Saturday, 30 July 2016

Recovering from a corrupted GPT partition table, and why to prefer GPT over MBR

Recently, I accidently overwrote the partition table of my hard disk, due to incorrect use of dd command. Fortunately I had a GPT partition table, and therefore recovery was easy.  The DD command only overwrote the first sector (or maybe the first 4 sectors, I don't remember exactly , but surely not more than that). My hard drive has 512 byte sectors, and while trying to remap a bad sector using dd, I used 'skip' instead of 'seek', and so instead of writing on the bad sector, the dd wrote on the first sector (When you try to write on a bad sector, the hard drive automatically remaps it to a new sector, this is a way to get rid of bad sectors from a hard drive, and don't worry about it if you don't understand). If however you have overwritten more than the partition table, and perhaps even corrupted the data written on disk, then this post may not be for you.

Few words about gpt

GPT has two data structures that it uses - GPT header, and GPT partition table. Thus both have to be present for it to work, and if either gets corrupted, GPT will not work. Both of these data structures are written at two places on the disk to provide redundancy, in case one of them gets corrupted.

GPT offers the following advantages over MBR, which helped me in recovery.

  • It uses CRC so, softwares can easily detect if either your partition table, or your GPT header is corrupted.
  • GPT places a backup of partition table and headers at the last sector of the disk, so if the first few sectors get corrupted, as in my case, the partition table can still be recovered from the backup.

Audience for this post - You have either a corrupt primary GTP partition table and header, or a corrupt secondary(backup) GTP partition table and header, but not both. You are running Linux.

Tools used - gdisk, boot-repair

Installing software


sudo apt-get install gdisk

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:yannubuntu/boot-repair
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install -y boot-repair


Making sure that the partitioning style of your disk is GPT

sudo gdisk -l /dev/sdX

#GPT formatted drive will show the following

Partition table scan:
  MBR: protective
  BSD: not present
  APM: not present
  GPT: present

Found valid GPT with protective MBR; using GPT.

#MBR formatted drive will show the following

Partition table scan:
  MBR: MBR only
  BSD: not present
  APM: not present
  GPT: not present

If the disk is GPT, then continue as follows, else if you have MBR disk, see this.

Recovery procedure

From now on, we will assume that the primary data structures of GPT are damaged and we will try to recover from the secondary, i.e. the backup. From recovering the other way, i.e. from primary to secondary, the process is similar, and you just have to select different options in gdisk.
It is advisable to use a live disk to do this.

I. Recovering partition table

sudo gdisk /dev/sdX

gdisk shell will open now. Enter 'r' to select recovery option.
From the recovery option, enter 'b', to recover GPT header from secondary (backup), and then enter 'c' to recover GPT partition table from secondary (backup).
Then select 'v', and then 'w' to verify, and write to disk.

Here is the full log.

sudo gdisk /dev/sda

GPT fdisk (gdisk) version 1.0.1

Partition table scan:
  MBR: protective
  BSD: not present
  APM: not present
  GPT: present

Found valid GPT with protective MBR; using GPT.

Command (? for help): r

Recovery/transformation command (? for help): b

Recovery/transformation command (? for help): c
Warning! This will probably do weird things if you've converted an MBR to
GPT form and haven't yet saved the GPT! Proceed? (Y/N): Y

Recovery/transformation command (? for help): v

No problems found. 3437 free sectors (1.7 MiB) available in 2
segments, the largest of which is 2014 (1007.0 KiB) in size.

Recovery/transformation command (? for help): w

This will recover the partition table, the recovery of grub is still left.

II. Recovering grub (boot-loader)

Run boot-repair.

sudo boot-repair

Now, follow through the options using either Recommended repair, or advanced options. It will then suggest several commands to execute in a terminal.

Now, you will have recovered both the partition table, and grub boot loader.
Hope it helped.