Version 2 (modified by Gabriele Pohl, 7 years ago) ( diff )

Repairs in a file system

Bad block HOWTO for smartmontools

This article describes what actions might be taken when smartmontools detects a bad block on a disk. It demonstrates how to identify the file associated with an unreadable disk sector, and how to force that sector to reallocate.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Repairs in a file system


Handling bad blocks is a difficult problem as it often involves decisions about losing information. Modern storage devices tend to handle the simple cases automatically, for example by writing a disk sector that was read with difficulty to another area on the media. Even though such a remapping can be done by a disk drive transparently, there is still a lingering worry about media deterioration and the disk running out of spare sectors to remap.

Can smartmontools help? As the SMART [1] acronym suggests, the smartctl command and the smartd daemon concentrate on monitoring and analysis. So apart from changing some reporting settings, smartmontools will not modify the raw data in a device. Also smartmontools only works with physical devices, it does not know about partitions and file systems. So other tools are needed. The job of smartmontools is to alert the user that something is wrong and user intervention may be required.

When a bad block is reported one approach is to work out the mapping between the logical block address used by a storage device and a file or some other component of a file system using that device. Note that there may not be such a mapping reflecting that a bad block has been found at a location not currently used by the file system. A user may want to do this analysis to localize and minimize the number of replacement files that are retrieved from some backup store. This approach requires knowledge of the file system involved and this document uses the Linux ext2/ext3 and ReiserFS file systems for examples. Also the type of content may come into play. For example if an area storing video has a corrupted sector, it may be easiest to accept that a frame or two might be corrupted and instruct the disk not to retry as that may have the visual effect of causing a momentary blank into a 1 second pause (while the disk retries the faulty sector, often accompanied by a telltale clicking sound).

Another approach is to ignore the upper level consequences (e.g. corrupting a file or worse damage to a file system) and use the facilities offered by a storage device to repair the damage. The SCSI disk command set is used elaborate on this low level approach.

Repairs in a file system

This section contains examples of what to do at the file system level when smartmontools reports a bad block. These examples assume the Linux operating system and either the ext2/ext3 or ReiserFS file system. The various Linux commands shown have man pages and the reader is encouraged to examine these. Of note is the dd command which is often used in repair work [2] and has a unique command line syntax.

The authors would like to thank Sergey Vlasov, Theodore Ts'o, Michael Bendzick, and others for explaining this approach. The authors would like to add text showing how to do this for other file systems, in particular XFS, and JFS: please email if you can provide this information.

[1] Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology -> SMART

[2] Starting with GNU coreutils release 5.3.0, the dd command in Linux includes the options 'iflag=direct' and 'oflag=direct'. Using these with the dd commands should be helpful, because adding these flags should avoid any interaction with the block buffering IO layer in Linux and permit direct reads/writes from the raw device. Use dd --help to see if your version of dd supports these options. If not, the latest code for dd can be found at

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