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Recovering Data After Logical Damage
Added by Michael Cummins of Computer Assistant
Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Recovering from logical damage

Logical damage is primarily caused by power outages that prevent file system structures from being completely written to the storage medium, but problems with hardware (especially RAID controllers) and drivers, as well as system crashes, can have the same effect. The result is that the file system is left in an inconsistent state. This can cause a variety of problems, such as strange behavior (e.g., infinitely recursing directories, drives reporting negative amounts of free space), system crashes, or an actual loss of data. Various programs exist to correct these inconsistencies, and most operating systems come with at least a rudimentary repair tool for their native file systems. Linux, for instance, comes with the fsck utility, Mac OS X has Disk Utility and Microsoft Windows provides chkdsk. Third-party utilities such as The Coroners Toolkit and The Sleuth Kit are also available. Even deleted data is also considered to be logically damaged drive for example due to virus attack, if you format the drive or accidental deletion.  In these kind of situations seagate offers a service called remote recovery.

Some kinds of logical damage can be mistakenly attributed to physical damage. For instance, when a hard drive's read/write head begins to click, most end-users will associate this with internal physical damage. This is not always the case, however. Sometimes, hard drives can click simply when the drive is not getting enough power - which often occurs on USB-powered drives. Another possibility is that the firmware of the drive or its controller needs to be rebuilt in order to make the data accessible again.

Preventing logical damage

The increased use of journaling file systems, such as NTFS 5.0, ext3, and XFS, is likely to reduce the incidence of logical damage. These file systems can always be "rolled back" to a consistent state, which means that the only data likely to be lost is what was in the drive's cache at the time of the system failure. However, regular system maintenance should still include the use of a consistency checker. This can protect both against bugs in the file system software and latent incompatibilities in the design of the storage hardware. One such incompatibility is the result of the disk controller reporting that file system structures have been saved to the disk when it has not actually occurred. This can often occur if the drive stores data in its write cache, then claims it has been written to the disk. If power is lost, and this data contains file system structures, the file system may be left in an inconsistent state such that the journal itself is damaged or incomplete. One solution to this problem is to use hardware that does not report data as written until it actually is written. Another is using disk controllers equipped with a battery backup so that the waiting data can be written when power is restored. Finally, the entire system can be equipped with a battery backup that may make it possible to keep the system on in such situations, or at least to give enough time to shut down properly.

Recovery techniques

Two common techniques used to recover data from logical damage are consistency checking and data carving. While most logical damage can be either repaired or worked around using these two techniques, data recovery software can never guarantee that no data loss will occur. For instance, in the FAT file system, when two files claim to share the same allocation unit ("cross-linked"), data loss for one of the files is essentially guaranteed.


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