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(Current version is: 17.0, released 2022-October-25)
Tips and HOWTO DFSee 17.5 disk reflection
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DFSee usage tips and HOWTO

This document offers some guidance in using the DFSee product to achieve the best results possible with the least effort, and avoid some common pitfalls.

Topics covered are:

Using the DFSee bootable CDROM or USB-stick


No doubt using DFSee from a bootable CDROM solves a few problems in case of disk problems. Using it however, also introduces a few potential problems:

  1. Since DFSee is started from the CDROM the current directory is read-only

    This is a problem for actions that want to write files into this current directory like:

    The easiest way to get arround the problem is to change the current directory to a location where files can be written. This can be done from the DFSee commandline using the CD command, or from the menu using:

    Note that other things like creating imagefiles or exporting the sectorlist will present a File-SaveAs dialog by default, so the current directory is of less concern. It is important of course, to select a directory that can be written to.

  2. The bootable CDROM image emulates a diskette in drive A:

    Because of this, the first or only diskette drive is accessible as B:, or not at all if two physical diskette drives are present. Note that the A: driveletter that will appear in the file-dialogs really represents the CDROM bootimage and can NOT be used to save files!

    Another problem related to this diskette emulation mode is that it might not work on some (SCSI) systems because of subtle differences in the implementation of the El-Torrito standard used. When that happens, the symtoms might be anything from a hang during booting to simply booting from the harddisk ...

    Do note that for the floppy-emulation to work, diskette-support MUST be enabled in the BIOS. So if you have a laptop without a diskette, do NOT turn that BIOS support off or the CDROM will not boot either!

  3. The CDROM is using FreeDOS and the DFSDOS executable

    While all DFSee versions share the same set of commands and menu options, and in general can perform the same actions, using a DOS environment does place some restrictions:

  4. Many newer laptops do not have a CDROM drive anymore!

Note that using a bootable USB stick like DFSPUPPY is often more convenient and faster! DFSPUPPY USB stick front

The DFSee menu system and how to use it

Most users of computer systems these days are used to graphical userinterfaces as used on Windows, MAC or even more recent Linux systems. These interfaces are controlled using windows on your screen, a menu-system to select actions to be performed, a mouse to point at objects on that screen and the keyboard to enter text or commands. This offers very good feedback and reduces the chances of making mistakes.

The other extreme, the classic interface used before the GUI's is the commandline interface, with the screen displaying text output by the program and the keyboard used to enter commands. This requires the users to know or learn quite a lot about the program to be able to use all available functionality.

Since it is very hard to use a GUI program from a minimal system like a boot-diskette, DFSee is not using any GUI at all, instead it uses a compromise, where windows, menus, help-screens and dialogs are used but the interface is not graphical, it is still implemented as TEXT-mode.

It its current release DFSee does use a mouse to navigate its user interface, however, the mouse is only supported in the DOS, Windows and OS/2 versions.
When running under a GUI (text-window) like OS/2 or Windows you can use additional mouse functionality like the clipboard, when and where supplied by the OS.

Navigating the DFSee menu

The following keys perform the basic navigation in the menu:
Enter when just menu-headings are visible, will open the highlighted pulldown menu
Enter when a pulldown is open, will activate or execute the highlighted menu item
Esc when just menu-headings are visible, will close the menu and activate the commandline
Esc when a pulldown is open, will close the pulldown
F10 when the menu is active, will close the menu and activate the commandline
F10 when the commandline is active, will activate the menu and open the default pulldown
Right arrow when a submenu-item is highlighted in a pulldown, will open that submenu
Right arrow when no submenu-item is highlighted in a pulldown, will move to the next pulldown
Left arrow when a submenu is opened, will close that submenu
Left arrow when no submenu is opened, will move to the previous pulldown
Down arrow will move the highlight to the previous menu-item in the pulldown, and wrap arround
Up arrow will move the highlight to the next menu-item in the pulldown, and wrap arround at the top

When only the menu-headings are visible, the first letter of each heading can be used as a quick-select key to open that menu-heading. Almost any other key used will open the highlighted heading. When the commandline is active the command menu x  will activate the menu and open the heading with quick-select letter x.

When a pulldown menu is open, the letters that are highlighted (yellow) can be used as a quick-select key to activate (execute) that specific menu-item.

Context sensitive help and statusbar description

Since menu-headings and item text can be rather cryptic, additional information is supplied:
  1. The statusbar, at the bottom of the screen, will display a full line of additional description about the menu-heading or menu-item currently selected. This is updated while you are scrolling through the menu.
  2. At any time you can use the F1 function-key to get help on the currently selected heading or menu-item. This will present you with a help-window dedicated to the task at hand.
DFSee menu documentation

All information in the menu and help-system has also been extracted into an online version, including hundreds of screenshots. You can use that to get familiar with the many functions in DFSee.

