Microsoft

Talking Shop: Exploring the Windows 2000 disaster recovery tools

Learn what Windows 2000 disaster recovery tools are and how to use them.

Contrary to popular myth and media hype, Windows 2000 isn't bug free. Granted, it's a very stable operating system, but it does have its problems. Even if Windows 2000 were bug free, there's still the chance you could crash it because a technique you’re used to doing one way has changed in this version of Windows. Therefore, since some problems do exist, it's worth discussing some tools you have at your disposal when things go wrong. In this Daily Drill Down, I'll examine some of these tools. In addition, I'll provide you with a brief overview of how to use them.

Emergency repair disk
If you're a Windows NT veteran, you're no stranger to the emergency repair disk. The idea behind the emergency repair disk is that it compiles critical Registry entries pertaining to such things as the security database and copies them to a floppy disk. That way, if the system ever crashes, you can rebuild the security database from the disk.

Windows 2000 also has an emergency repair disk option. The method for creating it has changed, though. To create an emergency repair disk in Windows 2000, navigate the Start menu to Programs | Accessories | System Tools | Backup. When you do, Windows 2000 will launch the Backup program and display the Welcome window. When you see this window, click the Emergency Repair Disk button.

At this point, the Emergency Repair Disk dialog box will appear and prompt you to insert a blank floppy disk. This dialog box also contains a check box asking if you want to back up the Registry to the Repair directory. Because the Registry is usually too large to fit on a floppy, it's a good idea to select this option. Doing so places a copy of the Registry in the Repair directory so that you can restore it should you have Registry problems.

Now, click the OK button to begin copying the necessary files to the disk and backing up the Registry. When the process completes, you'll see a dialog box asking you to label the disk with the date. Please remember that any time you make configuration changes to the machine or changes to the security policy (including adding or removing users), you need to update the disk by using the process that I described above.

Using the emergency repair disk
If your computer doesn't boot correctly, you can attempt to restore the emergency repair disk that you created earlier. To do so, boot your PC off the Windows 2000 CD-ROM if possible. If your PC can't boot from the CD, boot from Setup disk 1. As Setup launches, you'll be asked if you want to begin installing Windows 2000. Press [Enter] to continue. Next, Setup will ask you if you want to continue installing Windows 2000 or repair an existing installation. Press the R key to start repairing the damaged installation. When you do, you'll be prompted as to whether you want to repair your system using the Recovery Console or the emergency repair process. Press R to use the emergency repair process. At this point, you'll be asked whether you want to use a manual or a fast repair process.

Normally, you should choose a fast repair. The fast repair option will access the problem and try to repair it. You should attempt a manual repair only if you're an expert on Windows 2000 and very familiar with the location and function of the Windows 2000 system files. You should also note that the manual repair process doesn't give you the option of repairing the Registry.

After you've selected the Fast Repair option, you'll be asked to press [Enter] if you have the emergency repair disk or press L if you don't have one. Although it may seem obvious, it's important to point out that the chances of being able to repair your system without an emergency repair disk are slim.

Insert your emergency repair disk and press [Enter]. Setup will now begin the repair process. After the examination and repair process completes, you'll be asked to reboot your PC.

