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IMHO the list of supported GVFS protocols could use documenting. I can do it, but I don't know how to list the GVFS protocols that are installed, besides doing "locate gvfs" and I wonder if someone has already documented protocols like this afc afp webdav

please answer, how to obtain a list of installed GVFS protocols. how to obtain a definitive description/specification of these protocols in general. (generally definitive? is that an oxymoron?)

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I have made your question relevant for 12.04 and not 12.10, as we are not supposed to discuss versions that aren't released yet. The list of protocols will hardly be changed anyway. –  user76204 Sep 16 '12 at 17:58
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We can always add a note later if any other protocols are added in later versions of Ubuntu, but there doesn't seem to be anything different for quantal at packages.ubuntu.com/quantal/i386/gvfs-backends/filelist –  user76204 Sep 16 '12 at 18:43
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Introduction

I can give you an answer for 12.04, although this may not be a totally definitive list of protocols. Before we start discussing the protocols, here is a quick summary of the nature of gvfs from /usr/share/doc/gvfs/gvfs-libs/README:

Gvfs is a userspace virtual filesystem designed to work with the i/o abstractions of gio (a library availible in glib >= 2.15.1). It installs several modules that are automatically used by applications using the APIs of libgio. There is also fuse support that allows applications not using gio to access the gvfs filesystems.

The gvfs model differs from e.g. gnome-vfs in that filesystems must be mounted before they are used. There is a central daemon (gvfsd) that handles coordinting mounts, and then each mount is (typically) in its own daemon process (although mounts can share daemon process).


Protocols

A lot of the supported protocols are listed in the gvfs-backends package and the tools you can use with those protocols are listed in the gvfs-bin package, which if you have them installed are available by right clicking the package in Synaptic and clicking on installed files to show the list.

Comparing the gvfs-backends package description and the list of installed files in Synaptic comes up with the following list.

archive://        archive files support
afp://            Apple file protocol support
afc://            access mobile devices such as iphone and ipod Touch
cdda://           audio cds support
cifs://           communicate with cifs servers
dav:// (webdav://) handles remote filesystems
file:///          access a local file, for example,  
ftp://            access and use ftp server
gphoto2://        PTP camera and MTP media player support
http://           open http resources
https://          connect securely with https
obexftp://        bluetooth support 
smb://            communicate with samba servers
ssh://            connect securely to server
sftp://           send files securely via sftp 
usb://            mount a usb device directly, for example,  

This is just a bare list; to do something with these protocols you can use the gvfs tools on the command line such as gvfs-open or gvfs-mount. The tools are listed in the gvfs-bin package at Ubuntu packages and in Synaptic if installed. Basic examples from the command-line are:

gvfs-open file:///home/mike/
gvfs-open http://www.askubuntu.com

The first example will open you home folder in your default file browser; the second will open askubuntu in your browser.

For examples to do with remote filesystems, see this article.

As this answer was not supposed to go into detail on how to use the protocols, I won't go into great detail here, as there are other gvfs articles on this site.

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