ServersTip of the Trade: Smartmontools

Tip of the Trade: Smartmontools

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Linux, Unix, BSD, and Cywgin-on-Windows users can use the excellent smartmontools package, which includes the smartctl and smartd commands, for monitoring and controlling PATA, SATA, and SCSI hard disks. smartmontools works on drives that have the Self-Monitoring, Analysis and Reporting Technology (S.M.A.R.T.) system built into them. With smartmontools, you can test drive health and set it up to monitor drives so early warnings of possible drive failures are issued.

Got S.M.A.R.T. drives? Consider adding smartmontools to test and monitor drive health as well as issue early warnings of possible failures.

S.M.A.R.T. is usually not enabled by default. There are two ways to turn it on: via the BIOS options in many PCs or with the smartctl command. But first, see if it’s supported:

# smartctl -i -d ata /dev/sda
smartctl version 5.37 [i686-pc-linux-gnu] Copyright (C) 2002-6 
                       Bruce Allen
Home page is

Model Family:     Western Digital Caviar SE (Serial ATA) family
Device Model:     WDC WD800JD-00MSA1
Serial Number:    WD-WMAM9S474555
Firmware Version: 10.01E01
User Capacity:    80,026,361,856 bytes
Device is:        In smartctl database [for details use: -P show]
ATA Version is:   7
ATA Standard is:  Exact ATA specification draft version not 
Local Time is:    Thu Feb  7 13:09:37 2008 PST
SMART support is: Available - device has SMART capability.
SMART support is: Disabled

Leave off -d ata for PATA drives. This command enables S.M.A.R.T.:

# smartctl -s on -d ata /dev/sda

Now, run a quick health check:

# smartctl -H -d ata /dev/sda
smartctl version 5.37 [i686-pc-linux-gnu] Copyright (C) 2002-6 
     Bruce Allen
Home page is

SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED

This is good news. One more quick check — read the drive’s error log:

#  smartctl -l error -d ata /dev/sda

If there are no errors, or just a few old errors, it’s probably OK, assuming you are backing up regularly. If the drive fails the health test and shows many errors, the disk is doomed.

You can also run more extensive as well as set it up for continual monitoring. man smartctl and Monitoring Hard Disks with SMART tell all.

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