A few days ago Volker Krause posted this blog about the Nextcloud conference - a very interesting read.

One of the topics is the VFS (Virtual Filesystem-) API for the Linux desktop. Indeed that is a topic for us at ownCloud as well, and I like to share our perspective on it, discussing it in the scope of the free desktop.

The topic is very important, as “syncing” of data from and to cloud storages has changed over time. From having all files mirrored from client to server and vice versa, it has now shifted to keep all files in the cloud, and have them as so called placeholders on the desktop. That means that most files on the client appear with size zero to save space, but the complete filesystem structure is available.

If a user starts to interact with such a dehydrated file, the content is of the file is downloaded transparently utilizing the cloud system client, for example ownClouds desktop client. The same happens when an application accesses such a file. As a result, the placeholders look and behave like the normal filesystem we are used to.

On Windows and on MacOSX, the problem is kind of solved. Both have added APIs to their OS that can be used to implement the access of data on the cloud.

On Linux, we do not have this kind of API yet. That means that it is close to impossible to implement this user experience. Volker already said that desktop environment specific solutions probably do not scale, which I agree with.

At ownCloud we have looked into the implementation of a specific FUSE file system. That should certainly be possible, and is probably a part of the solution, but is considerable effort because of the asynchronous nature of the topic. Given that the market share of Linux desktop systems is pretty small it is not attractive for companies to invest a lot into a Linux only system. Here the power of community could make a difference again.

It would be best if we as open source community would come up with a shared solution as a free desktop standard, that might be oriented on one of the existing APIs, maybe the MacOSX File Provider API: A library and little framework that the linux desktop environments can work with abstracting the VFS.

While collaborating on that, all data clouds could implement the bindings to their storage. With that, the extra implementation efforts for the Linux solution hopefully wouldnt be dramatic any more.

Let’s call this system openVFS as a work title. How can we evolve it? I’d like to invite all interested parties to discuss in this temporary Github repo to collect ideas and opinions. There is also a little experimental code.