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Helix Diagnostics

Successful management of a Helix collection menas making sure that it is always in proper working order. It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that in Helix, as in life, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. It is never enough to merely be backed up, especially when your backups may not have been properly maintained.

To this end, two diagnostic and repair applications were developed by the creators of Helix. The first was Update Collection. This was followed some years later by Helix Utility.

Update Collection was historically used first to update the collection to the latest version of Helix, and then to verify the structure of the collection for damage and perform structural maintenance. Structural maintenance for Helix collections running in any version of Helix up to and including 6.1 require the use of Update Collection.

In version 6.2, the structure-checking functionality of Update Collection has been integrated into the RADE, Server and Engine code bases, enabling this process to be run without taking the program down to launch a separate application. The collection updating functionality has been built into the next version of Helix, code-named Callisto, so that the upgrade process to that and all subsequent releases will require minimal user disruption.

The Helix Utility checks the data stored in your collection for damage. It also may be used to compress a collection to remove empty space left when large amounts of data are deleted or structure is removed. This application received a major overhaul for use on Intel Macintosh computers and that version is now included in all macOS native Helix RADE, Helix Server and Helix Engine download packages.

It is important to make a backup of your collection before using either of these tools. Both will attempt to repair damage they find in your collections, and if that repair is impossible (or unsuccessful), that copy of your collection will be left in an unusable state. In some instances, our collection repair procedure can recover a file that one of the utilities has already attempted to repair, but you should never rely on that. Always make a backup before running a collection through either Helix Utility or Update Collection.

If damage is found, you should also make it a point to check your most recent backups for damage. Only use collections that pass both applications. Manage your backups so that you always have a copy of the collection which passes both Helix Utility and Update Collection. If you do not find a backup copy which passes both, contact us to arrange for collection repair.

Do the Utilities Cause Damage?

When people contact us about a damaged collection, they sometimes say something like "My collection works fine, but when I try to check the collection with the utilities, they damage it."

This may seem like a fine point, but it is one that we constantly try to emphasize: the utilities do not cause damage, they reveal it. If one of the utilities reports damage, you know that your collection has damage in it, even if it seems to work fine. Ignoring reported damage is dangerous: you may not notice any problems with your collection, but unrepaired damage is like a landmine, lying in wait for something to 'stumble' over it. When it is triggered, the result is further damage to your collection and possible data loss.

Does the Order I Run Them In Matter?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Here's why: The two utilities look at different parts of the whole collection, Helix Utility examines the data and Update Collection examines the structure. (There are a couple of places where their checking does overlap, but that is a minor point.)

Both utilities also fill two roles: repair minor problems, and report major ones. With some kinds of damage, it is possible that a minor fix to the structure (by Update Collection) will enable Helix Utility to fix data damage it would have otherwise considered unrepairable, or vice versa.

Usually it doesn't matter which order the utilities are run in, but if you encounter fatal damage with one, throw the checked copy away, make another copy of your unchecked collection and try the other utility first. That may make minor corrections that allow the other utility to actually do the repair it previously thought was impossible.

Can I Back Up an Open Collection?

If you are in the habit of making a copy of an open collection, and checking that, it is sometimes possible that you will see transient damage. When a collection is open, there are often bits and pieces that are currently in a fragile state, and if you happen to make your backup while such is true, the utilities will report that as damage. If you are in the habit of doing this and you encounter damage, do not panic. Take time to close your collection normally and make a backup of it only after it has been successfully closed by Helix RADE, Engine, or Server. Check that copy before you conclude that your collection is truly damaged.

A Note About Crashes

When a Helix application crashes, it is possible for the open collection to be left in a 'fragile' state that the utilities will report as damaged. If a collection is open when Helix crashes, make a copy of the collection (and logfile, if logging is on) and then attempt to reopen the collection with Helix RADE. If RADE opens the collection successfully, immediately close the collection, make another backup, and then run it through the utilities. This will ensure that any damage that was attributable to the crash is cleaned up.