Advanced startup options
To access the advanced startup options, press the [F8] key when you see the initial Windows 2000 boot menu. When you do, you'll see several boot options:
  • Safe Mode—The Safe Mode option is very similar to the Windows 98 Safe Mode. It loads only the minimal set of drivers required for boot-up. If there's a hardware configuration error or a bad device driver that prevents the computer from starting, you can use Safe Mode to fix the problem.
  • Safe Mode With Networking—The Safe Mode With Networking option is identical to Safe Mode, except that it loads the drivers necessary to allow your computer to access the network while in Safe Mode. This option is helpful when you need to replace a buggy driver with a new one that's stored on a network share.
  • Safe Mode With Command Prompt—This option can help you recover if Windows Explorer is severely damaged. It boots the Windows 2000 file system but loads a command prompt (similar to DOS) instead of loading Windows Explorer. The advantage of this option over a boot floppy is that by using it, you'll still have access to your NTFS partitions.
  • Enable Boot Logging—The Enable Boot Logging option is helpful if you're not sure where the problem is occurring. This option creates a log file called NTblog.txt in the Systemroot directory (the directory that you've loaded Windows 2000 into). This log file traces each driver and service as the system loads. If a particular driver or service is causing the problem, you'll be able to tell from the resulting log file.
  • Enable VGA Mode—In this mode, all drivers are loaded except for the video driver. Instead, the basic VGA driver is used. This option is useful for repairing video driver problems. The Enable VGA Mode option is comparable to the VGA Mode option found on the Windows NT 4 boot menu.
  • Last Known Good Configuration—Every time Windows 2000 boots successfully, information is written to the Registry regarding the system's configuration at the time of boot. If your system won't boot, try using the Last Known Good Configuration option. Doing so will attempt to boot Windows 2000 based on the last configuration that was known to work.
  • Directory Services Restore Mode—The Directory Services Restore Mode option is available only on domain controllers. This option allows you to restore or perform maintenance on the Windows 2000 Active Directory and on the Sysvol folder.
  • Debugging Mode—Just hope that you never have to use this option. If your system is severely damaged and unbootable, you can use this option to send debugging information to another computer via serial cable.

Recovery Console
The Recovery Console is a utility built into Windows 2000 that allows you to boot a PC containing a damaged copy of Windows 2000 to a command line. From the command line, you may do such tasks as enable and disable services and manipulate files, even if they're stored on an NTFS partition. After you install the Recovery Console (it’s not installed by default), it’s accessible from the main boot menu without pressing the [F8] key.

Installing the Recovery Console
Unfortunately, the Recovery Console isn't installed by default. To install the Recovery Console on a functional PC, insert the Windows 2000 CD into the CD-ROM drive. When you see the Windows 2000 splash screen, close it. Now, open an MS-DOS prompt window and navigate to the CD's I368 folder (or the ALPHA folder if you're using an Alpha PC). At this point, execute the command
WINNT32 /CMDCONS

Running this command will install the Recovery Console. However, before you install the Recovery Console, I should warn you that it consumes almost 75 GB of hard disk space. After installing the Recovery Console, you can access it through a choice on the boot menu. If your copy of Windows 2000 is already damaged and you can't install the Recovery Console in this way, don't worry—you can still install the Recovery Console.

To do so, boot your PC off the Windows 2000 CD-ROM if possible. If your PC can't be booted from the CD, boot from Setup disk 1. As Setup launches, you'll be asked if you want to begin installing Windows 2000. Press [Enter] to continue. Next, Setup will ask if you want to continue installing Windows 2000 or repair an existing installation. Press the R key to start repairing the damaged installation. When you do, you'll be asked whether you want to repair your system using the Recovery Console or the emergency repair process. Select the Recovery Console option and follow the prompts.

Accessing the Recovery Console
Once you've installed the Recovery Console, you can access it by rebooting your PC and selecting the Recovery Console command from the boot menu. Upon doing so, you’ll be prompted to log into Windows 2000. You must log in using the Administrator account. If you've configured your system to act as a dual-boot or if you have multiple installations of Windows 2000, you must select the installation that you want to work with before typing the Administrator's password. After typing the password, you can work with Windows NT from the command prompt, with full access to the system.

Conclusion
In spite of Windows 2000's stability, it's still possible to have devastating system crashes. In this Daily Drill Down, I've discussed some of the built-in tools designed to help you recover from such crashes.

Brien M. Posey is an MCSE and works as a freelance technical writer and as a network engineer for the Department of Defense. If you’d like to contact Brien, send him an e-mail. (Because of the large volume of e-mail he receives, it's impossible for him to respond to every message. However, he does read them all.)

The authors and editors have taken care in preparation of the content contained herein, but make no expressed or implied warranty of any kind and assume no responsibility for errors or omissions. No liability is assumed for any damages. Always have a verified backup before making any changes.

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