October 22, 2017

Rescuing Linux Systems--Generic and Distribution-Specific Safety Nets - page 3

Sending Out an SOS

  • July 8, 2002
  • By Bill von Hagen

The number of ways in which a computer system can break is essentially infinite. Luckily, the number of common "dead system" scenarios that you can actually recover from is relatively small, and falls into several general classes. The following are my favorites, and some tips and tricks for recovering from them:

  • Rescue disks were made for the situation where your system won't boot because the root filesystem is corrupted and you can't even boot to the point where you can access the fsck utility on the system itself. In this case, it's fairly easy to boot from a rescue disk and then use the version of fsck that they provide to repair the corrupted filesystem. You can use standard fsck tricks such as using an alternate superblock if the filesystem's primary superblock is damaged. If you actually lost files, you can then either copy them to removable media on another system and then reinstall the copies on your original system, or reinstall them from your original disks if you have access to them.
  • If filesystem misconfiguration is the problem, you can boot from the rescue disk and then repair the filesystem configuration file (/etc/fstab) or use utilities such as tune2fs, debugfs, and so on to correct misconfiguration in the filesystem header.
  • If you are having bootloader problems, you can boot from a rescue disk, correct the boot loader configuration files (if necessary), and then reinstall some or all of the bootloader (if necessary), including running LILO if that's your boot loader.
  • If you lost the kernel on your system, you can boot from a rescue disk, mount the root partition from the actual Linux system and then rebuild the kernel. This generally involves first using the chroot command to change the system's notion of the root filesystem so that you can then rebuild or simply reinstall the correct kernel in the correct place. If you;re lucky, you can then reboot from your original system, and voila!
  • In the worst case, you may find that your filesystems are so damaged that it is easier to reinstall your system in its entirety. In this case, you can boot from the rescue disks and then use backup utilities to back up files to supported removable media or over the network, if that's supported by the rescue disk that you're using.

The next few sections discuss a variety of different Linux rescue mechanisms, the rescue mechanisms that are provided with many common Linux distributions, and a variety of distribution-independent rescue disks that are designed to provide the tools needed to get almost any Linux system up and running, regardless the vendor who provided the distribution on which it is based.

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