I’ve been a big proponent of system maintenance and backup to ensure that there isn’t important data loss. Initially, I tended towards the more is better approach (if one system failed, there’s others to fall back on). However, I’ve tended to change my thinking to less is more. The reason: if things get too complex in terms of recovery it could spell out more trouble than it’s worth.
Drive Integrity and the File System
The ability for your computer to read and write files to and from disk is based on in its file system and its integrity. The more warning you have of failure the better are your chances to prevent loss.
File System failure doesn’t necessarily mean all is lost either. In previous articles, I’ve explored the role backups play and their importance. In this article, I’d like to stress that backups are the most important thing you can do to ensure that data isn’t lost and that possibly you can be up and running in no time
For this article though, I think it important to explore the role of the file system itself and the tools that can be used to help mitigate and even reverse file system corruption.
The Filesystem Itself
There are tools that will work to recover from catastrophic failure of the file system or even avert disaster from happening. But what is this catastrophic failure I talk of or the integrity of the file system.
The file system is basically a three part grouping of components that allow your computer to work with the files on the disk. A file itself is made up of generally blocks, a header or a title and a pointer from the header or title to the blocks. When you call on your file system to open a file, you address the header which using the pointer knows which blocks to work with.
In many ways, file systems are quite robust but it’s easy to see that they could also be fragile. Tools that work with the file system generally put the broken parts back together so that the system can manage its files. There are tools though that try to look at the state of a file structure and predict an inevitable failure.
The reason for the concern with backups and tools to work with the files is to ensure that you don’t loose valuable data. Backups are there so that if something goes wrong in the system, the backup can be called upon to correct the system. There is not one system, except that which has zero value, that shouldn’t be backed up.
However, it is also important to recognize that there is potential for recovery of a file itself utilizing its filesystem. You might require this if you’re not good with regular, frequent backups.
The Value of Proactive File System Tools
Before I get to the discussion on proactive and reactive file system tools, it’s useful to discuss the tools in and of themselves. Some feel if one tool is good, many must be better. This might be true with backups but not so much with the file system tools. Secondly, its worth working on with just one toolset and getting to know it well than with a variety in which confusion might ensue.
It’s also useful to look at is one tool necessarily better than another and what is that greater good that you maybe should spend a lot of money on. In reality, it is better to choose a good tool and just run with that. For some, that might simply be the tools Apple provides with the OS and for others it might be one of the tools I’ll discuss.
Back on the Farm: A Proactive Approach
There are essentially two kind of tools, some of which incorporate both approaches. Those tools can be defined as Proactive and Reactive tools.
Proactive tools keep an eye of your disk – your file system – and alert you to imminent failure. It is always easier to deal with something before it fails than after it fails. It might be the difference between a final backup or not having a good one to fall back on. Definitely, go after a system that incorporates proactive tools.
Reactive tools are those you employ upon the loss of file integrity. They might include a number of systems approaches but all will incorporate at least the ability to rebuild your volume. This may or may not be enough but regardless, it will improve a good working system and potentially avert a system in failure.
The Tools Themselves
For the purposes of this article we will look at three systems always with in mind Apple’s own OS tools for recovery which includes volume rebuilding and file restructuring.
TechTools Pro 8
This is my favourite of all the systems available. It is priced nicely but includes tools that assess both the hardware and software functions of your computer.
On the hardware front, the system is fairly comprehensive and will advise you what to do should it find a hardware subsystem in trouble.
On the software front, it both can identify the problems and repair the problems. It goes beyond that in that in provides tools that ensure cross platform capability, the ability to repair the software system that is failing or if a file is failing to point out the file and assist with the repair.
TTP has been around for a while now and is well seasoned. TTP itself includes tools that run in the system preferences that keeps track of what the system is doing making recovery all that more possible.
Finally, for those of us who like a very comprehensive system you can buy checkmate which work well with TTP8. Called Checkmate, it is always testing your system for potential failure and is very effective at identifying this.
All aspects of the system come in a nice interface which can be compared to that of a jet planes dashboard. Others might say but such and such does this and that. Don’t be fooled as TTP is a very good, all around tool that is effective.
Some hold this system up as the ideal system of systems. It is expensive though. There is no question Disk Warrior is fine tool with the reputation that one would expect of this tool. However, it might not be as comprehensive as you’d like and lacks an early warning system that can highlight things about to go awry.
Let’s put it this way; it is a good system but it can definitely be overhyped at your benefit.
Drive Genius is more like TTP than it is Disk Warrior. It has all the reactive tools one would expect in a high end system. Ultimately, it can do the most important function that is rebuild your volume. I should note now, that just because these tools can rebuild your volume it doesn’t matter because if it fails and it certainly can happen, you had better hope you have a good backup to bail you out.
It does have proactive tools always a plus. It’s early warning system can be spot on or not though. Assuming it is you might be able to get in one solid backup before real problems ensue.
Apple’s Tools might be more than Adequate
It is highly possible that the tools that come with the system might be more than adequate. Yet, should there be only one instance where one of the above tools pays off, you will feel its worth its weight in gold.
It is an awful lot of work to rebuild a system from scratch having to reinsert license keys for your software as you go a long. It is times like this you truly wished you had got that backup system going.
The best plan of action to work around drive integrity and possible failure is having at least one solid backup but preferraboy a Time Machine backup, clone backup and a third partie’s backup system such as Retrospect.
Next, you’ll want to put into place a file systems integrity structures recovery tool which will be your first course of action. Should this fail and it is highly likely then revert to a backup recovery. At this point, you’ll be extremely happy you took the few moments to do it.