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9. Tapes and Other Archive Media

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A few special cases about tape handling warrant more detailed description. These special cases are discussed below.

Many complexities surround the use of tar on tape drives. Since the creation and manipulation of archives located on magnetic tape was the original purpose of tar, it contains many features making such manipulation easier.

Archives are usually written on dismountable media—tape cartridges, mag tapes, or floppy disks.

The amount of data a tape or disk holds depends not only on its size, but also on how it is formatted. A 2400 foot long reel of mag tape holds 40 megabytes of data when formatted at 1600 bits per inch. The physically smaller EXABYTE tape cartridge holds 2.3 gigabytes.

Magnetic media are re-usable—once the archive on a tape is no longer needed, the archive can be erased and the tape or disk used over. Media quality does deteriorate with use, however. Most tapes or disks should be discarded when they begin to produce data errors. EXABYTE tape cartridges should be discarded when they generate an error count (number of non-usable bits) of more than 10k.

Magnetic media are written and erased using magnetic fields, and should be protected from such fields to avoid damage to stored data. Sticking a floppy disk to a filing cabinet using a magnet is probably not a good idea.


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