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Subjectrfc: test whether a device has a partition table
As everyone knows it is a bad idea to let the kernel guess
whether there is a partition table on a given block device,
and if so, of what type.
Nevertheless this is what almost everybody does.

Until now the philosophy was: floppies do not have a partition table,
disks do have one, and for ZIP drives nobody knows. With USB we get
more types of block device that may or may not have a partition table
(and if they have none, usually there is a FAT filesystem with bootsector).
In such cases the kernel assumes a partition table, and creates a mess
if there was none. Some heuristics are needed.

Many checks are possible (for a DOS-type partition table: boot indicator
must be 0 or 0x80, partitions are not larger than the disk,
non-extended partitions are mutually disjoint; for a boot sector:
it starts with a jump, the number of bytes per sector is 512 or
at least a power of two, the number of sectors per cluster is 1
or at least a power of two, the number of reserved sectors is 1 or 32,
the number of FAT copies is 2, ...).

I tried a minimal test, and the below is good enough for the
boot sectors and DOS-type partition tables that I have here.

So, question: are there people with DOS-type partition tables
or FAT fs bootsectors where the below gives the wrong answer?
I would be interested in a copy of the sector.

I expect to submit some sanity check to DOS-type partition table
parsing, and hope to recognize with high probability the presence
of a full disk FAT filesystem.


------------ sniffsect.c -----------------

* Given a block device, does it have a DOS-type partition table?
* Or does it behave like a floppy and have a whole-disk filesystem?
* Or is it something else?
* Return 1 for pt, -1 for boot sect, 0 for unknown.

#include <stdio.h>
#include <fcntl.h>

/* DOS-type partition */
struct partition {
unsigned char bootable; /* 0 or 0x80 */
unsigned char begin_chs[3];
unsigned char systype;
unsigned char end_chs[3];
unsigned char start_sect[4];
unsigned char nr_sects[4];

int sniffsect(unsigned char *p) {
struct partition *pt;
int i, n;
int maybept = 1;
int maybebs = 1;

/* Both DOS-type pt and boot sector have a 55 aa signature */
if (p[510] != 0x55 || p[511] != 0xaa)
return 0;

/* A partition table has boot indicators 0 or 0x80 */
for (i=0; i<4; i++) {
pt = (struct partition *)(p + 446 + 16*i);
if (pt->bootable != 0 && pt->bootable != 0x80)
maybept = 0;

/* A boot sector has a power of two as #sectors/cluster */
n = p[13];
if (n == 0 || (n & (n-1)) != 0)
maybebs = 0;

/* A boot sector has a power of two as #bytes/sector */
n = (p[12] << 8) + p[11];
if (n == 0 || (n & (n-1)) != 0)
maybebs = 0;

return maybept - maybebs;

int main(int argc, char **argv) {
unsigned char sect[512];
int fd, n;

if (argc != 2) {
fprintf(stderr, "Call: sniffsect file\n");

fd = open(argv[1], O_RDONLY);
if (fd == -1) {
fprintf(stderr, "Cannot open %s\n", argv[1]);

n = read(fd, sect, sizeof(sect));
if (n != sizeof(sect)) {
if (n == -1)
fprintf(stderr, "Cannot read 512 bytes from %s\n", argv[1]);

n = sniffsect(sect);
printf((n == 1) ? "partition table\n" :
(n == -1) ? "boot sector\n" : "no idea\n");
return 0;
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