How do I... recover Linux data files with a Windows tool?

DiskInternals makes a tool called Linux Reader that can recover your data from a corrupted Linux hard drive partition. The twist is that the tool runs under Microsoft Windows. Jack Wallen shows you how this tool works.

Recently I had a partition table get corrupted on a data drive that was mounted on my primary Linux machine. No matter what I tried on the Linux machine (Ubuntu 7.10), I could not recover the data. So I thought I would try out a trick or two on a Windows machine to see if I could recover the data.

I was happily surprised to find one 100-percent-free application (though not open source) did the trick. It did it so well, in fact, that I made it a permanent part of my admin toolkit. That tool was Linux Reader from DiskInternals. The tool is a one-trick pony but does that trick better than any other pony in the circus.

Now the nice thing about this tool is it does not allow you to write to the ext2 or ext3 partitions. It allows only read access. This is crucial in keeping your data from being overwritten or completely lost (without the help of high-cost, third-party solutions). Another nice thing about this tool is it has very low system requirements:

  • Windows 9x/ME/NT4.0/2000/XP/2003/Vista
  • at least 16 MB of RAM
  • free disk space for recovered files

This blog post is also available in PDF format as a TechRepublic Download.

Let's take a look at what Linux Reader does.

Getting and installing

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the "getting and installing" of Linux Reader. Of course, because this isn't a Linux application, installing Linux Reader is just a matter of downloading the Install file and double-clicking.

Now after you have the application installed and before you fire it up, shut down your machine and plug in your corrupted hard drive. You might have to reset your jumpers so the drive is seen as a slave (as I had to do). Of course, if the drive is a USB drive (or you have placed the drive in a USB case), you can just plug it in without shutting down. And once the drive is plugged in, reboot the machine.

Once the application is installed you will find it in the Start menu under DiskInternals | DiskInternals Linux Reader. Launch the application and you will see a rather familiar looking window (Figure A).

Figure A

You will see the drive listed as the physical drive and the breakdown of its constituent partitions.
So let's say you have found a folder (or file) that you want to recover. I have navigated through /home/jlwallen and want to recover the file bank. I right-click that folder and select Recover This File (Figure B).

Figure B

The next dialog will be in the Export Wizard.
Once you are in the export Wizard (Figure C), you really have only a couple of options: where to save and whether or not to save the Directory structure.

Figure C

At the bottom left corner you see the total size of the recovered file.

Once you hit Next, Linux Reader will do its thing, and your newly recovered files/folders will reside in the location you configured in the Wizard.

You can also do a search on the Linux drive by hitting the Search button. This is a handy feature if you know the file you're looking for but do not know its location. Of course, if you are taking the time to recover data, you most likely know where your files are. But then again, this might not be a drive you're familiar with, so the search function is a handy feature.

There is a small Preferences section that includes a few options (columns to include in viewing, show ".." symbol in folders, a deleted folders extended search, and a language option), but you most likely won't even bother with any configuration with this tool -- it's that easy to use.

There is also a Tools menu that includes a long list of other tools DiskInternals makes. Many of these are probably worth looking into.

Creating images

You can also create an image of a drive, which you can then burn onto a CD for further use. To create an image, you go back to the main Linux Reader window, right-click the partition you want to image, and select Create Image (Figure D).

Figure D

As you can see, once your image is created, you can mount your image.
The first step in creating images is to name the image. Once you have named the image, you must select which part of the partition you want to create the image from (Figure E).

Figure E

You can choose the entire disk contents, just the boot sector, or a selected region.

Creating an image of the entire partition may take quite some time. This will depend on how large the partition is.

My experience

Of course you are reading this because I had a need to recover files. And I did. Using Linux Reader I successfully managed to recover every piece of data I had thought was lost on this drive. It was simple and fast. And best of all, it did no further damage to the drive. In fact, I had thought I had recovered everything I needed, but I was mistaken. I had to plug the drive back in to the machine, restart Linux Reader, and recover more data.

Final thoughts

I can honestly say that Linux Reader has become one of my favorite admin tools that I hope to never have to use again. But I can rest assured that, should I need the services of Linux Reader, it will pull through. You should certainly download this application and check out the many other offerings that DiskInternals has to offer.