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All NFS4 tutorials I have encountered so far recommend bind mounting real directories into the export root. Is this a technical necessity? If I had a directory that's only meant to be exported, is it sufficient to make it a subdirectory of the export root or does it really need to be bind mounted?

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It's not compulsory. It gives you flexibility to export other filesystems which were mounted at arbitrary locations. I guess it's good practice; it would let you change the "real" mount point of the filesystems without necessarily confusing NFS clients.

It's not compulsory to use separate filesystems either, but

From release 1.1.0 of nfs-utils onwards, the default will be no_subtree_check as subtree_checking tends to cause more problems than it is worth.

unless you explicitly enable subtree_check, you can only export whole filesystems. It would look like you're exporting part of a filesystem, but there wouldn't be any security enforcing that.

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