers.

  • saroj pandey

    Saroj Pandey
    I m using this software ,this very good software and it is to mouch relaible ,and it"s configurations is very Simple ,that i will be sagested the all linux that used it

  • Michael

    Thanks for your nice post! Keep it up

  • To recap:
    ex2fsd, GPL, two ways to install on vista (see), started 2002, beta,
    Ext2IFS, freeware, started in 2002,
    Explore2fs, GPL, not a driver: an app,
    Virtual Volumes, GPL, not a driver, evolution of the previous one, beta,
    Ext2FS Anywhere, commercial, old.

  • Jihad

    "Linux filesystem gets corrupted and I need to run fsck utility on rebooting to linux."

    That's because you weren't paying attentino when downloading it! What you experience ONLY happens when hibernating in Windows, and subsequently booting Linux. Then the open file handles etc, and the fact that the file system wasn't cleanly unmounted, will make linux run a file system check.

  • I also get ext3 corruptions detected after hitting the peridiodic fsck after every 35 mounts. I have a dual-boot machine using the Ext2IFS 1.10c driver from Win XP SP2. The linux kernels I have used recently were between 2.6.21.xx to 2.6.24.4.

    Mostly, an empty directory was left in the filesystem, but recently it also happened to me that two files shared the data blocks on the disk.
    One file was a linux kernel souce file and the other was a png image. fsck on linux corrected that by copying the data block under both files. Eventually I figured out the older file was correct and the newer should have never used that data block (and as such was a broken .png file). But, both files were created directly under linux os and therefore I slightly suspect broken ext3 implementation in recent linux kernels. :((

    I do not use hibernation or suspend to disk (neither under linux nor windows), so that cannot be the cause of ext2 corruption in my case. As I said, I am slightly more inclined to believe recent linux kernels have a problem.

  • Does this tool works in Vista? Thanks.

  • I installed Ext2ifs in windows 7 and I mounted a linux volume in windows 7. but I still can't access it because when I double click the newly created drive, it says that the "volume is not formatted, format it now?". If I format the the drive, I will surely loose linux.