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Unfortunately, our hosting provider experienced 100% data loss, so I've lost all content for two hosted blog websites:

(Yes, yes, I absolutely should have done complete offsite backups. Unfortunately, all my backups were on the server itself. So save the lecture; you're 100% absolutely right, but that doesn't help me at the moment. Let's stay focused on the question here!)

I am beginning the slow, painful process of recovering the website from web crawler caches.

There are a few automated tools for recovering a website from internet web spider (Yahoo, Bing, Google, etc.) caches, like Warrick, but I had some bad results using this:

  • My IP address was quickly banned from Google for using it
  • I get lots of 500 and 503 errors and "waiting 5 minutes…"
  • Ultimately, I can recover the text content faster by hand

I've had much better luck by using a list of all blog posts, clicking through to the Google cache and saving each individual file as HTML. While there are a lot of blog posts, there aren't that many, and I figure I deserve some self-flagellation for not having a better backup strategy. Anyway, the important thing is that I've had good luck getting the blog post text this way, and I am definitely able to get the text of the web pages out of the Internet caches. Based on what I've done so far, I am confident I can recover all the lost blog post text and comments.

However, the images that go with each blog post are proving…more difficult.

Any general tips for recovering website pages from Internet caches, and in particular, places to recover archived images from website pages?

(And, again, please, no backup lectures. You're totally, completely, utterly right! But being right isn't solving my immediate problem… Unless you have a time machine…)

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85  
When somebody like Jeff Atwood himself can lose two entire websites in one fell swoop... Well. I'm going to review my own backup procedures, for one :P –  Phoshi Dec 11 '09 at 21:10
221  
@Phoshi: Jeff has some good articles on Coding Horror on backup. You should give them a quick read. –  joshhunt Dec 11 '09 at 21:31
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joshhunt wins one (1) internet. This offer may not be combined with other offers, exchanged, or substituted. No rainchecks. –  Adam Davis Dec 11 '09 at 21:50
24  
The lengths some people will go to, to earn rep on SU... –  Antony Dec 12 '09 at 0:11
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Please don't refer to what you did as "backups" - if those files are on the same server, they're in no way "backups." –  wahnfrieden Dec 14 '09 at 22:35
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42 Answers

You could always try archive.org, as well. Use the wayback machine. I've used this to recover images from my websites.

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Doesn't seem to have much of a cache for CodingHorror, at least. I do see images for blog.stackoverflow though. –  The How-To Geek Dec 11 '09 at 21:00
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The wayback machine will have some. Google cache and similar caches will have some.

One of the most effective things you'll be able to do is to email the original posters, asking for help.

I do actually have some infrastructural recommendations, for after this is all cleaned up. The fundamental problem isn't actually backups, it's lack of site replication and lack of auditing. If you email me at the private email field's contents, later, when you're sort of back on your feet, I'd love to discuss the matter with you.

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In the past I've used http://www.archive.org/ to pull up cached images. It's kind of hit or miss but it has worked for me.
Also, when trying to recover stock photos that I've used on an old site, www.tineye.com is great when I only have the thumbnails and I need the full size images.

I hope this helps you. Good Luck.

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By going to Google Image search and typing site:codinghorror.com you can at least find the thumbnailed versions of all of your images. No, it doesn't necessarily help, but it gives you a starting point for retrieving those thousands of images.

Codinghorror images

It looks like Google stores a larger thumbnail in some cases:

Google vs. Bing

Google is on the left, Bing on the right.

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yeah, worst case, we'll have to scale up the thumbnails from Google. I hear Bing stores larger thumbnails, though? –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '09 at 20:59
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I don't know if this is you. But Imageshack seems to have many of your blog images. profile.imageshack.us/user/codinghorror –  Nick Berardi Dec 11 '09 at 21:04
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Use the Google thumbnails as a start, then use tineye.com to see if anyone is hosting a copy. –  sep332 Dec 11 '09 at 21:48
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This is probably not the easiest or most full-proof solution, but services like Evernote typically save both the text and images when they are stored inside the application - maybe some helpful readers who saved your articles could save the images and send them back to you?

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I've had great experiences with archive.org. Even if you aren't able to extract all of your blog posts from the site, they keep periodical snapshots:

alt text

This way you can check out each page and see the blog posts you made. With the names of all the posts you can easily find them in Google's cache if archive.org doesn't have it. Archive tries to keep images, Google cache will have images, and I haven't emptied my cache recently so I can help you with the more recent blog posts :)

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Have you tried doing a Google Image search, with the syntax site:codinghorror.com?

