Site search

Recover files using Puppy Linux, page 2

By , logo. Last updated: 2020-06-04

How to use Puppy Linux for recovering files and folders from unbootable Windows drives

Page 1 of the article describes how to download Puppy Linux, create a bootable CD/DVD or USB drive and how to start your computer from the media.

Mounting drives and partitions in Puppy Linux

One quick note to those not accustomed to Linux - most items open with just one click instead of double-click.

By now you probably noticed the storage icons on the bottom left of Desktop, just above the menu button. These are partitions/volumes on a local hard disk drive or SSD, external storage device(s) and CD/DVD device(s):

  • Floppy disk drives start with "fd".
  • Partitions or volumes on hard drives, SSD-s, and USB storage devices start with "sd".
  • CD/DVD and other optical devices start with "sr".

Each partition has a number: if your device has one hard drive or SSD with two partitions, they would be named "sda1" and "sda2" - "a" for the first physical hard disk and "1" and "2" for the partitions on it.
In case of two hard disks, both containing one partition, they would be called "sda1" and "sdb1".
If your device has just one drive with one partition, there will be only one icon - "sda1".
Left lower part of Puppy Linux Desktop, list of available floppy devices, local hard disks and CD/DVD drives.

To easily distinguish between different hard disks and partitions, hover your mouse over an icon and check out the partition's filesystem type and size. Windows is normally installed on the largest or the second-largest partition, and it has formatted as NTFS.
Only very old Windows XP computers might have Windows installed on a FAT16 or FAT32 partition.
Puppy Linux Desktop, list of available drives. To distinguish between available drives, stop mouse pointer over an icon and see the drive's filesystem type and size.

Most Windows Vista and 7 devices have a special recovery partition with a size of around 100 MB (megabytes). In Windows 8 and 8.1, the size is 350 and 450 MB, and in Windows 10, the size is 1000 MB.
On UEFI devices, there is also a 100-500 MB FAT32 partition that contains boot data.
OEM (Windows was preinstalled) devices might have two or three smaller (1-30 gigabytes) NTFS partitions that contain data for a clean reinstall of Windows. Consult your device manual on how to start this recovery, but please remember that this will delete all data - backup your stuff first.

If your computer has these partitions, there is no need to use these. Important files, folders, and settings are on other partitions.
Puppy Linux Desktop, list of available drives. Many Windows Vista and later installations have a special 100 or 350-500 MB recovery partition that is not necessary for personal file recovery.

In Linux, you have to mount a drive/partition first to start using it: click on some icon starting with "sd" - "sda1", for example. After a few seconds, contents will open in a new window.
Items in green are the important hidden and/or system files or folders that you should never mess with.
Puppy Linux, partition contents window will open after mounting. Note that Linux puts all mounted partitions in a special folder named mnt.

As Linux does not use different drive letters, such as "C:" or "D:" to distinguish between disks, all mounted disks will have a link in a special folder named "mnt", short for "mount". You can see that from the picture above - the sda2 partition mounted appears as /mnt/sda2 in Puppy Linux.

On Desktop, you will see a green ring/circle on a mounted partition icon. I have also connected my USB flash drive and this has been named "sdd1". Why not "sdb1"? Because it is a removable flash drive, not a hard disk drive or SSD. Linux essentials! Wink
Puppy Linux, green ring on a partition icon means that the partition has been mounted.

Connect your USB flash drive or external hard disk that you intend to use for the backup. Wait for the new icon to appear on Desktop, then click it to mount the drive. Please note the name of the mounted storage device, such as "sdd1" or "sdb1", you will need it soon.

Do not close the mounted drive window yet. But if you have to, just click the mounted drive icon on Desktop later and the contents window will open again.

Running a basic disk check in Puppy Linux

In case you just want to run a disk check to see if Windows is able to boot after this, make sure none of the partitions are mounted - you cannot run a check on a mounted drive.

If a drive has already been mounted, click to open Mount on the top left of Desktop.
Puppy Linux, Desktop. Pmount allows mounting and unmounting disks and partitions.

Then click the Unmount button for the disk or partition you want to check. Verify that the green ring or circle disappears from the drive icon on the Desktop.
Puppy Linux, Pmount. To allow drive checking, click 'Unmount' to release the partition.

Exit Pmount by clicking the Quit button.

Next, launch Console from the top row of Desktop. Just one click, not double-click!
Puppy Linux, Desktop. To check a partition, click Console.

Type ntfsfix /dev/sda<number> where <number> is the partition you want to check. For example, ntfsfix /dev/sda1 or ntfsfix /dev/sda2. Press ENTER key to launch the check.
Please make sure you are using only lowercase letters in the command, as in Linux "ntfsfix" does not equal "Ntfsfix" and "/dev/sda1" does not equal "/Dev/sda1" - Linux is very case-sensitive. Smile

The actual check takes normally very little time because ntfsfix is not as thorough as Windows' chkdsk. But do not expect this utility to fix everything, either.
Puppy Linux, Console. To check the first partition for errors, type ntfsfix /dev/sda1. Then press Enter to run the diagnostics.

