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Struggling to fix several issues since I switched to Lion (see here and there), I came across several ways of connecting network shares to my MBP: NFS, AFP, SMB, CIFS (maybe others).
What are the differences between all these protocols and what is the one giving the more advantages to a MacOS system?

11

Essentially, NFS is the Unix way of doing network shares, AFP is the Apple way, and SMB/CIFS (they're basically the same thing) is the Microsoft way. AFP will generally work best with a MacOS system (except that most third-party implementations are currently struggling to catch up with a change made in Lion where an older and less secure authentication method was dropped) because it's better integrated with OS X authentication and with Time Machine.

4

I tend to see AFP and SMB/CIFS as end user methods, NFS can easily be used on OS X as an autofs system for automatically mounting everything from one or more file server.

Generally AFP and SMB/CIFS you need to use Finder, but NFS you can simply jump to /net and start visiting any host.

AFP is going to support Apple's resource forks and attributes natively, SMB/CIFS will by default dump these attributes into a new folder .DS_Store everywhere.

The document Mac OS X Server File Services Administration has a useful chapter titled "Understanding File Services" which also introduces the differences.

1

I'm writing this comment in 2016, Apple defaults now to SMB, however MacOs performance remains abysmal in SMB. On Gigabit ethernet, it's generally 40% slower (50 to 75 MB/s in SMB vs 80 to 120 MB/s in AFP or NFS). With 10GigEthernet, it's even worse: SMB tops at 250 MB/s, while AFP reaches happily 1 GB/s and maxes out the link.

I'm making comparisons using high-end linux storage servers from various client machines. A comparable Windows or Linux client maxes out 1 GgigE link on SMB (100-120 MB/s), and reaches 800 MB/s or more with 10 GigE. It's really MacOS SMB client implementation that sucks rocks.

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    As of Jan 2017, this issue is a simple google search away. Disabling signing in the smb client restores performance to nearly wire speed. – Matt Simerson Jan 14 '17 at 20:37
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    @MattSimerson please provide a link. I can't find anything relevant, only stuff relating to Windows servers, that I don't use, and don't seem to apply anyway to anything older than Sierra; but SMB client has been abysmal on all OS X/mac OS since at least Leopard. – wazoox Jan 14 '17 at 22:16
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    Links tend to rot quickly: this search should last: mac sierra smb performance. Every search hit has the answer contained within. – Matt Simerson Jan 16 '17 at 4:03
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The link (Mac OS X Server File Services Administration) returns a damaged file when trying to open. Tracked it down to this: http://manuals.info.apple.com/en_US/FileServerAdmin_v10.6.pdf

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