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I have relied upon Apples wireless routers since the very first Airport Base Station was released twenty years ago. I still feel that they can continue to play a decent part in my home/office network. The Airport Time Capsule ought to be ideal for cross platform file sharing between Ubuntu Linux 21.04 and macOS Big Sur on an Intel Mac Pro and an Apple Mac Mini (M1, 202 with Apple silicon. Lets find out if it can be made to work instead of buying a new expensive network connected drive. I ought to be able to do it, after all, I've been working on cross platform network products since the first one, 'TOPS for Mac' which connected Macs to each other and to DOS based PC's and Unix based Sun workstations in the 80's

Apple AirPort Time Capsule surprise 2019 firmware update

Apple's Airport Time Capsule with 802.11ac was discontinued in 2018 but unusually a Firmware Update was released for it at the end of May 2019, keeping it pretty well up to date. Firmware update 7.9.1 was a security update addressing some obscure but nevertheless important issues. You can read the details over at About the security content of AirPort Base Station Firmware Update 7.9.1. Now, a firmware update for an obscure Apple product with a security issue is hardly big news, but to me it was a very welcome update as it meant that someone at Apple thought it was important enough to do and that it was still a supported device.

AirPort Time Capsule's cost £60 (2TB) or £80 (3TB) second hand from CeX (December 2023)

Apple's Airport Time Capsule with 802.11ac was expensive to buy new, at £249 (2TB) or £349 (3TB) (because it was decently specified with either a 2TB or 3TB hard drive installed. This was useful originally for over the network Time Machine backups. Nowadays all my Macs have an external Time Machine drive so this is effectively surplus. New in box Airport Time Capsules are around but expensive. You can find second hand Apple AirPort Time Capsule's at Computer Exchange (highly recommended, avoids ebay nonsense) for around £60 (2TB) and £80 (3TB) in December 2023

TL:DR Apple's A1470 Airport Time Capsule with 802.11ac was great when it was launched and is still great now, provided you have a Mac or an iOS device with Airport Utility which is required to configure and manage it. Shared Hard Drive access over the network is fast and convenient for home/office networking use for macOS based computers which use AFP sharing protocols. Some limitations in security mean that although it is usable with Linux, SMB 1.0/CIFS should not be enabled on Windows based computers.

A1470, AirPort Time Capsule 802.11ac — 5th generation (mid 2013)

The June 2013 release of the 5th generation models featured a name change to Airport Time Capsule, and a redesign with measurements 3.85 inches (9.8 cm) square, and 6.6 inches (17 cm) high. The square dimensions echo the size of both the latest AirPort Express and Apple TVs (2nd generation onwards), just with the height being significantly higher. The 2013 models feature the same I/O ports on the back as previous generations, and come in the same capacities as the 4th generation of 2 TB and 3 TB, but have introduced the newest Wi-Fi standard 802.11ac. The new AirPort Extreme released at the same time is exactly the same in dimensions and I/O ports, just without the internal hard drive of the AirPort Time Capsule. This paragraph is from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License!

Disk sharing

Share a USB hard disk on your network via AirPort Utility

Airport Utility has always supported sharing a USB hard disk on your network. Apple's AirPort Time Capsule contains an internal disk already which makes it heavier but more convenient. You can connect additional USB disks to the USB port on your AirPort Time Capsule too. You can connect an additional USB hard disk to the USB port on the Airport Extreme base station the procedure is the same as for the Airport Time Capsule. I'd never really bothered exploring this part of the Airport Utility, but now I am working on a project using Ubuntu Linux as well as on two Macs running macOS (one Intel based and one with Apple silicon), I would like to be able to easily share project files and keep one master folder for all the computers to use.

Share a hard disk on your network via AirPort Utility — Step by Step instructions

  1. Open the AirPort Utility app on your Mac or iOS device
  2. Select your Airport Time Capsule or Airport Extreme with a USB drive attached.
  3. Click or tap 'Edit', and enter the Base Station Password if necessary.
  4. On a Mac click 'Disks'. On an iOS device tap 'Advanced' then 'File Sharing and Disks'
  5. Choose 'Secure the disk with a disk password'
  6. Make sure 'File Sharing' is on
  7. Optionally, erase the disk if youd used it before for backups you no longer need
  8. Click 'Update' on macOS or tap 'Done' on iOS.
  9. Now you should be able to use finder on macOS and see the Airport Time Capsule as a Location and use it as a drive.
  10. Once you have this working you can turn to the Ubuntu Linux steps to set it up

Mount an Airport Time Capsule hard drive on Ubuntu Linux 21.04 — Step by Step instructions

