Disk Maintenance under Linux (Disk Recovery)
Here's a hypothetical situation for you to think about. You're working on your Linux box, calling up an application or data file, and Linux hesitates while reading the hard disk. Then, scrolling up the screen (or console box), you see something like this:
Seek error accessing /dev/hdb2 at block 52146, IDE reset (successful).
After some time spent chugging away accessing the drive, Linux continues. If you're lucky, everything is still running along fine. If you're not, your program is refusing to start, or your data file contains garbage.
Chances are, if you're using a hard disk drive that's a few years old, you will begin to see errors when accessing the disk from time to time. At this point, the best prognosis for your disk is that, given time, it'll get worse. So you need to begin resuscitation efforts as soon as possible. Several disk manufacturers have utilities that find and allocate these bad sectors on your hard disk. Unfortunately, these utilities also destroy the information on your disk, and are normally run from DOS, not Linux.
Fortunately, Linux has some system utilities to help you when you are dealing with its (now) native ext2 format. (Utilities are also available for minix. If you need to repair other non-Linux file systems you should use their own native sets of file system utilities.) While not as user-friendly as Norton Disk Doctor or Microsoft ScanDisk, the Linux disk and file system utilities get the job done. In this article, we'll look at a few of the tools to help us overcome the kind of problem I described in the opening paragraph. Other hard disk manipulation utilities can be found in /sbin and /usr/sbin, but they'll have to wait. For now, let's get the hard disk working properly.
Before you dig in, if you're using one of the newer 2.0.x kernels with an IDE drive, check to see if you have the proper bug fixes compiled into the kernel. If you aren't sure which chipset you have in your computer or are unable to ascertain for sure, it is safe to compile in the CMD640, RZ1000 and Intel 82371 options. These options are found under Floppy, ID and other block devices in your make config. This could save your data in the future. These bug fixes may be all you need, but further checks on your hard drive won't hurt.
I hate cliches, although I'm frequently accused of (ab)using them. If it really went without saying that we always do system backups, my income might be somewhat lower than it is. For most people, it's just not true. So, if you've neglected the chore for a while, just let me say that now would be a good time to do that backup. Some of the work I'll be telling you how to do could inadvertently damage or destroy your file system or some of your important files—so be careful and don't say I didn't warn you.
Now that I've gotten the requisite legal protection warnings out up front, let's begin. The safest way to start is with a fairly mundane check of the file system. On my system—a combination Red Hat (I like the SYSVinit style bootup), Slackware, Internet tarball concoction—I have fsck, a front-end program that reads the type of file system on a device (from /etc/fstab), then invokes the appropriate fsck.filesystemtype checker—in my case, fsck.ext2. You may have e2fsck on your system instead of, or in addition to, fsck.ext2. Don't worry, they're the same file. One may be a soft link to the other, but it's better to make that a hard link.
Before starting, let's prepare our systems for the kind of work we're going to be doing. Whenever I perform low-level maintenance on a system, I find it prudent to ensure I am disconnected from the network. Normally this means dropping to single-user mode. You may opt to do some of these tests from init level 2 (with no network connections), but you'll want to ensure that you don't have too many processes running that want to write to the disk, and none that run from the partition you need to work on. Single-user mode was made for this. A simple telinit 1 will get us to single-user mode.
If you're not checking the root file system, unmount the file system you're going to work on before you begin. If you forget, you'll get a prompt from fsck telling you the file system is mounted and asking if you want to continue anyway. Say “No”--running low-level system diagnostics, particularly those that alter the file system by writing directly to the disk as fsck does, with the disk mounted, is a very bad idea. Obviously, we can't unmount the root file system. We should be able to remount it as read-only, but a bug in mount doesn't always allow this option. If you need to check the root file system, you can reboot into single-user mode with the root partition mounted read-only by issuing the -b switch at the LILO prompt. The -b switch will be passed through LILO to init and will cause an emergency boot that does not run any of the startup scripts. If you have always wondered why you would want to create several partitions—for example, for /usr and /home--and restrict the size and scope of the root partition, now you know.
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