Spelunking the places where files are not

Paul Koning paulkoning at comcast.net
Fri Mar 5 15:45:50 CST 2021

> On Mar 5, 2021, at 4:11 PM, Boris Gimbarzevsky via cctalk <cctalk at classiccmp.org> wrote:
> Recovering data from disks was a lot easier 30 years ago when most filesystems had contiguous files and it was just a matter of finding file boundaries.  Was very glad of this when accidentally wiped first 200 blocks of an RT-11 RK05 and just had to write a FORTRAN program to copy blocks of data and assign the files names. 

Yes, RT11 has contiguous files.  That actually made it rather unusual.  For example, while RSTS supports contiguous files that isn't the default and because of disk fragmentation wasn't commonly used.

I was going to describe how you could do recovery on RSTS file systems, when I realized that it doesn't actually work at all.  The file system is designed to allow you to piece it back together if some entries are corrupted.  As an extreme example, in the new (RDS 1) file structure, you could wipe out the MFD -- the root directory of the file system -- and almost certainly put it back together by scanning the disk for the GFDs -- the second level directories, which are tagged with a magic number that allows them to be found easily.

On the other hand, if you delete a file there is nothing left in the file system metadata to tell you about its previous existence.  While the 8-word blocks that make up directory entries only need two leading 0 words to be considered "free", it turns out the file system code actually zeroes all the entries in their entirety when deleting a file.  So you can try to reconstruct a file from free space, if you're lucky enough to be able to find its pieces and connect them in the right order, but there isn't anything left of the metadata (name, time stamps, etc.)  Yes, that could have been left around, and I'm actually somewhat puzzled about why it was done that way; it looks like early versions (V4A at least) just zero the minimal 2 words which would leave you half a file name and other stuff, not to mention 6/7th of the file data pointers.


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