A Weird Imagination

Tracker troubles

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I use a Nokia N9 as my cell phone, largely because its MeeGo operating system is Linux based and in fact the command-line can be used very similarly to any other Debian system. This also means Linux sysadmining skills can be used to work around bugs in this sadly no longer supported platform.

The N9 stores a lot of its state including contacts, messages, and call logs in an SQLite database called tracker. It turns out many people have had trouble with it failing, resulting in the contacts app showing the error Can't import contacts and the messaging the phone apps also showing no data. Those threads offer various solutions on how to get your phone back to a working state. In my case, I followed the instructions, and my phone worked fine for several months before failing in the same way again.

I followed the instructions a second time but noticed that it was giving disk full errors. On further inspection, it was clear that the disk wasn't actually full: it was actually out of inodes. After some work which led to my previous blog post, I found /home/user/.cache/telepathy/avatars/gabble/jabber/ had hundreds of thousands of files (and I don't have that many friends). Simply deleting them freed up all of the inodes and I haven't had any troubles since, although I've been making regular backups just in case.

Recovering (some) lost data

While the files have been deleted, they may not have been overwritten yet, so there may be some hope of a partial recovery. The data for tracker is stored in /home/user/.cache/tracker/. df has the useful side effect of revealing which filesystem a directory is on:

$ df /home/user/.cache/tracker/
Filesystem           1K-blocks      Used Available Use% Mounted on
/dev/mmcblk0p3         2064208    793712   1165640  41% /home

Attempting data recovery on a mounted partition is a bad idea as the unused space might get overwritten by new files; it's best to make a copy of it. Now that we know where the filesystem is, we can copy it using dd:

dd if=/dev/mmcblk0p3 | ssh $hostname dd of=$file

Then we can examine the partition offline. Particularly strings and grep with its -A and -B options can search for known strings like names and phone numbers and nearby content. For example, searching for a phone number without spaces should find at least some of the associated text messages:

strings partdump | grep -A3 -B3 -F '+19175551212'

Unfortunately, this method is slow and unreliable. I've used it to recover a few text messages and a few phone numbers, but there's no clear way to automate it, so do not expect to recover all of your contacts and text messages this way.

Out of inodes, what now?

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When you start getting disk full messages on Linux, there's a few different reasons why that might happen:

  1. The expected. Too many large files. You can track down large directories using WinDirStat or

    du -hx --max-depth=1 | sort -h
    where the -x option tells du to not cross filesystem boundaries and the -h option to both uses human-readable sizes like 11M or 1G.

  2. Deleted files aren't actually deleted if they are still open. You can use lsof to find open files. Give it the filesystem as an argument like lsof /home.

  3. By default 5% of each filesystem is reserved for writes by root. Depending on what the filesystem is being used for, this may be too much or simply unnecessary. See this Server Fault answer for how to deal with this.

  4. The files could be shadowed by a mount. If a filesystem is mounted over a non-empty directory, the files in that directory aren't visible.

  5. Last, the disk might not actually be out of space at all. It might actually be out of inodes. Some filesystems, notably the ext2/3/4 filesystems used by default on most Linux distributions have a fixed number of inodes allocated at filesystem creation time. The default is high enough that it is unlikely to be an issue unless there are a very large number of empty files. df -i will show the number of inodes free on each filesystem to verify if a filesystem is indeed out of inodes.

    But how do you find those empty files? As described above, du will help find large files, but now we want to find large numbers of files. The following command acts like du -hx --max-depth=$depth | sort -h for inodes instead of file sizes:

    find -xdev | sed "s@\(\([^/]*/\)\{$depth\}[^/]*\).*@\1@" | uniq -c | sort -n
    

    find -xdev lists all of the files under the current directory on the same filesystem. The sed command finds the first $depth directories (ending in /) and discards the rest of the filename (the .* at the end), so each directory appears once for every file or directory anywhere under it. Then the end of the command counts the repeated lines and sorts by those counts, highlighting the directories with the most files.