Accessing Linux/UNIX Data From an iPad Air or iPhone using Transmit for iOS

Update:  D’oh!  I forgot what I had done.  Therefore, I have modified the contents of this post to reflect that Transmit for iOS does not support NFS, but rather, SFTP.  I consider this a very useful work-around, however, given that there shouldn’t be very many systems which support NFS but not SFTP (that’s FTP over SSH, not to be confused with FTPS, which is FTP using SSL/TLS).

Good news!

In my quest to unify my home’s file services into a single protocol (NFSv4), I have discovered an absolutely excellent iPad app:  Transmit for iOS from Panic.

The Problem

It was quite challenging to find an iPad app which allowed the use of NFS.  In fact, I had to wade through the myriad Need for Speed apps (NFS) just to get to the tiny amount of apps actually matching my intended search criteria.

I tried GoodPlayer and its relative PowerPlayer despite the warnings in the user comments.  Unfortunately, as the users make clear, these apps are riddled with bugs and barely suffice for simple tasks such as browsing files.  They can handle some media content, but the app descriptions overstate their power with long lists of allegedly-but-not-really-supported file types (I couldn’t get either app to play simple AVI files).  Furthermore, they’re utterly incapable of handling non-media file types.  In addition to that, they don’t allow for any standard file system management actions whatsoever – no deleting, renaming, moving, etc.

I also have no idea why these are two separate apps; they seem to have very similar feature sets with arbitrary distinctions between them.

It’s a shame, because the developers of these apps seem to be interested in making the end-all app for handling media files over network protocols, and that seems to me to be desperately needed (and strangely absent – this shouldn’t be hard), but they have a very long way to go.  Judging from the comments, their support is dismal and unresponsive, so I wouldn’t hold my breath for improvement.

The Work-Around:  Transmit for iOS

Enter Transmit for iOS.  It impressively well integrated with the operating system, taking advantage of iOS 8’s extensibility and becoming an option under the standard “share sheet” common to iOS user interfaces, such as the Camera Roll.  This allows you to use the same interface you’d use to share a picture via text message or email to upload data using any of its supported protocols.

The reason I’ll call this a workaround is that it doesn’t support NFS (blast!) but it does gracefully support other standard protocols handy in UNIX/Linux environments, most importantly: SFTP.  It’s hard to imagine an environment using NFS which fails to accommodate SFTP, so this should be a good solution for anyone facing my predicament (the dearth of NFS-supporting iOS apps, that is).  It supports standard CIFS/SMB as well, of course, and it even supports some off-the-wall stuff like WebDav.

Additionally, you can place files directly on your iPad and take files from your iPad, even from iPad storage locations other apps have a hard time reaching (such as your camera roll) thanks to the developer’s choice to leverage the extensibility built into iOS (the use of the share sheet as referenced above).

Again, because of their investment in the extensibility options built into iOS (so many developers neglect these features in operating systems – it’s nice to see one taking good advantage of them), any application making use of the iCloud document picker gains access to the files you manage through Transmit.  You can download files from your file server, modify them with one of these apps, and put them back, all from your iPad.

The primary purpose in our household is that my wife is now able to easily offload pictures and videos taken from her iPad to our file server, allowing me to yet again centralize backup and storage across my devices and simplify my home IT administration model.  She is additionally capable of browsing the content on our file server and downloading it to the iPad to be attached to emails or whatever.

That’s just good engineering right there.

Even at the steep-for-an-app price of $10, it’s worth it.  It’s a quality app that has given me no trouble and has reliably transferred tens of gigabytes around my home network.  The only complaint in my mind is that the ability to preview files as you browse them over SFTP is very limited; you have to select the file from a file list, and then it will show you a small preview alongside the options to manage the file.  It’d be much nicer if you could browse a list of files with reasonably-sized previews built right into the list so you could tell what you’re selecting before you enter the screen that actually offers the preview.

Given the app developers’ track record and apparent professionalism, I actually have some hope that such a feature could be developed and integrated into a future release.

Prerequisites

As you may notice from the link, you need a device running iOS 8.1 or later, and you need $10, but that’s it!

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One Response to Accessing Linux/UNIX Data From an iPad Air or iPhone using Transmit for iOS

  1. Craig Hubley says:

    So.. does it support NFS yet?

    This issue of NFS support in iOS came up in response to my summary of Apple’s serious problems with LAN support at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/apple-os-x-cant-handle-standard-filesystems-protocols-craig-hubley

    I asked a few folks to bug Transmit for iOS to support NFS. Seems like a lost cause, though, as anyone using iOS is not using NFS, and probably at this late date can’t be convinced to use NFS.

    It’s more those NFS guys that want to keep their jobs, that should be pushing for this support…

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