Potential Catalog Corruption

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Today’s Question: I tried to open my Lightroom catalog and it said, basically, it was corrupted but to try again later. My hard drive would not release from the computer, repeatedly saying it was busy. I shut down the computer, and the next day I tried repair again and it worked. What happened and why did it work a day later?

Tim’s Quick Answer: While it is possible that this was simply a case of random file corruption, the specific circumstances cause me to worry that the hard drive (or other hardware component) may be the source of the issue. I would therefore want to immediately make a backup of all of your data, and to perform at least some basic testing to try to confirm there are no ongoing issues.

More Detail: File corruption in general can be quite frustrating, in part because there isn’t generally any warning that something has gone wrong until it is too late. I’ve seen many photographers (myself included) who had original raw captures appear as corrupted, long after the source files had worked perfectly fine.

While it is certainly possible for a software issue to lead to such file corruption, in my experience it is more often a hardware issue. It can be challenging to test the full chain of hardware devices involved in reading and writing data on a computer, but I would attempt to perform some testing to gain confidence in the overall setup.

For example, I would try writing files to and reading them from an external hard drive, swapping out the data cable, and also testing the same drive on a different computer. The idea is to change each variable individually as you try to determine where a problem exists.

You can also have a computer repair shop perform some tests on the various hardware involved, in an effort to confirm whether there are problems with any of the hardware you’re using.

At the very least, however, I would immediately make a full backup of all data, ideally to more than one backup drive. As I’ve noted in previous Ask Tim Grey email newsletters, I also highly recommend using the built-in backup feature to backup the Lightroom catalog. In particular, this backup provides you with the option to test the integrity of the catalog files as well to perform optimization of the catalog. Both of these steps can help avoid problems and improve performance with Lightroom.