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How to Mount a Floppy on OpenBSD - 7/28/00

OpenBSD Documentation Problem
Update 9/10/00

I've run just run into a particularly glaring hole in OpenBSD documentation.

How do you mount a floppy on an OpenBSD system? answer

I don't know and I've spent more than an hour looking for the answer. I've used "man mount" and tried "man -k floppy" and can find how to mount Amiga, ISO-9660 (CD-ROM), Linux, Berkeley Fast File, /kern?, MS-DOS and xfs file systems but nothing about a floppy. I've found how to format a floppy and verified that the floppy format was not recognized by a DOS/Windows machine. I've gone to and gone through the FAQ's, searched the man pages there, and searched the mailing list archives. When I searched for both mount and floppy I got one result on building an install boot floppy. Searching for just floppy got dozens to hundreds of results none of which seem applicable.

I have successfully installed and networked 5 OpenBSD systems and can mount a CD (big deal). Currently one is working fine as a firewall and another has been a web server for a several of months with two virtual web sites. Oh, I can even mount an MS-DOS formated floppy, copy something to it and move it to another machine to verify the contents. I've tried every variation of the mount command that I can think of that might get the BSD formatted floppy to mount. All give error messages or no output. What I can't do is mount an OpenBSD formatted floppy and do anything at all with it. One would think the OpenBSD adherents would be cringing that I need to use a DOS formated floppy to use the floppy drive. They should be.

I've wasted an hour trying to find a simple command to do what should be just about the most basic operation that can be performed on a computer and still don't have an answer. Except for UNIX like systems, all you do is stick a floppy in the hole and it works. Duh! Getting it out is no harder on DOS and Windows machines. If you're not familiar with Macintoshes you might be surprised how you get a floppy out but once you realize it's a menu driven software command it's also trivial.

OK, UNIX is different. You have to mount and unmount media. That's fine.

Just provide some documentation where an intelligent experienced computer user can find it without practically losing their minds. Is that really too much to ask for?

I got away from the problem for a while (overnight). This time, among other things, I looked at man fstab and took several guesses as to what might tell the system what should be mounted in the floppy drive. Man mentions flags to tell the system whether or not a file system should automatically be mounted at boot time. If there's an explanation of those flags, I missed it. From the provided example, I tried figuring out the meaning of the two numbers at the end of the line. The normal file systems had a 1 and a second digit that was unique. The CD-ROM had two zeroes. I guessed the 1 was the flag for auto mount and the other number was the mount order. I tried a couple of lines if fstab for the floppy using 0 0 at the end. I got nothing but boot time error messages.

While booting I noticed fd0 and fdc0 in the console messages. I'd mostly been trying /dev/fd0a as the floppy device. I tried fd0 and fdc0 with and without /dev/. All I got were "No such file or directory" messages. Another half hour wasted and I'm still no closer to being able to mount a BSD formatted floppy. I need two pieces of information. What's the floppy device and what kind of file system is it. Actually I shouldn't need the latter. A mount command with any intelligence would figure this out. Maybe I shouldn't even need the first. After all the system has only one floppy. Is it really too much to expect the system might recognize what the floppy device is and that when media is inserted it should be made available. Perhaps that's just too un-UNIX-like.

I'm willing to read manuals and spend time figuring things out but a documentation hole like this is exceptionally frustrating. While this problem is specific to OpenBSD its representative of a problem that occurs much more frequently with open source problems than commercial products. It happens more frequently with open source because open source products are often the products of loose knit teams of volunteers. Open source teams are likely to be composed dedicated specialists and persons with very strong technical skills but not typically professional writers.

There is much excellent open source documentation but products need the equivalent of the "User Guide" that most commercial products have. FAQ's are great but less likely to be a comprehensive overview. The creation of such a document requires someone who has good overall knowledge of the product but is not so close that they have blind spots as to what is and is not covered. Commercial companies know they need comprehensive overview documentation and simply hire the appropriate technical writer or writers. There is no way a volunteer team can assign a job that no one wants to do. Until an open source product acquires sufficient support that professional authors start writing third party tutorials this kind of documentation is likely to be missing.

I see no solution to this problem. If there were a solution open source adoption would be much quicker. Techies can call the managers who make budget and purchasing decisions pointy heads and other epithets but for open source systems to ever have a chance of challenging Micro$oft these basic usability issues MUST be solved. This is one of the very few areas where commercial products still have clear advantages over open source products.

Update 9/10/00

Six weeks later a post in comp.unix.bsd.openbsd.misc prompted me to try again to mount a floppy disk. I thought coming at it fresh I might see something different.

I didn't know what I had done with the BSD formatted floppy so I started with formatting another. This required use of man. From "man fdformat" I saw a reference to fd0 as a shortcut to /dev/rfd0c. I successfully formatted a floppy with "fdformat fd0". This showed the device as /dev/rfd0c which is not what I would have expected. I guess the "r" is for raw but why a "c" in the floppy disk device name? I first tried "mount /dev/fd0c /mnt/fd" and got "mount_ffs: /dev/fd0c on /mnt/fd: Inappropriate file type or format" and then "mount fd0 /mnt/fd" hoping the "shortcut" would work for mount and got "mount_ffs: fd0 on /mnt/fd: No such file or directory". /mnt/fd does exist so I suppose fd0 doesn't work as a shortcut with mount. After grepping /dev for "fd" to be sure I was working with valid devices and reviewing the man entries for mount and fdc I tried several other mount variations most of which gave more "Inappropriate file type or format" errors. I've also tried at least half a dozen different devices on a second BSD system and gotten this same error message for each. Other devices give "Block device required".

I can't find anything to tell me what file system is used to format a floppy. I would think it would be the Berkeley fast files system (ffs) and that the default mount_ffs would work but it doesn't, though it sometimes accesses the floppy before giving an error message. Another half hour spent on this (not counting web page time) and still no progress. Is it really too much to ask that the disk commands recognize the same device names?

BTW, I'd described the problem to a friend. He had exactly the opposite problem. He had no difficulty mounting a floppy but was never able to successfully unmount it. He said he spent about an hour trying to find the right command. My recollection of his description was that the device was always in use or busy; I believe he knows that the mount point or its subdirectories cannot be the current directory when you issue the umount command.

Finally I posted a question on this to the news group comp.unix.bsd.openbsd.misc. Within an hour I had a couple of correct answers. One said "Fdformat doesn't make a filesystem. It does a low level format. To make a filesystem, you must do a newfs afterwards." This was the missing piece. After doing "newfs /dev/rfd0c" I was able to mount the floppy and perform other operations as expected. It appears that my guess that a floppy would in fact have an ffs file system is correct though I don't see that documented anywhere. This reinforces what I said above about the need for quality "how to" documentation. man is a great reference if you know what you need to do but does not generally provide tutorials on a sequence of commands to accomplish specific tasks.

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