Peachtree Data Corruption Involving the Audit Trail

Experienced users of Peachtree make daily backups and are always on the lookout for error messages that could mean Peachtree data corruption. The backups made daily, or even every few hours, are the bookkeeper's best weapon against data file problems. No matter what file problem has occurred, it can almost always be solved using a recent backup.

“Error reading AUDITTR.DAT” is an example of an error message I recently witnessed. This message indicates problems with Peachtree's audit trail function. Because this message indicates data corruption, it is a message that should be dealt with right away. Peachtree data corruption - ie damaged data - is caused by Peachtree running on a computer or network that is unreliable; a situation that should be corrected as soon as possible, before additional data damage occurs.

Fortunately, the AUDITTR.DAT file this error message refers to is a file that is relatively small and inconsequential - Peachtree can be run without it if necessary. AUDITTR.DAT contains the data for the Peachtree audit trail. The audit trail serves a useful purpose and it is unfortunate to lose it, but its loss will not significantly affect your Peachtree accounting. The general ledger, trial balance, financial reports, and other reports will not be affected if this file is gone. In other words, AUDITTR.DAT performs a noncritical function and it's loss will not affect other aspects of Peachtree.

Because the file is not critical, the incident that caused this data corruption can be considered a near miss - a close call. Peachtree's data files took a hit and damage occurred, but the extent of the damage was limited to one file; and it was a file which happened to be expendable.

When Peachtree reports "Error reading..." and then mentions a data file, the fact the file can't be read means the file has been damaged - a condition also known as data corruption. This Peachtree data corruption can be caused by static electricity, unreliable power, problems with the computer’s hard disk drive, or in a multi-user situation it can be caused by network problems.

For an analogy of the way this file damage occurs, consider a fleet of cars traveling along a highway. Suddenly one car swerves off the road and hits a telephone pole. Similar to a fleet of cars traveling down the road, Peachtree manages a "fleet" of data files in your computer. These data files act in a coordinated fashion and together comprise your Peachtree accounting records.

In this case, similar to a car swerving off the highway, a data file encountered trouble. The problem file did not run into a telephone pole like the car in our analogy, but the data file did encounter some sort of problem - and was wrecked in the process.

Peachtree does not have a recovery utility for a situation where the damage has been this complete. When you see the phrase “Error reading” and Peachtree is referring to a file with a name ending in "DAT", it means you have a data file which can't be read because it is damaged beyond repair.

When data files are damaged to this extent, restoring from backup is usually the best solution. In this case, because AUDITTR.DAT was unusable, if a recent backup existed, this would have been a good time to implement Peachtree's FILE/RESTORE command to retrieve it.

However, when this error occurred, the most recent backup was several days old and the bookkeepers had completed a significant amount of work in the days since that backup was made; and they did not relish the idea of rekeying entries made since then. Luckily, because of the particular file involved, an unusual option was available: the problem data file could simply be deleted.

Deleting this file was a possibility because AUDITTR.DAT is one of several files that are peculiar in that they will be newly created if Peachtree discovers them missing. When Peachtree detects that a file like this has been deleted, it automatically creates a new blank version of the file. Peachtree will create a new AUDITTR.DAT the first time it is restarted after the file has been deleted. Once AUDITTR.DAT has been rebuilt, the bookkeeping can be resumed, picking up where it was left off.

In this situation, the old audit trail contained in the original AUDITTR.DAT was gone, but fresh audit trail information began to accumulate in the new AUDITTR.DAT file as work continued. The loss of the old audit trail was an inconvenience, but Peachtree's core accounting records were not affected.

Even though AUDITTR.DAT is not a critical file, we responded to the error message right away because the sooner this file was deleted and rebuilt, the sooner new good data could start being collected. Also, we wanted to figure out the cause of the Peachtree data corruption as quickly as possible because until the cause of this bad data was determined and corrected, the occurrence of additional bad data was likely. We were concerned that the next time problems occurred, it might result in damage to a more critical file. This time the audit trail data was lost. What more important file might be damaged the next time?

To find the cause of the data damage, the computer, hard disk drive, and network all were examined. In a case like this it is important to look for any suspicious performance issues and correct them. Here, we felt quite sure the problem was caused by the multiuser network since access to the server had been slow and erratic for quite some time. We asked the technician responsible for the file server and network to see what he could do to correct the reliability problem as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the Peachtree operators cautiously went back to work.

In summary, pay careful attention to error messages when Peachtree displays them. Error messages notify you about a problem that has occurred. Even if you encounter Peachtree data corruption, you won't always need to restore from a backup, but be sure to make daily backups anyway - so you'll have something you can restore from if it's needed. If you're not sure how to handle an error you've encountered, give us a call or send an e-mail. We'll help you find the best way to deal with the situation.

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