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FreeBSD Basics

Accessing MS-DOS Filesystems


In today's article, I'd like to take a look at two utilities from the ports collection that can be used to manipulate data contained on MS-DOS file systems. The suite of DOS-like command line utilities found in mtools can manipulate MS-DOS data contained on floppies, another partition on your hard drive, Jaz drives, and Zip drives. The program mfm provides a nice GUI interface to access MS-DOS data on a floppy and to quickly transfer data between your home directory and an MS-DOS formatted floppy.

The nice thing about both utilities is that they allow a user to transparently access this data without having to first mount the filesystem. If you remember from the article on mounting filesystems, only the superuser can mount filesystems. If you are an administrator or have family members using your FreeBSD system, you don't want the hassle of mounting a filesystem every time someone wants to access data on a floppy. Also, as a new user you may still forget to unmount the filesystem before removing your floppy; if you've ever tried this, you have discovered that FreeBSD may panic, reboot, or give you nasty error messages for doing so.

So let's build both utilities and take a look at using them. Both come as either a package or a port, so you can build them either way. I'll demonstrate both methods by building mtools as a port and mfm as a package. Become the superuser, ensure that you are connected to the Internet, and enter the build directory for mtools to build its port:

cd /usr/ports/emulators/mtools
make && make install

Once this build is finished, open up your favourite web browser and go to Scroll down to mfm-1.5 and save the package to a directory on your hard drive; I have created a directory called /usr/packages for this purpose on my system. Once the download is finished:

Previously in FreeBSD Basics:

The System Startup Daemon: init

Discovering System Processes

Where the Log Files Live

cd /usr/packages
pkg_add mfm*

Once the package is added, leave the superuser account by typing exit. If you are using the C shell, type rehash to make your shell aware of your new programs.

Let's take a look at mtools. If you just type its name, it will give you a list of the tools that are available for your use:

Supported commands: mattrib, mbadblocks, mcat, mcd, mcopy, mdel, mdeltree, mdir, mdoctorfat, mdu, mformat, minfo, mlabel, mmd, mmount, mpartition, mrd, mread, mmove, mren, mshowfat, mtoolstest, mtype, mwrite, mzip

If you have ever used DOS before, most of these program names should be familiar to you; the only difference is that they all begin with the letter m. Each of these utilities has an associated manpage so you can view its syntax. Sections 1 and 5 of the manual has entries for mtools itself.

Let's see what happens if we type mcd:


That doesn't look too bad, as that's the prompt used by MS-DOS to represent your floppy drive. Experienced DOS users will note that the slash is Unix style instead of DOS style. Let's see if we can see the contents of a floppy using the mdir command:

fd0c: hard error reading fsbn 0 (No status)
plain_io: Input/output error
init A: could not read boot sector
Cannot initialize 'A:'

Oops, I'm so embarrassed; I forgot to put a floppy in the drive. Fortunately for me, mdir does a sanity check before trying to access the data on the floppy. Let's try again with a floppy in the drive:

Can't open /dev/rfd0: Permission denied
Cannot initialize 'A:'

Before we start messing about with permissions, we should first check the mtools configuration file to see what it is looking for. If you do a:

man 5 mtools

you'll discover that the name of the configuration file is mtools.conf, and it is located in /usr/local/etc. Let's see who has the right to access this file and make changes to it:

ls -l /usr/local/etc
drwxr-xr-x  9 root   wheel  1024 Dec  2 11:57 .
-r--r--r--  1 root   wheel  4441 Dec  2 11:50 mtools.conf

Looks like anyone will be able to read this file, but only the superuser will be able to make changes to it. (Forget how permissions work?) Let's take a look at this file first:

more /usr/local/etc/mtools.conf

# Example mtools.conf files.  Uncomment the lines which correspond to
# your architecture and comment out the "SAMPLE FILE" line below
# A note on permissions:  a user must have read and 
# write permissions for the devices named here in 
# order to access the DOS file systems.  You might 
# give ALL USERS access to ALL FLOPPY DISKS via 
#the command
#     chmod a+rw /dev/*fd* /dev/rfd[0-9]*
# # FreeBSD floppy drives
drive a: file="/dev/rfd0"
drive b: file="/dev/rfd1"

Looks like we need to give our users permissions to access the floppy device; fortunately, the lines specific to FreeBSD floppy drive device names have already been uncommented for us so we don't need to make any changes to this configuration file.

Let's look at the existing permissions for /dev/rfd0, which will be seen as "A:" by mtools:

ls -l /dev/rfd0
crw-r-----  18 root  operator  9, 0 Oct  3 08:51 /dev/rfd0

There's our problem. As mtools.conf stated, users need rw to access the device, but users only have r. Since this file is owned by root, we'll have to become the superuser to change its permissions; since I only have one floppy drive, I'll just add rw to the one device:


chmod a+rw /dev/rfd0

ls -l /dev/rfd0
crw-rw-rw-  18 root  operator    9,   0 Oct  3 08:51 /dev/rfd0

Leave the superuser account and try your mdir command again as a regular user; you should be able to see the contents of your floppy drive.

