Undelete files with lsof

If you delete a file by mistake, there are several ways to recover it.

I’m going to explain how to recover a file that has been deleted but still “active” on the system because locked by a running process.

First, let’s create a file maintained by a lock.

$ watch ps aux > log.txt

Interrupt the process by hitting Ctrl+Z

ps reveals the “watch” command is still being executed but in T state (T = traced or suspended process).

$ ps aux | grep watch
sw       19290  0.0  0.0  17660  3620 pts/14   T    11:09   0:00 watch ps aux

The process ID (PID) is 19290.

$ ls -l /proc/19290/fd
total 0
lrwx------ 1 sw sw 64 Jan 21 11:10 0 -> /dev/pts/14
l-wx------ 1 sw sw 64 Jan 21 11:10 1 -> /home/sw/log.txt
lrwx------ 1 sw sw 64 Jan 21 11:09 2 -> /dev/pts/14

Let’s delete log.txt now

$ rm log.txt

We can now see log.txt has been deleted, but the lock is still active.

$ ls log.txt
ls: cannot access log.txt: No such file or directory

$ lsof -n | grep 19290
watch     19290               sw    1w      REG 8,6      7804     27151 /home/sw/log.txt (deleted)

The interesting part here is “1w”. It means it’s the file descriptor number 1. The file can then be retrieved like this:

$ cp /proc/19290/fd/1 /home/sw/recover.txt

You can return the process in the foreground using “fg” and kill it.

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