One of the problems potentially faced by Linux administrators is the ability of Linux servers to share files, printer queues and authentication with Windows boxes. This can be a problem not only in the work environment, but on home networks, as well. The solution to this interoperability dilemma is Samba.

Samba overcomes the interoperability problem in a relatively simple and elegant way. By understanding Microsoft’s networking protocol, Session Message Block (SMB), Linux allows Windows computers to communicate with the server in their native tongue. That eliminates the necessity for a network admin to install NFS (Network File Sharing), LP (local printer support) and Unix-like authentication tools on all the Windows clients on a network. In a very real sense, Samba allows Linux to come to Windows rather than requiring Windows to come to Linux.

Samba uses two tools for configuration, the command line program smbclient and the browser-based configurator SWAT. We’ll talk about the particulars of each over the next few days, but let’s first talk about user authentication and how Linux overcomes the differences in authentication protocols.

The preferred authentication scheme for Samba is the Password Authentication Module (PAM). This flexible tool allows the server to authenticate users against the older Windows Primary Domain Controller (PDC) model. Even though two user lists are required under PAM (one local and one on the PDC), it only requires Windows clients to keep track of only the passwords on the Windows system.

Samba can, in fact, be used as a PDC, keeping all logins and passwords on the Linux side. In this scheme, Windows users simply authenticate via Samba. To the Windows user at the other end of the transaction, this appears identical to logging in to a Windows server.

Samba also bridges the differences in encryption algorithms between Windows and Linux. By configuring Samba to use Windows-style encrypted passwords, a network admin can safely assure the security of the network.

Stay tuned. We’ll talk more tomorrow about Samba, including the features of the default configuration.