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You’re running Linux and Windows on the same computer, dual booting between the two operating systems depending upon your requirement. Perhaps you’re planning to eventually move to Linux as your main operating system; perhaps Windows is already your secondary OS; you might even have plans to remove Microsoft’s OS from your computer at some point soon.

One of the things holding you back is the ability to access data between operating systems. Let’s see how we can work around this problem, and get your data where you want it.

Connect USB Storage or SD Card

Probably the most obvious solution – and the least efficient – is to copy the data to a removable storage, such as USB flash or an SD card (after all, SD cards have many uses 7 Awesome Uses for an Old SD Card 7 Awesome Uses for an Old SD Card Whether your old SD card is a meager 64 MB or a massive 64 GB, various projects exist for you to make use of these storage cards. Read More ). This way, the data you copy from one OS to the other is copied to the removable storage, the PC rebooted, the OS swapped, and the data is then copied back to the HDD.

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While obvious, this is an inelegant solution, which is both time consuming and prone to errors. Large files will take a long time to transfer over a USB 2.0 connection, so unless you have a computer with USB 3.0 Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 Why You Should Upgrade To USB 3.0 It’s been quite a while since USB 3.0 has been included in motherboards, but now we've come to the point where most devices and computers come with the new and improved ports. We all know... Read More and a compatible USB flash stick, it could turn out to be a very slow experience.

Use an External Hard Disk Drive

A more flexible and quicker solution is to employ an external HDD and connect this to your computer’s USB. Again, if USB 3.0 is available on the computer and the HDD, then use this.

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The drive will need to have been formatted as FAT32 From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified [MakeUseOf Explains] From FAT To NTFS To ZFS: File Systems Demystified [MakeUseOf Explains] Do you really know what your hard drive does whenever you read a file from it or write one to it? Our hard drives can now store massive amounts of data, and that massive space... Read More  for this to work, however, as Linux generally isn’t keen on NTFS and Windows cannot read Ext2/3/4 disk journaling without a third party tool. So FAT32 is king here.

You can also use an internal partition to swap data via, again using FAT32.

As an aside, in this age of high speed removable disk drives and easily created partitions, there is really no reason to store your personal data within the system drive, whatever operating system you’re using. As a disaster management precaution, storing your data on a non-system partition or external device makes far more sense than leaving it in the default location.

Browse Windows HDD in Linux

If you’re using Linux more than Windows, and have both operating systems installed on the same HDD, you can browse the drive and look for the files you need, copying them into the Linux partition if necessary.

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Begin by ensuring you have enhanced permissions (for instance if you unwisely use a login with administrator privileges) the Windows partition is mounted in Nautilus (the default file manager in Ubuntu and other distros, but whichever file manager you’re using Which Linux File Browser Is More Productive: Nautilus or Dolphin? Which Linux File Browser Is More Productive: Nautilus or Dolphin? Wsers of competing desktop environments will notice that they're using different file managers -- an important part of desktop productivity. Surprisingly, there are a lot of things that can go right or wrong with a... Read More should be fine), and click the drive to display its contents in the right-hand pane.

To find your documents, expand the C:\ drive, and drill down to \Documents and Settings\[YOURUSERNAME]\Documents, or \Music, or \Pictures, etc. You’ll be able to open compatible documents (images, audio and video files, most modern Microsoft Office documents) and use them in your preferred suitable Linux apps.

Use a Network Share or NAS

For more flexibility (although largely useless if you use a dual booting laptop and you’ve headed out of range) a good option is a network share with a second device. This might be a Windows PC, a Windows server or even a NAS device.

Again, the HDD on the server or NAS will need to be formatted as NTFS, but this solution means you can move around, and not have to remember to connect and disconnect external hard disk drives.

NAS devices can be purchased relatively cheaply these days, but if the choice of NAS hardware on Amazon doesn’t grab you, it’s relatively easy to build a NAS box using a Raspberry Pi Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into An NAS Box Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into An NAS Box Do you have a couple of external hard drives lying around and a Raspberry Pi? Make a cheap, low powered networked attached storage device out of them. While the end result certainly won't be as... Read More .

Exchange Data via Dropbox or Other Cloud Service

The final option is possibly something you’re already using. And no, I’m not suggesting you email data to yourself; that would be ridiculous (although the contents of your web-based inbox can be accessed from within Linux just as easily as it can from Windows).

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Instead, utilize a cloud storage service. If you’re not already syncing your all-important data to the cloud, then you’ve been misinformed as to just how vital this is as a fall-back option for backing up data. You should opt for a well-known, reliable service, although keep in mind that it will need to be one that is compatible with Windows and Linux. In my opinion, Dropbox is the best option, here, although Drive is a good Google Drive client.

Is exchanging data between dual booting operating systems a problem for you? How do you overcome it? Share your ideas in the comments.

Image Credit: External Hard Drive Via Shutterstock

  1. Alexander Grebenkov
    August 8, 2015 at 2:36 am

    "Linux generally isn’t keen on NTFS" — wait, what? ntfs3g is stable and mature, and it is bundled with almost any decent Linux distribution. I have full read and write access to all my NTFS partitions (several terabytes of data) and never had any problem for years. So it is dead simple: just use NTFS for everything except Linux system partition, and you'll be fine.

  2. m-p {3}
    August 7, 2015 at 5:40 pm

    FAT32 is a really old filesystem, and has limitations that might cause problems with modern usage.

    If I recall correctly, Ubuntu (in its current version) has the ability to write on ExFAT-formatted storage, and Windows shouldn't have a problem with it either. Even OSX can write to ExFAT.

    It's not an open-source filesystem, but if that doesn't bother you it might be a better alternative than FAT32.

    • Christian Cawley
      August 7, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      Good suggestion, Mathew. We sweated over the filesystem stuff, to be honest, with myself and the editor of this article, Justin Pot, having had quite different experiences in this area.

      • m-p {3}
        August 7, 2015 at 5:47 pm

        Choosing a filesystem for a mobile storage is always a problematic choice, as it depends on which operating system you might have to work with.

        Too bad we don't have a universal filesystem that is natively supported by all all major operating system that is open-source/royalty-free.

  3. AwesomeGhost -
    August 7, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Why copying to an external drive / using the cloud ? It's useless and time-consuming, especially if it's a dual-boot.

    You could use "Ext2fsd", "Paragon extfs" or "Diskinternals reader" ( read-only ) softwares to access Linux EXT partition on Windows ;)

    • Grubshka
      June 21, 2016 at 7:15 am

      I had some data corruption problems using Ext2fsd last year, so I ended up using NTFS, but it seems to have evolved since my tests, so I'll give it a try again. I didn't try Paragon extfs yet.
      Anyway, if you mount windows partitions on linux or linux on windows, be sure to disable the "Fast boot" feature in windows, or you won't be able to mount your partitions.

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