In Linux, is there a way to access files on a mounted filesystem that have been "shadowed" when another file system was mounted over a subdirectory?


cd /
mkdir /foo
touch /foo/bar
mount /dev/sda1 /foo
# now, can I still get to /foo/bar on the / filesystem?

The solution of my dreams would not require elevated permissions or be specific to a certain file system, but I'll take whatever scraps I can get without risking a corrupted file system.


You can use the mount command to access the underlying filesystem.

$ mkdir /mnt/root
$ sudo mount --bind / /mnt/root
$ cat /mnt/root/foo/bar

There is no issue with corruption with doing this, but it does require permission to mount the file system.

  • +1, I thought that mount --bind was the answer. But I wasn't sure. – Dan D. Feb 13 '12 at 9:38
  • 1
    +0.95, I completely forgot about binds being nonrecursive by default. However, last time I bindmounted / elsewhere, I could not umount it without rebooting; might have been some GUI component grabbing it though. Have you tested that? – grawity Feb 13 '12 at 9:41
  • Thanks! I thought about bind mounts for a second, but thought they'd work based on path name rewriting and thus be recursive... – themel Feb 13 '12 at 9:51

If you have root, you can mount --move the mounted filesystem on top of a temporary directory, then move it back afterwards.

mkdir /bar
mount --move /foo /bar

Having root also allows accessing the underlying block devices, if any, directly. For ext4, you can use debugfs to export files.

Read-only access can never corrupt the filesystem.

Directories can have handles, or file descriptors, obtained for them. The "current directory" is a handle too, not a path. If you have a handle to a directory, you can access files inside even if that location has been mounted over. This does not need special privileges, only special preparation.

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