In case you see an error message stating "Refusing to operate on read-write mounted device" instead, the partition is still mounted and you must unmount it first.
Puppy Linux, Console, ntfsfix. The 'Refusing to operate on read-write mounted device' error means that you must unmount the partition before running the check.

If you have more than one partition, run ntfsfix on these, too. To close the Console window, type exit, and press ENTER.

Now you can try booting Windows again to see if the problem was fixed. Please be aware that ntfsfix also forces a full Windows disk check on the partition(s) you checked. This might take a long time to complete, but it will probably repair all remaining errors. Windows might reboot and repeat the disk check by itself - this is normal and you should not interfere with disk checks in any way (never power off or reboot your device while a disk check is running!).

If you suspect that your computer has stopped responding during the Windows disk check, verify that the hard drive/SSD activity indicator on your PC is blinking or constantly on. If it is completely off for more than five minutes, Windows is still unable to boot and you should boot back into Puppy Linux to recover your files.

Copying important files and folders to an external hard drive or a USB flash drive with Puppy Linux

Return to mounted partition contents window and click Documents and Settings (on a Windows XP computer) or Users (on a Windows Vista, 7, 8/8.1 or 10 device) folder.

If you need to go back to the parent folder, click the green up arrow on the toolbar.

Here are the contents of a typical Users folder. You can always ignore folders named "Default User", "Default" and "All Users".

In the example below, there is just one user profile folder - Mirjam (your user name is probably different).

If you use Shared/Public Documents (the files shared between different users on one computer or tablet), then you can find these in All Users (Windows XP) or Public folder.

In case a folder has an overlay icon with an arrow pointing to left, it is just a link for backward compatibility - backing up these folders is not necessary.
Puppy Linux, contents of Users folder on mounted Windows Vista hard disk. Click your user name to see and copy your personal files. Shared documents are in Public folder.

The safest bet is to copy the whole user profile folder - this makes sure that you really can recover all files and settings, such as Microsoft Outlook's signatures, archive folder(s), third-party browsers' bookmarks, etc.

However, if your backup drive does not have enough free space, here are the most important user profile subfolders you need to copy to the backup drive.

On Windows XP devices:

  • Desktop - all items on your Windows XP Desktop (icons, files, folders, etc).
  • Favorites - your Internet Explorer favorites.
  • My Documents - contents of your My Documents folder (in All Users, or Shared Documents this is called just "Documents") - your documents, pictures, videos, etc.
  • Templates - only if you use Microsoft Office and you have created special templates for documents.

On Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10 devices (do not copy folders that have an icon of an arrow pointing to left - these are compatibility links, not real folders):

  • AppData\Local\Packages\Microsoft.MicrosoftEdge_8wekyb3d8bbwe\AC\MicrosoftEdge\User\Default\Favorites - only in Windows 10, your Edge (aka Spartan) browser favorites.
  • Contacts - only necessary if Windows Mail or Windows Live Mail has stored contact data.
  • Desktop - all items on your Windows Desktop (icons, files, folders, etc).
  • Documents - contents of your My Documents folder (note that in Windows Vista and newer, this does not include My Pictures, My Music, and My Videos folders - these are just shortcuts for Windows XP backward compatibility).
  • Downloads - files downloaded from the Internet.
  • Favorites - your Internet Explorer favorites.
  • Links - only necessary if you use Windows/File Explorer's Favorites feature in Windows 7, 8 or 8.1, or Quick Access feature in Windows 10 to store links to favorite folders.
  • Music - your music files (mp3-s, wma-s, etc).
  • OneDrive or SkyDrive - your locally stored (offline) OneDrive files and folders. These are also available online at, so you can safely skip this folder if your backup device does not have enough free space.
  • Pictures - your photos and pictures.
  • Saved Games - only necessary if you have saved some state in Windows games (e.g. Solitaire).
  • Searches - only necessary if you have saved some search criteria.
  • Templates - only necessary if you use Microsoft Office and you have created special templates for documents.
  • Videos - your video files.

If you want to recover your account picture in Windows 8, 8.1, or 10, you should also copy the AccountPictures folder from the Public folder.

In case you've created custom Libraries or changed default ones, you might want to copy the Library folder from AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Windows\Libraries folder.

To back up all third-party (non-Microsoft) drivers, navigate to the Windows installation folder, and open the System32 (Windows XP only) or System32\DriverStore (Windows Vista and newer) subfolder.
For Windows XP, copy the DRVSTORE folder to your backup drive.
For Windows Vista, 7, 8/8.1 and 10, copy the FileRepository folder.
Please note that the folder might be several gigabytes in size.

If the contents are organized with huge spaces between items, click the Show extra details button on Toolbar to use the list view. This behavior is caused by excessively long file or folder names.
Puppy Linux, contents of a user folder. Most important ones are Desktop, Downloads, Music, Saved Games, Documents, Favorites, Pictures and Videos. If you use Microsoft Office, your templates might be in Templates folder.