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Some of us follow you with an RSS reader and don't clear caches. I have blog posts that appear to go back to 2006. No images, from what I can see, but might be better than what you're doing now.

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You could also ask people to check their browser caches. Those who view Coding Horror retro-style might have some of the images cached. –  Alex Rozanski Dec 11 '09 at 21:04
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Too many RSS readers assume images will never die. I know mine does :( –  Phoshi Dec 11 '09 at 21:14
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google.com/reader/shared/user/10050103834140715575/label/CH All CH posts for the past ~4 years. Should be easy enough to scrape from. –  Glen Solsberry Dec 11 '09 at 21:16
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Did you get a chance to see if, your hosting provider has any backup at all (some older versions)?

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Have you tried your own local browser cache? Pretty good chance some of the more recent stuff is still there. http://lifehacker.com/385883/resurrect-images-from-my-web-browser-cache

(Or you could compile a list of all missing images and everyone could check their cache to see if we can fill in the blanks)

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archive.org sometimes hides images. Get each URL manually (or write a short script) and query them for it like this:

string.Format("GET /*/{0}", nextUri)

Of course that's going to be quite a pain to search through.

I might have some in my browser cache. If I do I'll host them somewhere.

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Sorry to hear about the blogs. Not going to lecture. But I did find what appears to be your images on Imageshack. Are they really yours or has somebody been keeping a copy of them around.

http://profile.imageshack.us/user/codinghorror

They seem to have what looks like 456 images that are full size. This might be the best bet for recovering everything. Maybe they can even provide you a dump.

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I suggest the combination of archive.org and a request anonymizer like [Tor][2]. I suggest using anonymizer because that way each of your requests will have a random IP and location and that way you can avoid getting banned by a archive.org (like Google did) for unusually high number of requests.

Good Luck, there are a lot of gems in that blog.

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Here's my wild stab in the dark: configure your web server to return 304 for every image request, then crowd-source the recovery by posting a list of URLs somewhere and asking on the podcast for all your readers to load each URL and harvest any images that load from their local caches. (This can only work after you restore the HTML pages themselves, complete with the <img ...> tags, which your question seems to imply that you will be able to do.)

This is basically a fancy way of saying, "get it from your readers' web browser caches." You have many readers and podcast listeners, so you can effectively mobilize a large number of people who are likely to have viewed your web site recently. But manually finding and extracting images from various web browsers' caches is difficult, and the entire approach works best if it's easy enough that many people will try it and be successful. Thus the 304 approach. All it requires of readers is that they click on a series of links and drag off any images that do load in their web browser (or right-click and save-as, etc.) and then email them to you or upload them to a central location you set up, or whatever. The main drawback of this approach is that web browser caches don't go back that far in time. But it only takes one reader who happened to load a post from 2006 in the past few days to rescue even a very old image. With a big enough audience, anything is possible.

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+1 for the most creative approach. Could actually work since CH has some many readers. –  delux247 Dec 11 '09 at 22:17
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implemented here? diovo.com/2009/12/… –  Jeff Atwood Dec 14 '09 at 21:18
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I think you could crawl your static files for the image tags and copy all of those into one giant page of images, instead of having everybody click each link. The diovo.com implementation looks very impressive, hope it works out for you. –  phloopy Dec 15 '09 at 6:00
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WOW that's a wicked wizardy shit I <3 –  Ahmad Alfy Mar 21 '13 at 10:27
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Maybe you could crowd-source it asking us to look in our browser caches. I generally read Coding Horror via Google Reader, so my Firefox cache doesn't seem to have anything from codinghorror.com in it.

Others can look in their own Firefox cache by browsing to: about:cache?device=disk .

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Just another shot at retrieving the content.

I was subscribed using feed burner. So might have some archives in my mail! You can ask others, who might be able to forward you those posts.

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So, absolute worst case, you can't recover a thing. Damn.

Try grabbing the minified google ones, and putting them through TinEye, the reverse-image search engine. Hopefully it should grab any duplicates or rehosts people have made.

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This happened to me once and I had to rebuild my WordPress blog. I was able to recover all of the text from search engine caches just like you are doing. However, when you recreate the posts you can really screw up your inbound links if you don't give them the original permalinks. Images weren't much of a problem for me because I tend to store them locally.

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How much is this data worth to you? If it's worth a significant sum (thousands of dollars) then consider asking your hosting provider for the hard drive used to store the data for your website (in the case of data loss due to hardware failure). You can then take the drive to ontrack or some other data recovery service to see what you can get off the drive. This might be tricky to negotiate due to the possibility of other people's unrecovered data on the drive as well, but if you really care about it you can probably work it out.

