Creating a shared data partition between OS X and Ubuntu with ZFS

A common problem with dual-booting is sharing data between different operating systems as the filesystems supported on one system are often not (fully) supported on another.

An example of this is HFS+, which on OS X is fully supported due to it being a propriety, Apple format.

On Linux, HFS+ read/write is supported once you install hfsprogs, but only if you turn off journaling for the disk/partition that you want to write to.

Enter ZFS, provided by OpenZFS on OS X and ZFS for Linux.

Since both the OS X (10.11.x) and Linux (Kernel 4.4.0+) implementations of ZFS appear to have feature parity, ZFS seemed well-suited to replacing my old HFS+ shared partition.

Thanks to this post by Norman Hooper, I've been able to get ZFS working on both OS X 10.11 and Ubuntu 16.04.

Disclaimer I'm pretty new to ZFS myself, so take these steps with a grain of salt. If you have any suggestions for changes or alternatives, please comment below.



Say you have an existing HFS+ data partition that sits between your apple-scented OS X partition (HFS+), and your humanist partition (ext4). You're not sure you like the fact that you have to disable journaling on this data partition, so you look into this ZFS thing.

What you might end up doing could look something like what I've done below.

Basically, my OS X system partition exists at /dev/sda2 / /dev/disk0s2 and my data partition calls /dev/sda4 / /dev/disk0s4 its humble abode. I wanted to make the latter my pool's base.


I was a little confused with the terminology, so here's an attempt at explaining it to others.

When you manage a ZFS storage devices, you deal with something called a zpool and a vdev.

A zpool is a group of vdev, ie. virtual devices like your /dev/sda4.


You'll need to have ZFS utilities installed for your Operating System.

On Ubuntu 16.04, these are now included in Ubuntu's repos:

sudo apt install zfsutils-linux 

OpenZFS on OS X.

Before you begin

First, backup all the files that live on that data partition that you deem crucial to a sufficiently large external drive.

This is important as ZFS utils will overwrite existing data on setup of pools and all that jazz.

Setup ZFS

Create a new zpool:

sudo zpool create -o ashift=12 <pool-name> <device>

where <pool-name> could be something like data and <device> could be something like /dev/sda4 (which is a 120GB partition I allocated for shared data between OS X and Linux).

In Linux, this will create a mountpoint at /<pool-name> and be mounted automatically. ex. /data.

In OS X, the mountpoint will be at /Volumes/<pool-name>.

You may want to turn off deduplication if you don't have at least 8GB of RAM.

sudo zfs set atime=off data
sudo zfs set dedup=off data

Create a new vdev:

Now, you can create a vdev that will be mounted under the <pool-name>:

For example:

sudo zfs create data/mysharedcrap

If you navigate to /data, you'll now see mysharedcrap.

Set up correct permissions

Then, ZFS write/read permissions need to be changed to enable write access for your user:

sudo zfs allow aj create,destroy,mount data

Like with HFS, NFS partitions shared between Linux and OS X, the UIDs and GIDs on both systems must match with each other in order for read/write permissions to be granted between the systems. Otherwise, you'll need to chown -R $USER every time you boot into the other operating system.

For this, you'll have to match the UID and GID of the user on Linux you primarily access the ZFS file systems.

On OS X, get the uid and gid of your user with id $USER. The output will look something like this:

uid=501(aj) gid=20(aj) groups=20(aj),4(adm),24(cdrom),27(sudo),30(dip),46(plugdev),106(input),113(lpadmin),128(sambashare),130(libvirtd),999(docker)

Then in Linux, temporarily enable the root account if it is disabled by setting a password:

sudo passwd root

While in Linux, change your UIDs and GIDs with the following incantations, replace 501 with whatever your uid is, and YOURUSER with your username:

usermod -u 501 YOURUSER 
vigr # change existing group with id 20 to something else
find / -user 1000 -exec chown -h 501 {} \;
groupmod -g 20 YOURUSER 
find / -group 1000 -exec chgrp -h 20 {} \;
usermod -g 20 YOURUSER 

If you use a display manager, also change the UID_MIN in /etc/login.defs to 500.

Once that's done, the root account can be locke again.

passwd -l root

Frustratingly manual part: import/export

Supposedly, if you add these lines to /etc/default/zfs, you will not need to do the subsequent steps:


However, this did not seem to work?

When you want to boot into your other OS, you'll need to unmount the ZFS devices and export them or you will not be able to write to the vdev. This is apparently a security measure to prevent race conditions in data transmission. Sort of like mutex locks.

sudo zfs umount -a
sudo zfs export data

Then, on the OS you want to switch to:

sudo zfs import data

Note that for me, import didn't seem necessary.


Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions, corrections, suggestions, etc.