sfdisk: The Scriptable fdisk

There was a brief mention of scripting partition editing in my post a couple of days ago about setting up an SD card for a Beagle Board. I revisited the script that was used to prepare the SD card partitions, took a closer look at it, and figured it was important enough to give it a mention in it’s own post — sfdisk.

Simply put, sfdisk is a scriptable fdisk which allows you to automate steps taken to create a partition layout. Here’s the standard blurb from the man page:

sfdisk has four (main) uses: list the size of a partition, list the partitions on a device, check the partitions on a device, and – very dangerous – repartition a device.

sfdisk accepts commands from stdin and the format is mostly comma separated for each field that is available which is:

<start> <size> <id> <bootable> <c,h,s> <c,h,s>

Be sure to check the man page for more information (as always). One quick example is presented in the man page:

sfdisk /dev/hdc << EOF

Since the Beagle Board SD card setup script by XorA gave such a great usage example, I’d like to present it here again in case you missed it, except in a minimal form to avoid distractions:

# Example Usage: create_sd /dev/sdb


dd if=/dev/zero of=$DRIVE bs=1024 count=1024

SIZE=`fdisk -l $DRIVE | grep Disk | awk '{print $5}'`

echo DISK SIZE - $SIZE bytes

CYLINDERS=`echo $SIZE/255/63/512 | bc`


echo ,9,0x0C,*
echo ,,,-
} | sfdisk -D -H 255 -S 63 -C $CYLINDERS $DRIVE

mkfs.vfat -F 32 -n "boot" ${DRIVE}1
mke2fs -j -L "rootfs" ${DRIVE}2

Have fun with it! While you’re at it, you may want to check out the parted command with the --script option. It’s very handy if you work with disk partitions frequently.

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There's 6 Comments So Far

  • training beagles
    December 30th, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    […] sfdisk: The Scriptable fdisk | The Linux Daily […]

  • Reni
    March 28th, 2011 at 1:26 am

    Why do you use fdisk to return the size to calculate the cylinders?
    You could aswel use CYLINDERS=`sfdisk -g $DISK|awk ‘{print $2-1}’`

  • gKsam
    March 21st, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Why do you use fdisk to return the size to calculate the cylinders?

    SIZE=`fdisk -l $DRIVE | grep Disk | awk ‘{print $5}’` don’t work if your disk doesn’t contain a valid partition.

  • David Evans
    March 18th, 2013 at 3:41 am

    Is it possible to script sfdisk in such a way that it will not run a script on a device of more than 8GB?

    I am seeing many customers trash their host OS, when they select the wrong drive during the preparation of SD cards for embedded Linux systems.

    If there was a script that would automatically halt if the disk under examination was greater than 8GB, it would save a lot of wailing…



  • [email protected]
    March 18th, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    If it’s just a simple bash script, it would be pretty easy to come up with the disk size like df or fdisk -l | grep Disk, use cut or awk to parse the output, and then store that into a variable. Then, it’s just a matter of saying if [ $disksize -lt 8589934592 ]; then #.

  • Harvey
    May 10th, 2013 at 12:56 am

    I changed the cylinders line to the following so I can use the script with busybox.

    if [ “$CYLINDERS” = “” ] && which bc >/dev/null 2>&1; then
    CYLINDERS=`echo $SIZE/255/63/512 | bc`
    if [ “$CYLINDERS” = “” ] && which dc >/dev/null 2>&1; then
    CYLINDERS=$(echo “$SIZE 255 / 63 / 512 / p” | dc | sed -e ‘s,\..*$,,’)
    if [ “$CYLINDERS” = “” ]; then
    echo “Failed to calculate CYLINDERS=$SIZE/255/63/512”
    exit 1

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