DFSee menu documentation

Changing the default menu behaviour

The default behaviour of the menu will cause the menu to be present, but without any pull-down menu opened after startup and after completing each command. This ensures that the output from the command being executed is visible, while having the menu available to select the next action.

The menu behaviour can be adapted to personal taste using switches on DFSee startup:

DFSxxx -menu- Do not activate the menu on startup, and do not automatically re-activate it after executing a menu selection
DFSxxx -M:1 Do not open submenu when using right-arrow , instead the Enter key is required to open the submenu
DFSxxx -M:2 Do not automatically open pulldown menus , instead an explicit key-press is required to open the pulldown
DFSxxx -M:3 Combination of -M:1 and -M:2

In the above DFSxxx stands for any of of the available DFSee executables for OS/2, DOS, Windows, Linux, or OSX on the MAC.


The nightmare for every PC user, if you find yourself looking at: Most often you can recover lost partitions using DFSee!

The DFSFAST procedure collects information on all the existing partitions on one or more disks in the system into several result files. The DFSDISK procedure goes one step further and also does an extensive search of the disk(s) for any remaining partition-tables, bootsectors or LVM related sectors. Again, the results of this search is stored in several files for every disk examined.
The DFSFAST or DFSDISK result files are the basis for an analysis that may result in the cration of a recovery script (.DFS) that will recreate the missing or damaged partitions, and/or fix any other problems found.

Because of the complexity of the matter, and the many variations is disk layout and filesystems, the analysis is NOT automatic and requires someone knowledgable about disks, partitions and the problems that may occur with them. It is usually done by DFSee SUPPORT, and in that case does require a valid registration, and in repeat or more complex cases an additional support fee.

See DFSee support for details.

Getting the result files

To collect the required files for one or all disks use the following menu selections:

Analysis of the results

Based on the DFSDISK*.* information a recovery script can be created that can be run from the DFSee 'Scripts' menu or even directly from the operatingsystem command line like:

DFSxxx.exe run recover.dfs

You will most likely need assistance to do analyse the information, and that DOES require you to have or buy a registration, and in some cases pay an additional support fee!
If you have the wanted information collected in the files, you can send them to DFSee SUPPORT at: support@dfsee.com
To save space, I advice to compress all the files before sending them.

If you want to attempt the analysis yourself, or simply want to learn more about the matter you can also check the DFSee DFSDISK descriptions and usage

CREATE new partitions in freespace areas

You can create new partitions from the DFSee commandline using the CR command, see DFSee COMMAND overview, or from the menu as shown above.

When using the menu, the CREATE selection opens a submenu with all available freespace areas.

Only freespace areas that are large enough, and in a proper location to contain new partitions will be selectable. Freespace areas might not be selectable when:

Select the one you want to use for the new partition, and on ENTER you will be presented with a CREATE specific dialog that allows you to specify all relevant information.

The CREATE dialog allows you to specify:

After completing the CREATE dialog, you will get an aditional confirmation dialog with the new partition details displayed on the screen so you can verify them.

RECOVER files using the BROWSER user interface

You can COPY/RECOVER file(s) from any of the filesystems that have BROWSE support, even if the filesystem is not normally accessible by the operating system. (no driveletter assigned, not 'mounted'), or has been formatted or damaged somehow.

By selecting a partition, and starting the DFSee BROWSER ( key) you can navigate to files/directories, mark them using the , and then use the context-menu ( key) to copy/recover the marked files.

In this video you can see several files being recovered from an NTFS filesystem, using the OS/2 version of DFSee. OS/2 does NOT have a working NTFS filesystem driver!

RECOVER/UNDELETE files using manual commands

On several filesystems it is also possible to find and recover DELETED files, but that requires some manual commands to find and select them since the BROWSER will not show any deleted files. The same manual procedure can also be used to recover normal files, which can be easier or faster if the files to be selected are spread over many subdirectories and you only want to recover specific ones.

Find your deleted file(s) on an HPFS/NTFS/JFS/FAT partition, or find regular files on an HPFS/NTFS/JFS/EXTn/FAT partition that has become inaccessible for the operating system. (no driveletter assigned, not 'mounted'), or that has been formatted or damaged somehow.

Recover the file-data for all or selected files to another volume (driveletter).

Manual file-recovery (or undelete) in DFSee is done in several steps:

  1. Select the partition or volume in question from the menu

  2. Find deleted or normal files, collecting found ones in a list. Use one of:

    Depending on the current filesystem xxx you can specify part of the name for the file(s) to be found in the next dialog.

    While searching, a reference will be added to the DFSee sector-list for every file found that matches this partial filename and the full path+filename for the file will be displayed together with a recovery prognosis.

    Note that searching for files on a large disk, may take a very long time. Expect between less than 1 to more than 10 minutes per gigabyte, depending on the speed of your harddisk, the filesystem used and the amount of freespace.