Disk space calculations in Puppy Linux

To determine disk space needed for copying a folder, right-click the folder, select Dir '<folder name>', and click Properties. Or use arrow keys on the keyboard to move to the folder, press Space to select the item, and then use keyboard shortcut Ctrl+P.
Puppy Linux, to see folder size, right-click on the folder, select Dir 'folder name' and click Properties.

Wait until folder size is calculated in Size: field. Here, "K" means kilobytes, "M" means megabytes, and "G" means gigabytes.
To close folder properties, click the black X on the right side of Title Bar or click the Close button.
Puppy Linux, folder size is displayed in Size field of folder properties window.

To see disk space available on your flash drive or external hard disk, click mount on the top left of Desktop.
Puppy Linux, Desktop. To check available disk space on a mounted disk, click the 'mount' icon.

This opens a program named Pmount. Click the usbdrv tab and check the free space size for your USB flash drive or hard disk. Again, "K" means kilobytes, "M" means megabytes and "G" means gigabytes.
Close Pmount by clicking the Quit button.
Puppy Linux, Pmount. To see free space on a mounted USB drive, click the usbdrv tab and see the free space amount.

File and folder copying in Puppy Linux

First, you might want to create a new folder for backup on the external disk. Open the drive, right-click on a blank space and select Directory from the New menu.
Puppy Linux, folder right-click menu. To create a new folder, click 'Directory' in the 'New' menu.

Type a name for the folder in the end of the line, preserving the /mnt/sd<number>/ part.
Then click Create.
Puppy Linux, Create dialog. To create a new folder, type its name in the end of the line. Then click Create.

To copy just one folder to your flash drive or external hard disk, right-click on the folder, select Dir '<folder name>', and then click Copy...
Puppy Linux, folder copying. To copy a folder to an external USB drive, right-click on the desired folder, select Dir 'folder name' and then click Copy.

Type the path to your USB flash drive or external hard disk (see the icons on Desktop), for example "/mnt/sdd1/rescue/" or "/mnt/sdb1/" and click Copy. Don't forget the slashes in the beginning and in the end.
Please remember that in Linux everything is case-sensitive, so "sdd1" does not equal "Sdd1" or "SDD1" or "sDd1". Use only lowercase letters here!
Puppy Linux, folder copying. Type the path to your mounted external hard drive or USB flash disk and click Copy.

The copy dialog will open and it will list all files copied. Wait until the copy process is complete.
Puppy Linux, file copy dialog. All files copied will be listed here. Please wait until the copying process is complete.

To copy multiple folders or files at once, open hard disk contents in one window and removable drive contents in another window. Then select files and folders you want to copy - keyboard shortcut CTRL+A selects all items; holding down CTRL key while clicking an item selects or deselects it.
Then hold down the left button of your mouse and just drag the selected items to the window of external disk. The mouse pointer turns into a document icon with a + sign.
Puppy Linux, copying multiple items. Select the items you need, click and hold left button of mouse and drag the selected items into the window of external disk.

A dialog opens, asking whether you want to copy or move items. Always click Copy here - moving is a very bad idea, and linking has no effect whatsoever after shutting down Puppy Linux.
Puppy Linux, copying multiple items. Click Copy to send the selected files or folders to external drive.

More important folders to rescue from Windows system drive

After copying all user profile folders (if your device has more than one) or all necessary subfolders from every user's profile folder (and all custom folders you might have created outside the Documents and Settings or Users folder) to the external disk, continue with rescuing Windows registry. This one helps IT specialists restore all Windows and programs' settings, sometimes even licenses and activation data for paid software.

Navigate to the Windows folder (or the folder containing Windows installation) and open the System32 folder. The latter one might take several minutes to finish listing all items in it.
Locate the config folder and copy it to the external drive.
Puppy Linux, copying Windows registry. Open Windows folder and then System32 folder. Copy folder named 'config' to external drive.

Installed fonts are stored in the Windows\Fonts folder. Copy this folder only if you have manually installed custom ones.

In case your backup device still has plenty of available disk space, you should also copy Program Files, Program Files (x86) and ProgramData folders from the root of system drive to be sure that all settings are recoverable.
The Program Files (x86) folder is available only if your device has 64-bit Windows Vista or newer installed; and the ProgramData folder is also available in Windows Vista or later only.

Now the file and folder rescuing part is done. Check and double-check that you really did copy all necessary items.

Shutting down Puppy Linux

Click the menu button on Puppy Linux Taskbar. Select Shutdown and click Power-off computer to shut down your device.
Puppy Linux, to shut down your computer after file copying, click the Menu button on Taskbar. Then select Shutdown and click 'Power-off computer'.

As you ran Puppy Linux in LiveCD mode, it will ask whether you want to save your session settings on a flash drive. You do not need to do that. Press the arrow left key on your keyboard once to select Do Not Save. Then press Enter key on your keyboard.
Puppy Linux, before shutting down your computer you are offered to save changes to documents and settings. Use arrow right key to select 'Do Not Save', then press Enter key to confirm.

Puppy Linux will then shut down your computer.

After reinstalling Windows, you can copy the files and folders back to your computer and set up regular backups to avoid such problems in the future.


Ctrl+F searches in the contents

Previous: Recover files from Windows drives using Puppy Linux