Saturday, February 28, 2009

Linux Tip: Retrieving Files From Unbootable Windows partitions

You are a Windows person. You've been using Windows for your daily work, school, or something else. One day, you turn on your PC, and, for whatever reason, you can't boot your Windows. You try every trick you know without success. Your last resort is to recover your precious data from your unbootable Windows partition — if your hard drive is still in good condition and accessible. You could use a Windows Vista installation CD which lets you use the unfriendly Windows repair console.

You can also use Linux to retrieve files from your troublesome Windows partition. If you don't have Linux installed in your computer, you can use a Linux Live CD that's available free from the Internet. A live CD lets you try something without installing it into your computer. Most Linux installation CD's released today are also live CD's. For example, you can try an Ubuntu CD to test-drive Linux and also access data from your broken Windows partition.

Assuming that you booted into Linux, start xterm, konsole or Gnome terminal. Mount your Windows partition with the following command so that you can access and copy files from Windows — specify your Windows partition in place of /dev/sda1:

mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda1 /mnt

The command above mounts your Windows partion /dev/sda1 on the directory /mnt. Now, you can change the current directory to /mnt and list its contents like this:

cd /mnt

Plug in your USB flash so you can save your data on it. Then, mount your USB flash onto /media &mdash assuming your flash drive is /dev/sdb1 and the directory /media exists:

mount -t vfat /dev/sdb1 /media

Now you're ready to copy files from your broken Windows partitions to your flash drive using Linux. The following example illustrates copying files in Linux:

cd Users/Kenneth/Documents
cp project7k.doc /media
mv finance9b.xls /media
tar cf - folderX | (cd /media; tar xf -)

The first command in the example above lets you change the current folder to Users/Kenneth/Documents — that's the typical path to user data in Windows Vista. The next commands copy the file project7k.doc and move finance9b.xls and folderX to your flash drive mounted on /media.

Once you retrieve your data files from the broken Windows partition and save them on your USB flash, you can go ahead and wipe your Windows. Then, you may choose to reinstall Windows, or better yet, try and install Linux. My recommendation is Debian Linux.

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