In many cases, the differences between file-sharing protocols are nearly irrelevant as far as the end user is concerned. That is, using any of the available protocols, a user can browse files on a server somewhere, upload and download files, or even open them directly from a mounted network volume. Not only that, but nearly all recent versions of Mac OS X, Windows, and Unix-like operating systems (including Linux) let you connect to servers using SMB, FTP, or NFS, and all Macs can connect via AFP. Because all the protocols let you achieve the same end result — moving files from one computer to another — the differences may seem subtle and unimportant at first glance.
Technically, Mac OS X Server does offer another method of sharing files: WebDAV. Because that mechanism is handled separately from other file sharing — as part of the web server — I cover it in Chapter 30.
And yet, each protocol has certain pros and cons compared to the others. As an administrator, your goal should be to choose the most flexible and secure file-sharing methods that meet your users' needs while not running any service that isn't necessary. So, even if you could guarantee ultimate flexibility by running all four protocols, you also increase your security risks (to say nothing of your own administrative hassles). Thus, your first step is to choose the one or more file-sharing protocols that make the most sense for your network.
What follows is a brief overview ...