Repairing systems with old ERDs can spell trouble. If you don’t want to reinstall the machines and restore from tape, try these steps.

Last-Ditch Fix-Its

Repairing systems with old ERDs can spell trouble. If you don’t want to reinstall the machines and restore from tape, try these steps.

Last month I reviewed the basics of when to use the ERD and the necessary steps to perform a straightforward emergency repair. But what happens after you follow all the steps and that lovely blue screen still stares you in the face? Is your only hope a new installation followed by a tape restore process? Maybe not.

The main underlying issue with most emergency repair processes is the SETUPDD.SYS file, which is located on Setup Disk 2 of the three Windows NT installation diskettes. SETUPDD.SYS initiates and controls the emergency repair process. The original version of this file uses the version resource dates between files to make the final determination of whether to replace a file on the system with an original file from the NT installation disk. The problem with this method is that after Service Pack updates, most of the files will have more recent version resource dates and, therefore, won’t be replaced—even if they need to be because of corruption or mismatch.

This problem was recognized with the first Service Pack release, and it was corrected with SP2 by modifying SETUPDD.SYS to disable the version resource date comparison function. This means that the SP2 and later versions of SETUPDD.SYS only use the CRC values that are located in the SETUP.LOG to compare against the files on the system to determine if they should be replaced. To resolve this fundamental problem, you must copy the SETUPDD.SYS file from SP2 or greater to the original Setup Disk 2 of the three NT installation diskettes.

The Impact of Service Packs

Beginning with SP3, NT 4.0 really should have been called NT 4.1 instead of just another Service Pack bug fix. SP3 put in place many fundamental components for the then-NT 5.0 project, a.k.a. Windows 2000. This evolution has only intensified with the subsequent SP4 and SP5 modifications to the underlying system. Most of these changes don’t affect the repair process, and they probably aren’t even used in most NT implementations. For example, DCOM-based applications are only now beginning to roll out of software shops, but its foundational underpinnings have been in NT since SP3. However, the changes that do directly affect our current subject are the ones related to Logon and modifications to the System and Security Registry hives.

As I mentioned last month, many people never update the ERD after the initial installation of the system. This will come back to haunt you. If you complete an emergency repair on an SP3 or greater system with a pre-SP3 ERD that you diligently modified with the proper SETUPDD.SYS, you’ll be in emergency repair hell… well, at least purgatory. When the repair is complete, your system files will be in a pre-SP3 state with the System and Security Registry hives already altered by the original SP3 application. Remember, while Service Packs can make complex changes to the structure of any component, the ERD process only copies files. When you try to reboot the system, the pre-SP3 files that need to read the SAM won’t be able to access the SP3-altered Security and System Registry hives. The same is true when you run SYSKEY against the SAM. If you’ve lost your key, you’ll need to repair from a pre-SP3 repair disk. (KnowledgeBase article Q143475, “Windows NT System Key Permits Strong Encryption of the SAM,” discusses this in more detail.)

This problem has grown with the arrival of SP4. The original SP3 files that needed to be considered were SAMSRV.DLL, SAMLIB.DLL, and WINLOGON.EXE. With SP4, you need to add LSASRV.DLL, SERVICES.EXE, and MSV1_0.DLL to the files that are needed to access the underlying architecture that has been modified during the Service Pack system modification process.

First Aid for Old ERDs

If you find yourself with an original ERD and a later Service Pack system that needs the emergency repair process, first slap yourself for not keeping your ERD up to date. Then, perform the following abbreviated steps.

  1. Make a duplicate copy of the Emergency Repair Disk before modifying it, because this procedure may keep the repair procedure for fixing other problems.
  2. Remove the attributes from the SETUP.LOG file by typing the following at the command

attrib -r -h -s a:\SETUP.LOG

  1. Add the following lines under the [Files.WinNt] section of the SETUP.LOG file (I’ve broken them to accommodate the width of the online column):

\%Systemroot%\System32\Samsrv.dll =
“samsrv.dll”,” 30ec0”,”\”,“nt40 repair disk”,”samsrv.dll”

\%Systemroot%\System32\Samlib.dll =
“samlib.dll”,”f993”,”\”,“nt40 repair disk”,”samlib.dll”

\%Systemroot%\System32\Winlogon.exe =
“winlogon.exe”,” 3c2eb”,”\”,“nt40 repair disk”,”winlogon.exe”

\%Systemroot%\system32\lsasrv.dll =
“LSASRV.DLL”,”2e7c7”,”\”,“nt40 repair disk”,”lsasrv.dll”

\%Systemroot%\system32\services.exe =
“SERVICES.EXE”,”2e740”,”\”,“nt40 repair disk”,”services.exe”

\%Systemroot%\system32\msv1_0.dll =
“MSV1_0.DLL”,”cca6”,”\”,“nt40 repair disk”,”msv1_0.dll”

  1. CopySAMSRV.DLL, SAMLIB.DLL, WINLOGON.EXE, LSASRV.DLL, SERVICES.EXE, and MSV1_0.DLL from the NT 4.0 Service Pack 4 media to the root folder of the Emergency Repair Disk.

