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"Disk /dev/sda doesn't contain a valid partition table"

One of my really old Linux server has finally gone over its 80 GB hard drive capacity. Being really old means I can't really pull out its existing hard drive and upgrade it to a new one. Luckily it does have one USB port. And I have plenty external USB hard drives.

The hard drive I chose for this task had proprietary partition and formats. Therefore, Linux only saw "/dev/sda". I ran cfdisk and created a new Linux primary partition. I wrote the partition to disk. But I still only saw "/dev/sda". I thought that was strange, but didn't really pick up on the problem.

Next, I formatted the drive with "mkfs.ext3 /dev/sda" command. I remembered mkfs.ext3 warning me about a partition issue, but I thought nothing of it and proceeded to format it. After formatting it, I successfully mounted the drive and copied some data onto it to test it.

Then I did "fdisk -l" to see the partition table and I got the "Disk /dev/sda doesn't contain a valid partition table" message. That's when I put 2 and 2 together and realized that /dev/sda was the hard drive device, not the partition. Normally, a partition would have a number assigned to the device name. It was interesting mkfs.ext3 let me format the device itself.

The problem here was that Linux had to be rebooted once the partition had been written, before Linux can see the new partition. At least that's true on some distribution, such as the Ubuntu 7.04 that is running on this old server. Back to the drawing board, I repartitioned the drive and rebooted Linux. Now, /dev/sda1 showed up and I reformatted the new partition. Now, fdisk no longer showed the error message.

Mel
Sat, 02 Nov 2013 01:39:51 +0300

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