Let's get a little fancier than this. I have a FAT partition at the beginning of my hard drive; let's see if mtools can access it. There were some lines in mtools.conf that dealt with hard drives:

more /usr/local/etc/mtools.conf

# IDE hard disks
#   first disk on the first IDE 
#   interface (wd0) slice 1 (s1)
drive c: file="/dev/rwd0s1"

Since I'm using a version of FreeBSD higher than 4.0, my first IDE interface is actually called ad0 instead of wd0. So I'll need to become the superuser and edit this line to read:

drive c: file="/dev/rad0s1"

While I'm superuser, I'll also want to check the permissions on this device:

ls -l /dev/rad0s1
crw-r-----  1 root  operator 116, 0x00020002 Oct 4 15:58 rad0s1

and change them so users can access the C: drive:

chmod a+rw /dev/rad0s1

Then, as a regular user, I'll see if I can access data on both the A: and C: drives:

mcd a:
 Volume in drive A has no label
 Volume Serial Number is 3505-18E3
Directory for A:/

dru3     txt   2846 11-28-2000  21:46 
inetdc~1 txt  13669 10-05-2000  21:22  inetd.conf.txt
cisco    doc  10752 11-13-2000  18:07 
        3 files         27 267 bytes
                     1 428 698 bytes free
mcd c:
 Volume in drive C has no label
 Volume Serial Number is 39D0-A67B
Directory for C:/

bootsect bsd     512 10-04-2000 15:22 
confer~1    <DIR>    11-01-2000 20:39 conferencing server
sybex       <DIR>    11-10-2000 20:18 Sybex
        3 files            512 bytes
                   492 470 272 bytes free

Now, I know that there are some hidden files on my C: drive; if I take a look at man mdir, I'll see that -a will show hidden files. Let's try that command again:

mdir -a

 Volume in drive C has no label
 Volume Serial Number is 39D0-A67B
Directory for C:/

bootsect dos     512   10-04-2000 15:33 
config   sys       0   10-04-2000 15:40 
autoexec bat       0   10-04-2000 15:40 
io       sys       0   10-04-2000 15:40 
msdos    sys       0   10-04-2000 15:40 
bootsect bsd     512   10-04-2000 15:22 
msdownld tmp <DIR>     10-04-2000 16:10 
confer~1     <DIR>     11-01-2000 20:39 conferencing server
recycled     <DIR>     11-01-2000 21:01 Recycled
sybex        <DIR>     11-10-2000 20:18 Sybex
arcldr   exe  148992   12-07-1999 12:00 
arcsetup exe  162816   12-07-1999 12:00 
ntldr         214416   12-07-1999 12:00 
ntdetect com   34468   11-25-2000 21:45 
boot     ini     214   11-25-2000 20:00 
pagefile sys 104857600 11-25-2000 19:51 
       16 files     105 419 530 bytes
                    492 470 272 bytes free

Let's see if I can read one of these files:

mtype boot.ini

[boot loader]
[operating systems]
  Windows 2000 Server" /fastdetect

Let's see if I can copy this file onto my floppy:

mcopy boot.ini a:

My floppy drive is churning, which is a good sign. Let's double-check that it worked:

mdir a:
 Volume in drive A has no label
 Volume Serial Number is 3505-18E3
Directory for A:/

dru3     txt    2846 11-28-2000  21:46 
inetdc~1 txt   13669 10-05-2000  21:22  inetd.conf.txt
boot     ini     214 12-03-2000  11:25  boot.ini
cisco    doc   10752 11-13-2000  18:07 
        4 files         27 481 bytes
                     1 428 484 bytes free

It is nice to be able to easily transfer files from my NT boot partition to a floppy while I'm in my FreeBSD system. I can just as easily send files back and forth between FreeBSD and my C: drive or A: drive.

A few things to note about mtools. It supplies DOS-like utilities, and DOS is quite limited. For example, I won't be able to read the file on my floppy drive called cisco.doc as DOS does not recognize the "doc" extension. If you are working in both your A: and C: drives, you'll have to mcd between them like so:

mcd a: to view and manipulate data on A:
mcd c: to view and manipulate data on C:

Also, make sure you are only trying to access MS-DOS filesystems; that is, don't try to view the contents of a floppy formatted with a Unix filesystem.

Now let's take a look at mfm. This utility is easier to work with as it has a very intuitive interface; it is also more limited than mtools, as it can only be used to access MS-DOS data contained on a floppy. Let's see where it was installed:

whereis -b mfm
mfm: /usr/X11R6/bin/mfm
Since it is a GUI, you will have to run it from an XWindows session. I've placed a shortcut to it in my XFCE toolbar. If you don't know how to create shortcuts in your Windows Manager yet, open up an xterm and type in the path to mfm. (There is a link to a screenshot here.)

When the utility opens up, you'll see a window with two panes; by default, both panes will show the contents of your home directory. Directories have a folder icon, and their names and attributes show up in blue type. Files have an icon that looks like a sheet of paper, and their attributes show up in black type. If you click on the Options menu with your mouse, you can "Show dot files" to also view your hidden files.

Insert your floppy; at the menu bar on top of one of the panes, click on the arrow and select a: instead of the default Harddisk. You should now see the contents of your floppy. By highlighting a file on the floppy and clicking on the Copy button with the appropriate arrow, you can copy the file over to your home directory. Or by clicking a file on your home directory, you can quickly copy it over to the floppy.

Click on the File menu just above a pane; here you'll see options to delete, rename, or print the highlighted file. You can also create a new directory using this menu. If you remove a floppy and insert a new one, use the View menu, Refresh option to see the contents of the new floppy.

Though somewhat limited, mfm is a very quick way to manipulate the contents of your home directory in a visual way. I also find it to be a painless method of sending files back and forth between a floppy and my home directory.

For next week's article, let's continue poking about the neat programs available in the ports collection.

Dru Lavigne is a network and systems administrator, IT instructor, author and international speaker. She has over a decade of experience administering and teaching Netware, Microsoft, Cisco, Checkpoint, SCO, Solaris, Linux, and BSD systems. A prolific author, she pens the popular FreeBSD Basics column for O'Reilly and is author of BSD Hacks and The Best of FreeBSD Basics.

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