You can access the AFS filespace only when working on an AFS client machine. The Cache Manager on that machine is your agent in accessing information stored in the AFS filespace. When you access a file, the Cache Manager on your client machine requests the file from the appropriate file server machine and stores (caches) a copy of it on your client machine's local disk. Application programs on your client machine use the local, cached copy of the file. This improves performance because it is much faster to use a local file than to send requests for file data across the network to the file server machine.
Because application programs use the cached copy of a file, any changes you make are not necessarily stored permanently to the central version stored on the file server machine until the file closes. At that point, the Cache Manager writes your changes back to the file server machine, where they replace the corresponding parts of the existing file. Some application programs close a file in this way each time you issue their save command (and then immediately reopen the file so that you can continue working). With other programs, issuing the save command writes the changes only to the local cached copy. If you use the latter type of text editor, you need to close the file periodically to make sure your changes are stored permanently.
If a file server machine becomes inaccessible, you can continue working with the local, cached copy of a file fetched from that machine, but you cannot save your changes permanently until the server machine is again accessible.
When the central version of a file changes on the file server machine, the AFS File Server process running on that machine advises all other Cache Managers with copies of that file that their version is no longer valid. AFS has a special mechanism for performing these notifications efficiently. When the File Server sends the Cache Manager a copy of a modifiable file, it also sends a callback. A callback functions as a promise from the File Server to contact the Cache Manager if the centrally stored copy of the file is changed while it is being used. If that happens, the File Server breaks the callback. If you run a program that requests data from the changed file, the Cache Manager notices the broken callback and gets an updated copy of the file from the File Server. Callbacks ensure that you are working with the most recent copy of a file.
The callback mechanism does not guarantee that you immediately see the changes someone else makes to a file you are using. Your Cache Manager does not notice the broken callback until your application program asks it for more data from the file.
Like a standard UNIX file system, AFS preserves only the changes to a file that are saved last, regardless of who made the changes. When collaborating with someone on the same files, you must coordinate your work to avoid overwriting each other's changes. You can use AFS access control lists (ACLs) to limit the ability of other users to access or change your files, and so prevent them from accidentally overwriting your files. See Protecting Your Directories and Files.