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A friend (not technical) has a Linux server running CentOS which will no longer boot. His IT guy looked at it and says the inode table on the root partition was basically gone. Since the inode table is gone, they are are not able to get into the system he said. Is there a way to recover the inode table for the file system to be re-built? The most important, there was no backup and there is a huge Mailman e-mail listing it was hosting that he wants to retrieve. What Linux tools would be needed to do this? I may get physical access to the system myself, so I'm wondering if retrieving the data on it is a lost cause. Thanks!

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It is possible that the superblock, rather than anything to do with the inodes, is corrupt. Thankfully, the most common filesystems used on Linux systems (ext[234]) write many copies of the superblock spread over the device.

To test the theory, boot from a recovery CD (or a system rescue CD), and do something like

mke2fs -n /dev/sda1 (or whatever the device's name is)

The -n is important! If you omit it, mke2fs will create a new filesystem. With -n it will display the parameters it would have used, but it won't actually write anything. Most importantly, it will display a list of blocks where superblocks should be. You can then try using one of the alternative superblocks by trying to mount the filesystem thusly:

mkdir /test
mount -o sb=[superblock location] /dev/sda1 /test
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