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Well it depends on your use but I'd recommend ext4. It was created as a fork to ext3 and has a few perfomance improvements, removal of size limits and is generally a reliable filesystem. ext3 is also reliable and recommended.
If you'll be using the external to ever connect to Windows, Linux can read NTFS and FAT32 (except without permissions, passwords etc) and many, many more.
It depends on the intended use of the external drive.
If the drive is going to be used exclusively with Linux, then a native Linux format such as ext4 is appropriate.
If the drive is going to be shared with Windows computers, then a format readable by Windows such as NTFS is appropriate.
Linux can read and write to NTFS, but native file systems offer better performance.
Distribution: Debian Wheezy/Jessie/Sid, Linux Mint DE
vfat does not support permissions and therefor it is rendered useless for Linux applications. Only if your goal is file sharing with the outside world you might want to use it. I am not sure how well NTFS and Linux permissions match.
Ext4 and XFS are the normal choices. I think Ext4 is more common. Once XFS had better performance with myriads of small files. I am not sure Ext4 catched up on this.
I have a nas drive that works perfectly with my Mac either wireless or ethernet. It's a synology disc station 411j. I can read the files on my nas from my linux computer but it doesn't write. Do you guys think the format is the issue?