  3. Save the search result list, for later retrieval (optional):
    Since searching may be time-consuming, you can save the list (EXPORT) with results to a file, so when you need to restart, or are interrupted somehow, you can simply read it from the file again (IMPORT). There are menu items to do that in the Actions menu:

    For JFS, remember to rebuild the SLT after importing the list, otherwise the path+filename info is not there resulting in rather cryptic filenames generated out of the INODE sectornumbers.

  4. Display the list, using a selection wildcard specification (optional):

    This optional step might be useful to find out what the best wildcard is to get exactly the file(s) you need to recover. The wildcard may describe any part of the full path+filename displayed while searching, and it can contain multiple wildcard-characters:

    * representing one or more characters in the path+filename
    ? representing exactly one character in the path+filename

    As an example: *mydocs*test?.doc

    would display/recover all .DOC files with a name starting with test plus just one character that have mydocs somewhere in the directory path.

  5. Recover the file-data for all or selected files to another volume (driveletter).

    This will first present a dialog where you need to specify the directory where the filedata will be recovered to. Of course this must be a writable location with enough freespace to hold the filedata for all files to be recovered. In this destination directory, the files will be recreated with their full original path and filename when available, and the data for the file is copied over.

    After specifying the destination directory, the next dialog allows you to specify a selection wildcard, exactly as with the optional display step described above.

    After this the files will be recovered one by one, with progress information displayed.

    For later reference and checking the results, it is advised to start a logfile before starting the recovery procedure.

    Notes specific to certain filesystems:

IMAGING using RAW or compressed files

Create an imagefile from the currently selected object (disk/partition) or restore an imagefile.

Imagefiles are (binary) files that hold a complete representation of a disk-partition or even a complete disk. Their use is in backup, system recovery and moving contents from one system to another. In DFSee there are two main types of imagefiles:

  1. RAW
    These are one-to-one exact sector copies of the original partition or disk in a binary file. The data is NOT compressed or changed in any way and nothing is added to the files for identification or other purposes.

    These are the kind of images that may be shared with other applications since it is a defacto standard. It is used a lot with diskette images, but also by Virtual-machine implementations like VPC or SVISTA as far as uncompressed disk images are used to represent the hard-disk of the virtual PC.

  2. Compressed
    The main difference with the RAW format is that they are well, compressed  meaning smaller ...
    DFSee uses a mixture of LZW and RLE compression methods to achieve maximum compression ratio and imaging speed for 'typical' situations. In addition it may use SmartUse filesystem information to skip unused areas of partitions when creating or restoring imagefiles. This results in tremendous savings in filesize and processing-time for filesystems that have lots of unused (free) space.
    Currently SmartUse imaging is implemented for HPFS, NTFS, JFS, FAT, EXT2/3, Reiser, and HFS+ filesystems.

Note: When you suspect that a filesystem could be DAMAGED, do NOT use the 'smart' option for imaging or cloning since the allocation information that is used for that may not be reliable! Use regular compression instead.

There are other properties that are useful with Compressed images mainly but, except for the header-info, work for RAW as well:

For the other options use the '-?' help option on IMAGE and RESTORE

Selecting the object

Allthough you can use the "File -> Open object to work with" menu to open an object and than create an image "from Current object", it is much more convenient to use the available menu selections in the imaging submenu. That way all selections needed to create the image are made from that single menu-selection plus a dialog: For diskette-images you would use a Volume, in most other situations you would use a Partition and in some rare cases you might want images for a complete disk.

Creating an Image

You can create images from the DFSee commandline using the IMAGE command, see DFSee COMMAND overview, or from the menu as shown above. When using the menu, or when specifying an incomplete IMAGE command, you will be presented with an imaging specific dialog that allows you to specify all relevant information.

Restoring an Image

You can restore images from the DFSee commandline using the RESTORE command, see DFSee COMMAND overview, or from the menu using:

CLONE partitions or whole disks

Copy the contents of another disk/partition to the currently selected object (disk/partition).

This will result in an exact sector-by-sector copy called a CLONE.

Selecting the object

You can use either the "File -> Open object to work with" menu to open an object and than clone from another object "to Current object", or use the more specific menu selections in the imaging submenu. Either way, most selections needed are made from that single menu-selection plus a dialog:

Performing the CLONE operation

You can clone objects from the DFSee commandline using the CLONE command, see DFSee COMMAND overview, or from the menu as shown above. When using the menu, or when specifying an incomplete CLONE command, you will be presented with a cloning specific dialog that allows you to specify all relevant information.

Some of the options available are:

COPY or MOVE partitions

Moving or copying a partition deals with the partition contents as well as the partition information (partition-tables and LVM), and is the easiest way to do this. It 'adds' functionality to the basic CLONE command.

You can MOVE or COPY partitions from the DFSee commandline using the MOVE command (and -c option), see DFSee COMMAND overview, or from the menu using one of following selections:

The actual copying or moving of the partition data will be done using a CLONE command, and the required partitioning and LVM commands will be determined and executed where needed.

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