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Incomplete ISO image after imaging CD-ROM - how to prevent and detect this?

+2 votes

While running some tests creating CD-ROM ISO images with ddrescue, I ended up with ISO images that were incomplete in some cases (last ~50 MB of image file missing), even though ddrescue’s log file didn’t report any errors. Below the results I got from 4 attempts at imaging the same CD-ROM on the same PC (note that some of the ddrescue options I used are slightly different, but this appears to be unrelated to my issue). For this I used 2 different external DVD readers:

  1. Reader A - modern Samsung USB device;
  2. Reader B - old SATA (internal) device, refurbished to USB.

Attempt 1 - reader A

Command line:

ddrescue -b 2048 -r4 -v /dev/sr0 windows_98_upgrade_nl.iso windows_98_upgrade_nl.log

This resulted in a 601.7 MB ISO image. Here are the contents of the log file:

# Rescue Logfile. Created by GNU ddrescue version 1.17
# Command line: ddrescue -b 2048 -r4 -v /dev/sr0 windows_98_upgrade_nl.iso windows_98_upgrade_nl.log
# current_pos  current_status
0x23DC0000     +
#      pos        size  status
0x00000000  0x23DCB000  +

I.e. the log file indicates the CD was imaged without problems. MD5 checksum is 82603be06a8142aad1dfaa9e1279371f

Attempt 2 - reader B

Command line:

ddrescue -d -n -b 2048 /dev/sr0 windows_98_upgrade.iso windows_98_upgrade.log

Again this resulted in a 601.7 MB ISO image, again with no indication of read errors in the ddrescue log. MD5 checksum was (again) 82603be06a8142aad1dfaa9e1279371f.

Then by chance I discovered some text files in the image file weren’t readable, so I did a third try, now again with reader A.

Attempt 3 - reader A

Command line:

ddrescue -d -n -b 2048 /dev/sr0 windows_98_upgrade_test.iso windows_98_upgrade_test.log

This resulted in a 660.9 MB ISO file. Again no errors in the ddrescue log; MD5 checksum is 24f0f746d0817121253c6b1242d4246e. After mounting the image, the text files that were problematic in the earlier images were normally readable.

Attempt 4 - reader B

Command line:

ddrescue -d -n -b 2048 /dev/sr0 windows_98_upgrade_refurbished_onemoretry.iso windows_98_upgrade_refurbished_onemoretry.log

Result was identical to result of attempt 3!

So summarising, 2 runs of ddrescue (using 2 different USB readers) resulted in exactly the same error, whereas the remaining 2 runs (again using 2 different readers) completed fine. So what’s going on here!?

Md5sum directly on physical CD

As a first step I computed the MD5 checksum directly on the phyical disc, using:

md5sum /dev/sr0

I repeated this 4 times, using both readers A and B, plugging them into different USB slots. In each case the result was 24f0f746d0817121253c6b1242d4246e, which is identical to the hash I got for the ISO in attempts 3 and 4 (confirming these images are correct).

Comparison of ISO images in hex editor

I also did a comparison of the intact and faulty ISOs in a hex editor. This revealed that in the faulty images a block of about 59 MB of data is missing at the end of the file. I double checked this by copying the block of missing data to a separate file (missingblock.dat), after which I appended it to one of the faulty files using:

cat windows_98_upgrade_nl.iso missingblock.dat > isorepaired.iso

Then check:

md5sum isorepaired.iso



Which corresponds to the value of the intact image.

But why is this happening in the first place?!

The really important question is why this is happening in the first place, and if there’s any way to avoid it? The thread below on the ddrescue mailing list describes a somewhat similar (but not quite the same) issue:


Note the following quote from the response by ddrescue’s main author. He suggests that the problem might an issue with a USB port, adding:

Ddrescue can’t know if the data are really good or if the hardware is lying about it.

