Leopard Installer – Case of the disappearing Volumes!

31 10 2007

Discussions boards are filling with reports of odd behavior with the Leopard Installer. I joined that experience yesterday with my first attempt at the upgrade.Since I have some important apps in my workflow that have yet to be declared fully Leopard compatible, I decided to wait on upgrading the primary drive in my MacBook Pro. Instead, I planned to upgrade to an external hard drive; and to begin that journey, I cloned the entire contents of my notebook to a volume on a USB 2.0 HDD.

After rebooting into the Leopard Installer DVD, I began the process of clicking through various screens. Soon, I ran into a serious roadblock: in the “Destination” screen where we choose the volume to be upgraded, no volumes appeared. Nothing.

I waited for a while and then backpedaled out of the installer and opened up the Disk Utility application, which is conveniently located with other useful apps in a pull-down menu at the top of the screen. No storage devices other than the Installer DVD and a NetBoot icon appeared.

This was worrisome — could the Installer have done some evil thing and screwed up my MacBook Pro’s internal drive even before I’d installed anything on it? Yikes! And I was even more freaked, since I hadn’t done a backup of the drive immediately before starting this upgrade, a violation of my own work process. I just was eager to get working with Leopard.

Of course, the Leopard Installer DVD is made the startup disk when it begins its work, and the installer asked me to open the Startup Disk preference to pick a system. Again, the two Tiger systems that should be there weren’t listed.

So, I rebooted the MacBook Pro and held down the Eject key to stop the Installer DVD from reloading. The system located the Tiger system on the internal drive and booted fine. Both internal and external systems were back.

After backing everything up, I tried the Installer disc again. This time, the drives appeared in the Installer window and in Disk Utility.

So what was going on?

The was a growing thread on this topic in the Leopard discussion on the Apple boards. There were several “fixes” that required dipping into the Terminal with a command or two.

Daniel Peebles offered a likely answer to the problem. He said the installer is “checking your disks and doesn’t provide any UI feedback on it. Sometimes that’ll be quick, others it won’t.”

He suggested going into the Terminal, looking for a fsck process checking a disk0sX disk, and then killing that process. That makes sense.

Apple provides two disk repair utilities for Mac OS X: the GUI-based Disk Utility and the fsck (file system check) Unix command, which checks and repairs inconsistencies in file systems. It appears that the Installer is running a fsck process that stops the reporting of usable volumes.

It may be that the Installer DVD follows the Safe Boot routine, which is a special troubleshooting mode Apple provides with OS X. It forces a directory check and loads only required kernel extensions, avoiding any low-level application and customer-installed extensions and startup items that might be hanging the machine. You can invoke this by holding down the Shift key when booting.

It’s up to you whether you feel comfortable heading into the Terminal with command-line instructions to kill a process as Peebles mentioned, or to “jiggle” the storage devices with a df -k (disk usage for file systems) command as suggested by others on the boards. My choice of restarting the installation process also worked.

As we’ve suggested before here in The Apple Core, it’s good to run Disk Utility’s Verify routines on your drive before beginning the Leopard installation. Yes, the Installer will run the same (or similar) routines on its own, however, it doesn’t tell you what’s going on as the log in Disk Utility does. That view on your drive’s health may give you additional confidence going into the Leopard install.

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