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Vital program locked up? DumpIt could help you recover lost text data

25 July 2011, Mike Williams

Program lockups are always annoying. But if the app in question has the text of an important document, which you’ve been working on for hours, and not actually saved to disk yet, then it could be a real disaster.

Don’t shut down the hung program, though – you may still be able to recover your carefully crafted words, just as long as you’ve a copy of DumpIt to hand.

This tiny (203KB) portable program makes it easy to save your current Windows memory address space (3GB on 32-bit Windows, probably, all installed RAM on 64-bit systems) to a file on your hard drive. Just double-click it, confirm that you really do want to do this, and the contents of memory will be saved to a file in the DumpIt folder.

The tool is actually targeted at the computer forensics community, or perhaps software developers who would like to analyse the contents of RAM with the Windows Debugging tools. If that’s you then the authors also produce a Windows Memory Toolkit which can convert it into a Debugger-friendly format, perhaps helping you to discover why your troublesome program locked up in the first place.

You don’t need any great experience to recover text from the memory dump, though – anyone can do it, just as long as they’ve a program able to open and search this kind of huge binary file. If you’ve nothing suitable to hand, a copy of the hex editor HxD will do just fine.

Launch HxD, open the file and you’ll immediately be able to view the contents of RAM. Scrolling through

gigabytes of data and blank space will be a little tedious, though, so it’ll probably be quicker to click Search > Find and type a word or phrase which you can remember appeared in your lost text. Then click OK to search, and hopefully you’ll find your document in just a few seconds. (If not, try checking “Unicode string” and searching again – this immediately located a Microsoft Word 2010 document in our tests.)

Keep in mind that as what you’re seeing here is just the raw representation of your work in memory, it’s not exactly going to be convenient to use. You won’t see the formatting of the document, for instance, or be able to view binary data like images: essentially all you’ll be able to do (at best) is read the text and retype it elsewhere.

Still, even that may be useful if you’ve been working on something for a while and don’t have another copy. So while you’ll need something like DumpIt very rarely, when disaster strikes it could be a real life-saver, and as the program is so small and unobtrusive then it’s well worth putting aside for emergencies.

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