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@splattne even so, there's a non-zero chance a lot of the data could be recovered. –  Wedge Dec 11 '09 at 22:05
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It is a long shot, but you could consider:

  • Posting the exact list of picture you are missing
  • crowd-sourcing the retrieval process through all your readers's internet cache.

For instance, see the Nirsoft Mozilla Cache Viewer:

alt text

It can quickly dig up any "blog.stackoverflow.com" picture one might still have through a simple command line:

MozillaCacheView.exe -folder "C:\Documents and Settings\Administrator\Local Settings\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\acf2c3u2.default\Cache" 
/copycache "http://blog.stackoverflow.com" "image" /CopyFilesFolder "c:\temp\blogso" /UseWebSiteDirStructure 0


Note: they have the same cache explorer for Chrome.

alt text

(I must have 15 days worth of blog.stackoverflow.com pictures in it)

And Internet Explorer, or Opera.


Then update the public list to reflect what the readers report finding in their cache.

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(1) Extract a list of the filenames of all missing images from the HTML backups. You'll be left with something like:

  • stay-puft-marshmallow-man.jpg
  • internet-properties-dialog.png
  • yahoo-homepage-small.png
  • password-show-animated.gif
  • tivo2.jpg
  • michael-abrash-graphics-program

(2) Do a Google Image Search for those filenames. It seems like MANY of them have been, um, "mirrored" by other bloggers and are ripe for the taking because they have the same filename.

(3) You could do this in an automated fashion if it proves successful for, say, 10+ images.

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Very sorry to hear this and I am very annoyed for you, and the timing - I wanted an offline copy of a few of your posts and did HTTrack on your entire site but had to go out (this was a couple of weeks ago) and I stopped it.

If the host is half descent - and by the fact I am guessing you are a good customer... I would ask them to either send you the hard drives (as I am guessing they should be using RAID) or do some recovery themselves.

Whilst this may not be a fast process, I did this with one host for a client and was able to recover entire databases intact (... basically, the host tried an upgrade for the control panel they were using and messed it up.. but nothing was overwritten).

Whatever happens - Good luck from all your fans on the SO sites!

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If your images were stored on an external service such as Flickr or a CDN (as mentioned in one of your podcasts), you may still have the image resources there.

Some of the images could be found searching on Google Images and click on "Find similar images", maybe there are copies on other sites.

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I can read old posts on my Google Reader account. Maybe that helps: relating to your horror.

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About five years ago, an early incarnation of an external hard drive on which I was storing all my digital photos failed badly. I made an image of the hard drive using dd and wrote a rudimentary tool to recover anything that looked like a JPEG image. Got most of my photos out of that.

So, the question is, can you get a copy of the virtual machine disk image which held the images?

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+1 on the dd recommendation if (1) the raw disk is available somewhere; and (2) the images were simple files. Then you can use a forensic 'data-carving' tool to (for example) pull out all credible ranges that appear to be JPGs/PNGs/GIFs. I've recovered 95%+ of the photos on an iPhone that was wiped this way.

The open source tools 'foremost' and its successor 'scalpel' can be used for this:

http://foremost.sourceforge.net/

http://www.digitalforensicssolutions.com/Scalpel/

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wow -- great tips! –  Jeff Atwood Dec 11 '09 at 22:04
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Photorec may also be of use once you get dd images. –  Broam Dec 11 '09 at 22:28
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If you're hoping to try to scrape users' caches, you may want to set the server to respond 304 Not Modified to all conditional-GET ('If-Modified-Since' or 'If-None-Match') requests, which browsers use to revalidate their cached material.

If your initial caching headers on static content like images were pretty liberal -- allowing things to be cached for days or months -- you could keep getting revalidate requests for a while. Set a cookie on those requests, and appeal to those users to run a script against their cache to extract the images they still have.

Beware, though: the moment you start putting up any textual content with inline resources that aren't yet present, you could be wiping out those cached versions as revalidators hit 404s.

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A suggestion for the future: I use Windows Live Writer for blogging and it saves local copies of posts on my machine, in addition to publishing them out to the blog.

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The web archive caches the images. It's under heavy load right now, you should be ok until 2008 or so.

http://web.archive.org/web/20080618014552rn%5F2/www.codinghorror.com/blog/

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You could use TinEye to find duplicates of your images by searching the thumbnails with google cache. This will help only with images you've taken from others site, though.

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No, it would help with images others have taken from CH. –  DisgruntledGoat Dec 24 '09 at 23:24
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