  1. Install 'cifs-utils'. CIFS is an implementation of the SMB networking protocols and their variants which originated in Microsoft Lan Manager and is still widely supported on macOS and Linux. Airport Time Capsule supports SMB 1.0/CIFS File Sharing and nothing newer.
    $ sudo apt-get install cifs-utils
    
  2. Create a mount point.
    $ sudo mkdir /media/timecapsule
    
  3. Mount the drive location, replacing the universal naming convention (UNC) path with the correct IP address, and the password with the password you used in Airport Utility. The most critical parts to this command are the UNC name, the ntlm security and version 1.0 settings. This is arcane stuff dating back to the SMB 1.0/CIFS networking from Microsoft's Lan Manager and Windows NT in the 80's and 90's so quite why we still have to deal with it in 2021 is beyond me, but here we are. I could not make my Apple Airport Time Capsule disk available to Ubuntu Linux 21.04 with any other settings.
    $ sudo mount.cifs //192.168.x.x/Projects /media/timecapsule -o pass=yourpassword,file_mode=0777,dir_mode=0777,sec=ntlm,vers=1.0
  4. Check your mount has been made correctly using the mount command on Ubuntu Linux. Copy a file from Linux to /media/timecapsule and you'll be able to access it from Finder on your Mac.

Mount Airport Time Capsule drive on Ubuntu Linux 21.04 at boot time using fstab — Step by Step instructions

  1. Edit your file systems table system configuration file (/etc/fstab)
    $ sudo vi /etc/fstab
  2. Append a new mount point to the bottom of the file, on a new line.
    //192.168.1.54/Projects /media/timecapsule cifs noperm,file_mode=0777,dir_mode=0777,sec=ntlm,vers=1.0,credentials=/root/pass.txt	0	0
  3. Create a credentials file that only root can read with your Disk password in it
    $ sudo vi /root/pass.txt
  4. Create a credentials file with your Disk password in it
    $ password=yourpassword
  5. Secure the credentials file so that only root can read it
    $ sudo chmod 600 /root/pass.txt

noperm means “client does not do permission check”. This is required for read/write permissions from non-root linux users which is probably what you want. The two zeros stop the disk dump and file systems checks associated with local drives. sec=ntlm,vers=1.0 makes the mount command work with SMB 1.0/CIFS which is required by the Apple Airport Time Capsule. credentials=/root/pass.txt keeps the password out of your config file, by pointing mount.cifs to a file only root can read.

Apple's A1470 Airport Time Capsule (5th generation) and the Airport Extreme look identical

Make sure you get the A1470 5th generation Airport Time Capsule. It is pretty distinctive and the only one with 802.11ac networking. 

Apple AirPort Time Capsule, Source:https://www.apple.com/sg/airport-time-capsule/specs/images/product_hero_2x.jpg
Apple AirPort Time Capsule

Airport Utility for iOS

Airport Utility for iOS hasnt been updated for a year or so, but it doesnt need to be, as the product is complete and there are no new features for none are necessary.

Airport Utility for macOS

Airport Utility for macOS is a Univeral app, provided with macOS Big Sur which means it runs on Mac computers with Apple silicon as well as Mac computers that are Intel based. Other than this, it hasnt been updated either, but again it doesnt need to be, as the product is complete and there are no new features.

Airport Time Capsule reliability

The stability of Airport Time Capsules is impressive. They run 24x7 every single day with no fuss. Save for the odd power outage my 5th generation devices have been running for almost 10 years. This is especially important in a home/office network environment where if there is any wireless network downtime the IT department (me) will have to fix it double quick for the impatient end-users (my family).

Conclusions

Apple's A1470 Airport Time Capsule with 802.11ac was great when it was launched and is still great now, provided you have a Mac or an iOS device with Airport Utility which is required to configure and manage it. It is a home/office network swiss army knife featuring wireless access for any 802.11a/b/g/n/ac device secured with WPA/WPA2, a NAT firewall, Time-based access control, MAC address filtering (not Mac, MAC - the unique machine addresses for ethernet hardware), three Gigabit Ethernet LAN ports, a separate Gigabit Ethernet WAN port to connect to your service providers usually crappy router, and shared Hard Drive access over the network, Time Machine backup over your network, and even printing to USB printers. Shared Hard Drive access over the network is fast and convenient for home/office networking use, despite some known security limitations.


See also: AirPort Time Capsule 802.11ac - Technical Specifications AirPort Utility User Guide - Apple Support Wikipedia - AirPort Time Capsule  Ubuntu Documentation - MountCifsFstab - NB There was a typo in their/etc/fstab example  US-CERT - Microsoft SMBv1 Vulnerability

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