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April 16, 2008

By Karen Kenworthy


I'm old enough to remember when e-mail seemed like a dream come true. You probably are too. Providing near instantaneous communication, across the room or around the world, it seemed like a miracle. No buying or licking stamps. No trips to the mailbox in the rain or cold. Pictures, videos, programs, and other files could be sent just as easily as a message's text.

But over the years, e-mail has become more like a nightmare. Soulless spammers waste countless hours and dollars. Today, e-mail programs often block many attached files, for fear they are infected with a virus or other malicious software.

Right now, my "Junk E-mail" folder contains 19,819 messages. It would have more, but the folder is configured to automatically delete all messages more than three days old. :(

Still, we can't let the bad guys win. After all, e-mail has brought us together. So sit back and relax, while I dip into the definitely non-spam contents of the carefully filtered Power Tools inbox ...

Replicator Failures?

People often ask questions about my Replicator. This little program sits quietly until an appointed time. It then awakens, and makes copies of selected files.

Many people use the program to automatically backup files they create at work or at home. The files might be copied to a remote server, a local removable disk, or just another place on their computer's local hard drive. Either way, the user can sleep better at night, knowing they have at least two copies of every important file.

Normally, everything goes according to plan. If you look at the Replicator's main window, after it's finished copying some files, you'll see statistics showing how many files were copied successfully. It even throws in some fun numbers, like files and bytes copied per second.

But, like the rest of us, the Replicator has its bad days. Try as it may, sometimes it has to give up and report one or more "failures" - files that, for one reason or another, couldn't be copied. Always honest, the Replicator reports these failures on right its main window, alongside its prouder accomplishments.

What went wrong? Perhaps an original file was "locked" by another program, preventing the Replicator from reading its data. Or the destination might be protected by Windows security, preventing the Replicator from creating a copy.

It's even possible the disk drive containing the source or destination file is having problems of its own, randomly preventing programs from reading or writing those all-important 1s and 0s.

Splitting the Log

These and other mysteries have prompted several people to write, asking how they can learn the reason for failures to replicate. One recent message came from reader Keith Walters:

"Is there any way to find out what files are listed as 'failures' in Replicator?"

The answer is pretty simple. You start by clicking the "View Log" button on the Replicator's main window.

The program will then display a new "View Log" window, showing the same statistics you saw earlier, on the Replicator's main window. But here you'll discover more information, perhaps including the name of each file that could not be copied, and the reason for the failure.

Perhaps? Wait a minute. Did Karen just say "Perhaps"? Shouldn't the Replicator always report information about its failures?

The answer is, yes it should. And no, it shouldn't. You see, the amount of information recorded in the Replicator's log depends on you -- how much information you want or need.

To see or change your choices, first click the "Edit Settings" button on the Replicator's main window. When the "Settings" window appears, click its "Other Settings" tab.

Now look at the window's upper-left corner. There you'll see a box labeled "Log Contents", containing this bunch of checkboxes:

    Include Job Summary
    Include Errors/Failures
    Include Warnings
    Include Deletions
    Include Up-To-Date Files
    Include Exclusions
    Include Successful Copies

The first three selections, Job Summary, Errors/Failures and Warnings, are selected by default. But if you want a more detailed log file, place checkmarks inside some of the other boxes. To make the log file more compact (at the risk of missing some important information), you can clear some checkboxes too.

Windows Speaks

OK. You've selected the amount of information you want stored in Replicator's log file. Now what will you see, when each log entry is displayed?

Normally, an entry contains of the date and time when an event occurred, the action taken (file deleted, file skipped because it was up-to-date, etc.), and the name of the file or folder affected.

But in the case of Error or Failure entries, the log also includes a reason. In most cases, the reason consists one of the thousands of standard Windows error messages. In the few cases where Windows doesn't provide a description of an error, I've provided my own.

Now when it comes to errors, Windows tries hard to be helpful. First, each possible failure is assigned a number (doesn't that sound like a fun job?). Then each number is given a short description. Whenever possible, the Replicator stores both Windows' error number, and the error's description, in the log file.

Unfortunately, try as it might, Windows doesn't always get the job done. It's too much to expect each of Windows' error descriptions to be helpful, or even accurate.

And sometimes, Windows simply doesn't know the reason for a failure. This is often the case when an action takes place across a network. Your local copy of Windows depends on the operating system running on the remote computer for the failure's details. And the remote computer, even if it's running another copy of Windows, doesn't always cooperate.

Fortunately, most Windows error messages are helpful enough to lead us fairly quickly to the source of the problem. Does the Replicator log contain the message "Disk Full"? Then the destination folder resides on a disk without any remaining free space. Do you see the error message "File Not Found"? The source file or folder has probably been deleted, or disappeared for some other reason.

When the stated reason is more obscure, an Internet search engine (such as google.com) can help. Just search for the error number, plus a few key words from the description shown in the Replicator log. You're likely to find lots of folks have already plowed the same ground. And some have posted good descriptions of the problem, complete with possible fixes or workarounds.

Yipes! Look at the time! I've got to get to bed. My doctor says no more 48 hour work days. :)

We'll have to get together again, real soon. Until then, why not check out my updated collection of Power Tools? During the last couple of weeks I've been able to update the Replicator, E-Mailer II, Directory Printer, and Countdown Timer II. Links to all of them are on the Power Tools home page:


As always, each program is free for personal/home use. And you can download its complete Visual Basic source code too!

You can also get the latest version of every Power Tool on a shiny CD. These include three bonus Power Tools, not available anywhere else. The source code of every Power Tool, every issue of my newsletter, and some articles I wrote for Windows Magazine, are also on the CD. And owning the CD grants you a license to use all my Power Tools at work.

Best of all, buying a CD is the easiest way to support the KarenWare.com web site, Karen's Power Tools, and this newsletter. To find out more, visit:


Until we meet again, I'll keep wading through my river of spam, looking for the ham you send my way. And as always, if you see me on the 'net, be sure to wave and say "Hi!"