I have two external hard disks where most partitions are formatted as Ext4 to be used with my Linux workstation.

But I also have a macbook and it seems that there is almost nothing to support Ext4 file systems on MacOS.

So I thought I could create a VirtualBox virtual machine (or a docker image?) containing a Linux system such small that it should just have these components:

  • capability of mounting Ext4 partitions on external USB drives;
  • internet connection;
  • capability to make the Ext4 partitions accessible by creating a server, e.g. an SSH server (to be used with SSH clients on terminal directly, or for mounting those partitions using SSHFS) or perhaps a SAMBA server.

So the question is:

How can I create or obtain such a minimal Linux system?

Since I am only asking for the features listed above, it should be very small compared to a normal Linux distribution, perhaps just a couple hundreds megabytes or even less (I don't need any GUI, I don't need any service not directly related to the features above).

And I guess it would not be resource-consuming if such a simple virtual machine runs constantly on my Mac (or at least when I need to use the external hard disks). Am I right?

An attempt I am making

I tried using this docker image, which points to this repository and is supposed to create an OpenSSH server.

I thought that once this is running, I could connect to the server using SSH and I could have mounted the Ext4 partitions in the SSH session.

I can run the docker image correctly and I can start the server, I am also able to run sudo commands during the SSH session (I modified the sudoers list in the docker image), but I cannot access any external USB disk (non of them, not even the non-Ext4 ones), they just do not appear in the /dev folder.


Install live linux on your VirtualBox and it should be enough, they are rather small for that very reason. There are plenty of them to choose, (here is small list with desriptions). I personally use slax on usb but there are others. Nothing prevents you from making your own live version that would be absolutely minimalistic after you get comfy with ready solution.

  • Many thanks for this suggestion, that list is very useful and it insiperd me to look for further solutions. Mar 9 '20 at 12:05

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