Configure IT Quick: Use DOSFAT to access your NetWare server's DOS partition

Use DOSFAT to access your NetWare servers DOS partition without shutting down your server.

If you’ve used NetWare, you know that your NetWare server starts off booting in old-fashioned DOS and then switches over to NetWare. After making the switch, NetWare runs from and allows access from its own proprietary disk partition types, either the traditional Novell file system or NSS. Occasionally, though, you must still access the server’s DOS partition. Here’s how you can do so without shutting down your server.

Why would you need to access the DOS partition?
Under ordinary circumstances, you would never access the server’s DOS partition. As a matter of fact, you’d probably never want to because if you made a mistake, you could render your entire NetWare server unbootable, forcing you to restore a backup or reinstall from scratch. The DOS partition’s sole purpose is to temporarily start the server and host the necessary NetWare files the server needs to load NetWare. After NetWare starts, the DOS partition becomes invisible and inaccessible from the server prompt or from a remote workstation.

However, because the DOS partition hosts key NetWare startup files, you sometimes need to access the partition to update those files. Normally, NetWare’s Support Packs and other utilities will automatically access and update files on the DOS partition for you, but sometimes you must do so yourself. For example, if you need to install the latest LibC (Libraries For C) for NetWare, you must manually copy the files to the server’s DOS partition.

You can access the DOS partition in several ways. First, you can just down the server and exit to DOS. Of course, when you do so, you can no longer access the files that reside on your NetWare server’s volumes. The only way you can update files on the server when you exit to DOS is either to copy the files using a floppy or CD or to load a network client on the server and access another server.

You can also access the DOS partition using a third-party utility such as JCMD. JCMD will emulate a DOS prompt on your NetWare server’s console, allowing you to access the DOS partition as well as execute common DOS commands, such as COPY and DELETE. Utilities like JCMD can be useful, but they do add a layer of complexity to your server. You also have to trust that the third-party utility will work with your version of NetWare and not cause the server to abend, which can lead to data corruption or loss.

Finally, you can use NSS and its built-in support for your server’s DOS partition. NSS supports several different file systems using modules such as CDHFS to access CD-ROMs and DOSFAT to access DOS partitions. By using NSS and DOSFAT, you can mount your NetWare’s DOS partition as a volume that can be accessed by a workstation just like your regular NetWare volumes.

Author’s note
For the purposes of this Daily Feature, I won’t be discussing NSS itself, just how to access the DOS partition using it. For more information on NSS, see the Daily Drill Down “Understanding Novell Storage Services.”

Using DOSFAT is extremely simple. Go to your server’s console prompt, type load dosfat.nss and press [Enter]. When you do, the server will immediately prompt you with a warning that by loading DOSFAT, should the server abend, the logging process that NetWare uses to debug abends will bypass the DOSFAT cache and potentially corrupt your server’s DOS partition. The server will ask you to confirm that you want to load DOSFAT. Press [Y] to load DOSFAT.

NetWare will then load DOSFAT and read all of the DOS partitions on your server. During the process, NetWare will auto-mount all of the DOS partitions as NetWare volumes. NetWare will name the partitions using the DOSFAT_x naming convention, where x is replaced with the DOS partition letter. So, if you have three DOS partitions on your server, NetWare will mount them as NetWare volumes and name them as DOSFAT_C, DOSFAT_D, and DOSFAT_E.

From your administration workstation, you can then map the volume as a regular NetWare drive. In order to access the drive, you must be logged on to your workstation as Admin or as a user with Admin rights to the server. Other users can see the volume in their volumes lists, but they won’t be able to access it unless they have Admin rights as well. You can then copy, rename, delete, or alter files on the DOS partition just as if it were any other drive.

Unloading DOSFAT
When you’re done using the files on the DOS partition, you should unload DOSFAT. This eliminates the chances of corruption from an abend, as NetWare warned you about earlier. It also removes the chances that a user may figure out how to access the partition and cause problems. To stop DOSFAT, type unload dosfat and press [Enter]. NetWare will then dismount all of the DOSFAT volumes and unload DOSFAT support from the server.