NTFS data recovery on Linux

My Dad’s PC hard disk died at the weekend. Well, as far as I can tell, the hard disk is fine, but the boot sector and master file table of the NTFS filesystem on it are broken. Windows doesn’t recognise it as an NTFS file system.

As my main PC is now an Ubuntu Linux box, I’m in a bit of trouble recovering the data. Certainly the NTFS file system drivers for Linux have as much trouble as Windows in recognising the data.

After an awful lot of playing with dd and Googling about, I found that the boot sector of the partition had been hosed. Luckily, there’s a backup copy of the boot sector. Some documentation says it’s at the end of the partition, but I found it at the centre. A bit of bash shell maths later and I had the bootsector dded out.

I transplanted the backup back in the first sector of the disk…and…the NTFS drivers recognise it as an NTFS partition! Yay! But boo…the MFT is corrupt. I tried CHKDSK on Windows, but that says the same thing. Even though there’s supposedly a backup to the MFT on the disk somewhere too (I’ve yet to find it).

Latterly I found Scrounge NTFS, which compiled cleanly, and was able to read the MFT, and some file data too.

However, it doesn’t seem to work 100% reliably. It faulted out halfway through (on the PAGEFILE.SYS on the drive). Additionally, it doesn’t support compressed files.

Looks like I should be able to coerce it into working though, with a bit of hackery. But first I need to get some spare disk space to try it out in. I’ll post if and when I get the data off…and whether I have to resort to some payware Windows tools in the end!

Filed under: Blog
Posted at 11:30:00 BST on 12th August 2008.

About Matt Godbolt

Matt Godbolt is a C++ developer working in Chicago in the finance industry.