In relation to computers, the term "remote file system" can refer to a physical disk that can be accessed through various protocols on a computer system that is not in the same location as the storage device, or it can refer to the software protocols used to access the files via a network. A remote file system allows one or more users to view, edit or otherwise manipulate data files on a storage device that is not directly connected to the user’s computer. This can be done in large businesses where a central information repository is used, or it can be implemented through dumb terminals or devices that do not have the ability to maintain their own file systems. When used generically, a remote file system describes the physical system where the files are located, which can be a hard drive, an array of drives or even a number of other linked remote file systems. In software terms, a remote file system can refer to a communications protocol, such as the network file system (NFS), which is used to allow secure and error-free access to files across a network.
The goal when using or developing a remote file system ultimately is to allow users to access the remote drive in a transparent way so it is mostly indistinguishable from accessing a local drive. One way this is accomplished is through the use of remote procedure calls (RPC) in which the software contacts the computer hosting the file system and directly requests that the server execute commands to manipulate the files. This allows the server to manage the files with its own software, reducing the need for more elaborate protocols that attempt to emulate the operation of an entire file system through a network.
Accessing a remote file system can be done in a number of ways. Most commonly, a graphical user interface (GUI) similar to the GUI used for local file access is used for remote access. Alternately, some network systems employ a text command line, especially on systems that use command line utilities for modification or sorting of files. In some situations, the file system is not completely open to the user, meaning it is accessed through another piece of software, such as a word processor or integrated development environment (IDE). Whatever method is used, the remote file system often requires a user to log onto the server with a password to ensure that only authorized users are accessing the files, and to allow system administrators to restrict some users' access levels.