Some Applications Can Choke on Corrupted Flat File Databases

I am planning to get back to the regular business of Operation Gadget. But, before I do, I want to close the loop on the email problems that I had last week.

A lot of application software creates permanent or temporary files that act as mini databases to improve performance under certain circumstances. For instance, email client applications often create database files or indexes that speed up searching through message archives. I love features like this because I don't notice the tiny performance hit that my laptop takes when my mail client saves each message, but finding old emails is so much faster than it used to be before these features were implemented.

The downside of this is really only evident when one of these index files gets corrupted. Some email clients don't seem to be able to either:

  1. recover from this sort of problem automatically, or
  2. report that there are damaged files and recommend user action.

It seems like any application that contains a lot of text in a small number of large files is potentially subject to this sort of problem. In the past few business days, I have run into major glitches that involved:

  1. Novell Evolution, an OpenSource email and calendar program for the Linux platform that has a similar feature set to Microsoft Outlook, and
  2. Straw, a website headline reader for the Gnome desktop environment.

As a software user, you can help yourself by thinking about the software you use, and asking if it has features like the ones I've described. If so, you should look at how important each application is to you, and whether they have the proper priority in your system backup strategy. I hadn't done this thinking recently, so I was surprised at how off-track I got when my email client and my website headline reader stopped working simultaneously.

I am going to open up my backup tools today and make sure that the data files and directories for these applications are backed up frequently. I will also make sure I can restore them in case they get corrupted again. Doing this before a problem occurs will probably save you hours of head scratching and muttering to yourself.