For a complete description of the steps involved as well as other methods for resolving this problem, read KnowledgeBase article Q196603, “Repair Windows NT after Installation of Service Pack 4,” from Microsoft’s Web site. Similarly, KnowledgeBase article Q146887, “Repairing Windows NT after the Application of Service Pack 3,” describes the process to repair an SP3 installation.

The previous procedure introduces a cool concept. If you modify the [Files.WinNt] section of SETUP.LOG appropriately, you can force the emergency repair process to copy specific files to the systems beyond those in the original installation. As outlined previously, the [Files.WinNt] section of SETUP.LOG contains a reference to every NT system file, its directory path on the system, and its CRC value. This concept and the steps involved are outlined in KnowledgeBase article Q164471, “Replacing System Files Using a Modified Emergency Repair Disk.”

Automating ERDs

Keeping ERDs up to date is a tedious task because it must be performed at each individual workstation. In many cases administrators simply can’t keep up with the routine task while tending to the myriad of other tasks that scream for help. As usual, the loudest voice gets the time and attention, and an Emergency Repair Disk isn’t a loud enough voice until you’re confronted with a corrupted system file.

A seemingly simple way to keep ERDs up to date is to write a batch file that executes RDISK /S and can be run from a shortcut in the Startup menu or placed on the desktop. The benefit of this is that users can keep their ERDs updated regularly. The drawback is that most users will probably never execute the batch file. Another way to keep the ERD information up to date is to place the commands periodically in a logon script on the domain controllers. If you try this, make sure you use the /S- switch instead of only the /S switch. When you add the hyphen to the /S switch, RDISK will compile all of the Registry information and copy it to the \%Systemroot%\repair directory, but it won’t ask users if they want to create an ERD. Of course, this doesn’t create or update the physical ERD, but at least the correct, updated information will be stored in the \%Systemroot%\repair directory of the machine.

This lack of ERD management has left a hole in the administration of NT that’s been filled by third-party software developers. One interesting company is Aelita Software, which developed a product called Aelita ERDisk. (MCP Magazine provided a full-length review of this product in the October 1999 issue, so I’ll only mention it briefly here.) The main benefit of ERDisk is that it creates ERDs for any number of machines on the network remotely from a central location. In addition to updating the \%Systemroot%\repair directory on remote machine, the ERD information is also copied across the network and stored in a central location identified by individual workstation (see Figure 1). This storage organization can also be extended to groupings by department, location, or whatever you prefer.

Figure 1. In addition to updating the \%Systemroot%\ repair directory on a remote machine, the ERD information is also copied across the network and stored in a central location identified by individual workstation.

Aelita ERDisk solves some of the major logistical problems of managing the ERD process and maintaining the information on a large network. I highly recommend that you obtain an evaluation copy of the software and see if makes sense for your network.

Additional Information
For more information about Aelita ERDisk, read the product review published in the October 1999 issue of MCP Magazine.

Other resources include:

  • KnowledgeBase article Q143475, "Windows NT System Key Permits Strong Encryption of the SAM."
  • KnowledgeBase article Q196603, "Repair Windows NT after Installation of Service Pack 4.

Diskless Emergency Repairs

The final issue applies mainly to Domain Controllers. As you know, when you add user accounts and machines to the domain controllers, the SAM grows in size to accommodate the entries. Each user account consumes at least 1K, and each workstation machine consumes at least .5K of space. In a large organization, the SAM will grow to several megabytes and won’t fit on the ERD, because the information can’t span multiple disks. The RDISK /S option copies the SAM and security information to the \%Systemroot%\repair directory. If the SAM is too large, the attempt to write it to an ERD fails. The proper information will still exist in the \%Systemroot%\repair directory, however.

This means you can still perform an emergency repair without the ERD. Simply follow the procedure I outlined last month, except that when the process asks if you have an ERD, select No. Setup will look for the \%Systemroot%\repair directory based upon the BOOT.INI file and proceed with the repair process normally.

Prevention is the Best Cure

The No. 1 rule is to keep your ERDs updated on a regular basis. The second rule is to avoid relying on the ERD as a backup method. Only use it to bring your system to a bootable state so you can run backup for appropriate restorations. And the third rule is to perform various types of ERD processes on a non-production system before the need arises. This way you aren’t stuck learning on a disabled production machine while the eyes of frustrated users burn holes into your head.

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