If correct, this would apply to other imaging tools as well. Based on my results, I’m curious if other people may have run into similar issues. More importantly: how does one even detect errors like these? Of course it is always possible to run a checksum on the physical medium and then compare it to the ISO checksum, but this takes ages. A more quick and dirty approach would be to compare the size of each created image against the size of input medium. E.g. to get the size of a CD-ROM I can use something like this:

lsblk /dev/sr0 -n -b 


sr0   11:0    1 660850688  0 rom

(Third column is size of CD in bytes).

To get the size of the ISO image:

du -b windows_98_upgrade_refurbished_onemoretry.iso


660850688   windows_98_upgrade_refurbished_onemoretry.iso

This does not guarantee the image is correct, but it will detect missing blocks of data.

I also ran some cursory checks with isovfy and isoinfo, but the output of those tools turned out to be identical for both faulty and intact images, so they’re probably not very helpful for this sort of error.

I’m curious how other people/memory institutions are dealing with this. Any thoughts / suggestions are welcome!


On Twitter Alexander Duryee rightly pointed out that a CD-Rom's Primary Volume Descriptor contains a field with the size of the disk (this is also where lsblk gets this value). So one would assume that ddrescue would check against this number. Apparently it doesn't do this, so I think I'll reprt this as a bug. (Note that such a check doesn't guarantee the copied data are identical to the source disc.)

asked Sep 3, 2015 by johanvanderknijff (2,070 points)
edited Sep 3, 2015 by johanvanderknijff

4 Answers

+1 vote
Final update to the above: by now I'm fairly sure the issue was simply caused by hardware failure of my machine, which went in full meltdown mode earlier this week (harddisk buggered up, BIOS inaccessible).
answered Oct 20, 2015 by johanvanderknijff (2,070 points)
+1 vote

And here's another update; following some additional research I did into this I wrote a blog post:

Detecting broken ISO images: introducing Isolyzer

This also discusses the detection script which I linked to earlier; this has been given a major overhaul and now works for hybrid ISO 9660 / Apple images as well. See:



answered Jan 16, 2017 by johanvanderknijff (2,070 points)
0 votes

A short update on this:

Test on 200 runs

First of all, over the weekend I ran ddrescue 100 times on the same CD, and then calculated md5 checksums for each created image. I repeated this for the readom tool (which uses a library that is specifically made for extracting data from optical media).

This resulted in 200 images that were all completely identical, so it doesn’t really help in solving this mystery!

For those interested the bash script I used for this is available here

ISO size verification script

On a completely different note, prompted by Alexander Duryee’s suggestion I also spent some time digging into the ISO 9660 specification. This resulted in a little Python script that verifies if the file size of a CD / DVD ISO 9660 image is consistent with the information in its Primary Volume Descriptor. The script is pretty quick and dirty, but perhaps some people may find it useful. See link below:


Finally I got some useful responses from Twitter, see link here:


answered Sep 7, 2015 by johanvanderknijff (2,070 points)
0 votes

Another update:

In an attempt to detect error like this I added an additional check in my imaging script that compares the size of the physical disc (using the lsblk command) against the size of the create image (both should be identical). See script here:


Every so often this results in different values, but in every single case I've seen so far the culprit was lsblk reporting a wrong (too small) value. The actual images (produced using readom) turned out to be OK in every case. Stranger still, repeating the lsblk call manually after the imaging script had finished usually resulted in the correct size. So it looks like the source of the error is somehow hardware-related (e.g. a faulty USB host controller interface on my test machine).

Actually this only makes things more scary, because it means that the information that the OS is getting from the attached hardware is inherently unreliable. I suppose this means that even checksums may be unreliable here. E.g. imagine that due to hardware failure the OS cannot "see" the last 50 MB of a CD, and that this happens both during the creation of a disk image and then again during the calculation of the checksum on the physical disk. In that case the checksum will be identical to the one of the ISO image, but the image would still be incomplete.

answered Sep 16, 2015 by johanvanderknijff (2,070 points)