Recovering a corrupted FAT partition

A friend has seen his FAT partition in his USB key become unmountable. Here's how I recovered it.


  1. Make a dump:

    dd if=/dev/sdb1 of=partition.img

  2. Have a look. I like mc for this, as it has a nice hex viewer and editor (F3 to view, then F4 for hex view; F2 would then allow hex edit, if needed).

  3. Turns out that the initial part of the partition has been completely overwritten by 0xff bytes. After some point (around block 224), the 0xff bytes end and there seems to be a FAT structure (easy to identify because it contains sequences of increasing 16bit values).

It seems that the damage is only limited to filesystem structures. I should be able to recover most data by regenerating the filesystem data and hoping that at least the second FAT is still intact.


# Make a copy of the partition
cp partition.img partition1.img
# Reformat it: that gives us the bits of filesystem structures we need
mkdosfs partition1.img
# Graft together the two parts
dd if=partition1.img of=partition2.img count=224
dd if=partition.img of=partition2.img seek=224 skip=224
# Tidy up the result, telling dosfsck to use the 2nd FAT.
dosfsck -rw partition2.img
# Mount and check what's available
mount -o loop,ro partition2.img /mnt

Yo! Everything was there again.

When I teach about standard Unix commands, it takes a while for people to realise all the powerful things you can easily do with them.