Disk partitioning problems with SuSE Linux 9.2.

DOS fdisk program used to rescue Linux installation

When I made the transition to using Linux it never occurred to me that one day I might need to use a 1993 version of DOS to rescue a Linux system. However, while attempting to install SuSE Linux 9.2 onto an older machine the YaST installation tool reported that it couldn't modify the partitions on the disk. This was easily overcome by using a DOS boot disk to run fdisk and delete the partitions.

Content revision history:
First draft deployed, 8th November 2004

The sorry tale

An attempt was being made to install SuSE Linux 9.2 onto a computer built in 1998. The necessary choices were made for language, installed software, pointing device and disk partitions and the partitioning process began. After a few moments the partitioning process reported that it was unable to format /dev/hda5 and suggested a reboot. In due course the computer was rebooted but this time the installation process reported that the disk partitioning software, parted, was unable to make any changes whatsoever to the hard disk.

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Obtaining the the correct tool for the job, and knowing how to use it are two entirely different matters.

It is possible that the first error, that of being unable to format /dev/hda5 arose because the installation process had been using the hard disk for temporary swap space. It seems likely that the second error was because the partition table had been corrupted during the first installation attempt.

A boot diskette containg DOS 6.2 was located and used to reboot the computer. Then the fdisk program was used to delete all of the partitions on the hard disk.

With all the partitions removed the YaST installation process was able to repartition the disk drive and complete the installation.

However when the SuSE Linux installation process completed and the computer was rebooted, it reported that the hard disk had no active partition and hence was unbootable. It is possible that this problem was caused by incompetent choices made during the partitioning process rather than any fault of the YaST installation program but, in any case the computer was unbootable. This problem was resolved very easily by booting the DOS diskette once again and using the fdisk program to set the appropriate partition active. Thereafter the system could boot directly to the grub boot loader and thence to GNU/Linux.

Naturally similar results could have been achieved using a LInux boot disk instead of a DOS boot disk but, in my case, a DOS diskette was all that was available. If you don't have a DOS diskette then you might be able to boot from a bootable Linux CD. For example you could consider using a Knoppix CD (obtainable by download or often supplied on magazine cover disks) or one of the SuSE “Live Evaluation” distributions (also available on cover disks or by download).


The creators of one of the fine GNU/Linux distributions referred to in this article.
The creators of a GNU/Linux distribution that can be booted directly from CD and that all serious Linux users should perhaps have at least one copy of, even if only for emergency use.


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