We’ve all been there at one time or another. Faced with our own or a friend/family member/client’s computer that won’t boot and a hard drive that’s inexplicably borked itself, you scroll down your mental list of magical fix-it utilities looking for a piece of recovery software that will save the day and get back that huge not-backed-up-anywhere 20 year old photo library. If you’re sitting in front of a Mac at this stage, you’ll hopefully have a copy of DiskWarrior somewhere in your armoury. It’s been one of the most well known and respected HFS and HFS Plus (aka Mac OS Extended) directory recovery and optimisation utilities since the first version in 1998 and it’s pulled enough magic tricks out of its hat on occasion to have impressed me enough to part with the USD 130 (after taxes) price tag for a download licence and plus a physical copy from Alsoft.
That’s a huge amount of money for a utility, especially one that doesn’t purport to be a general disk repair utility. DiskWarrior solves a very specific kind of problem, and that’s HFS directory damage. On the other hand, that kind of problem is by far the most common kind of issue that comes up on Mac drives. And to be honest I’m sure that they shift enough copies at that price – when faced with losing all their files people are suddenly a lot more willing to part with what is a small amount of cash compared to paying a data recovery specialist in the hopes that they might be able to recover their data. If the data loss is due to directory damage, then there’s a very good chance that DiskWarrior can rebuild the damaged directory and replace it with a working and optimised one.
The kinds of errors that DiskWarrior fixes tend to be the ones that present the most bizarre and cryptic messages in Disk Utility, like “The underlying task reported failure on exit”, “Invalid node structure” or something about keys being out of order or the wrong length. Alsoft list a whole page of examples of the kinds of messages that roughly translate to ‘directory damage’ that DiskWarrior should be able to resolve, and it’s a pretty long list.
DiskWarrior is also a pretty great preventative utility. It can be configured to monitor drives for impending failure up to hourly and perform a number of configurable actions, ranging from an on-screen message to an e-mail/SMS to running a custom AppleScript – the remote alerts are a really great feature for always-on systems or servers.
DiskWarrior is also the kind of program you can and should run on all your machines, regardless of whether you have known directory issues. When you open the utility it runs a directory optimisation algorithm to work out how efficient your current directory is, giving it a score out of 10 and suggesting whether rebuilding the directory from scratch could make it more efficient and improve performance. Often you’ll also get a bit of usable disk space back after the rebuild too, on my MacBook Pro’s built in 256GB SSD I got 1 GB of usable space back just from rebuilding the directory.
It’s also has built-in disk permissions and a file scanner, although I’m not sure whether these particular components actually do a better job than Disk Utility for those fairly generic tasks.
You can use DiskWarrior by installing it on your main startup drive and then attaching drives to repair (it won’t run on the startup disk while you are booted into it) or to repair the startup disk itself, you can create a recovery USB drive using the bundled Recovery Maker utility which will take the recovery partition of your Mac and create a custom bootable disk with DiskWarrior included that is guaranteed to run on your machine. It also supports Target Disk mode.
Note that you will most likely have to recreate the recovery partition when moving between machines. For example, I could create a recovery partition like the one shown above on my 2015 MacBook which I am 100% sure won’t boot on my ageing 2008 MacBook which maxes out at Mac OS X 10.7.
When you run DiskWarrior on a disk, it will scan the disk and then prepare a rebuilt directory and record any file or folder differences between the existing directory and the newly rebuilt one before writing it to the disk, presenting you with a detailed report.
It even allows you to preview the directory with its own built-in two panel browser and mounting both directories in the Finder if you are running from your startup disk!
It goes out of its way to make you confident that the repaired directory works and gives you very clear and detailed information before committing anything to disk – something which will make you feel much more comfortable before overwriting the directory on a sensitive client’s machine!
If you’ve read this far and have been on the fence about picking up a copy of DiskWarrior I would strongly recommend that you bite the bullet and get yourself a copy. It has more than repaid itself in peace of mind and bailing me out of one or two dicey situations that it was able to magically fix when all other solutions failed.
If I have to find faults in the program, I would say that for $130 I would personally expect lifetime updates, which you don’t get – although there is an upgrade price which applies from all previous versions. You could theoretically upgrade version 1.0 from 1998 to the current version at a reduced price. It would also be nice if the e-mail notifications could automatically populate the SMTP settings from the system’s mail accounts, rather than having you manually copy the server and port settings yourself – although this is a minor gripe. The program itself is well built and the documentation is thorough and complete – I recommend spending some time with the well written manual which explains a lot of the concepts and repair methods that the program employs.