Definition

CIFS (Common Internet File System)

Contributor(s): Sonia Lelii, Brien Posey, Peter Capone and Nikolay Kultashev

CIFS (Common Internet File System) is a protocol that gained popularity around the year 2000, as vendors worked to establish an Internet Protocol-based file-sharing protocol.

At its peak, CIFS was supported by operating systems (OSes) such as Windows, Linux and Unix. CIFS used the client-server programming model in which a client program makes a request of a server program -- usually in another computer -- to access a file or pass a message to a program that runs in the server computer. The server takes the requested action and returns a response.

CIFS is now considered obsolete, because most modern data storage systems use the more robust Server Message Block (SMB) 2.0 and 3.0 file-sharing protocols, which were major upgrades to CIFS.

CIFS/SMB and the Network File System (NFS) are the two major protocols used in network-attached storage systems.

CIFS vs. NFS

Developed by Sun Microsystems in the 1980s, NFS is now managed by the Internet Engineering Task Force. NFS was originally used more in Unix and Linux OSes, while CIFS and SMB were used for Windows, but most major NAS vendors now support both protocols.

NFS is a client-server application that permits transparent file sharing between servers, desktops, laptops and other devices. Using NFS, users can store, view and update files remotely as though they were on their own computer. With CIFS/SMB, a client program requests a file from a server program located on another computer, and the server responds. This makes CIFS a chattier protocol than NFS.

CIFS vs. SMB 2.0, 3.0

The SMB applications-layer network protocol has been around since the 1980s. Developed at IBM, SMB allowed computers to read and write files over a local area network. Although CIFS and SMB are often used interchangeably, the CIFS protocol was introduced by Microsoft in early Windows OSes as an updated version of SMB.

CIFS used the internet's TCP/IP protocol and was viewed as a complement to existing internet application protocols, such as the File Transfer Protocol (FTP) and the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP). However, CIFS was considered a chatty protocol that was buggy and had issues with network latency. The protocol was also hard to maintain and not very secure because of the large number of commands and subcommands it processed. It was replaced when Microsoft introduced SMB in Windows 2000, Windows XP, Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2003 R2. Updated versions of the protocol were subsequently used in Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, Windows 7 and Windows Server 2008.

SMB 2.0, introduced in the Windows OS in 2006, provided performance improvements over SMB 1.0 by reducing the number of commands and subcommands from more than 100 to 19. The 2.0 specification packs multiple actions into a single request to reduce the number of round-trip requests made between the client and server.

SMB 3.0 was introduced in Windows 8 and Windows Server 2012, and launched SMB Direct, SMB Multichannel and SMB Transport Failover. It also introduced better security mechanisms, such as end-to-end encryption and the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) algorithm.

SMB 3.1.1, which became available in Windows 10 and Windows Server 2016, supports military-grade AES 128 GCM and AES 128 CCM encryption. It also uses the SHA-512 hash for preauthentication integrity checks.

The Samba project played a major role in making SMB compatible with Unix. Samba is a free software implementation of the CIFS/SMB networking protocols that supports Microsoft Windows Server Domain, Active Directory and Microsoft Windows NT domains. With Samba, Unix-like OSes can interoperate with Windows and provided file and print services to Windows clients.

This was last updated in March 2017

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How can SMB replace CIFS when CIFS was originally an enhanced version of SMB?
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Samba is not SMB. Samba uses the internet protocol CIFS (default port 445).
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