Linux Mtools Command

Shaun A
12 Min Read

Mtools is a suite of utilities for Unix systems that facilitates the manipulation of MS-DOS file systems, allowing users to read, write, and move files typically found on floppy disks. These tools aim to emulate MS-DOS commands while discarding some of the system’s limitations, offering a bridge between Unix and DOS environments. The commands in Mtools are prefixed with ‘m’ and are designed to operate similarly to their DOS analogs without the need to mount the DOS file system.

Key Takeaways

  • Mtools is a collection of command-line utilities for Unix systems to manage MS-DOS file systems without mounting.
  • It emulates MS-DOS commands and extends their functionality, allowing for operations like moving subdirectories.
  • Mtools can be installed from Linux package repositories or built from source, with the code available at the GNU website.
  • The ‘-i’ option enables Mtools to work with disk images, specifically allowing Linux systems to manipulate these images.
  • While Mtools is powerful, users may encounter issues, for which solutions and workarounds are documented, including understanding exit codes.

Overview of Mtools

Definition and Purpose

Mtools is a collection of utilities designed to facilitate the manipulation of MS-DOS files from Unix systems. It allows users to read, write, and manage files on MS-DOS filesystems, typically found on floppy disks. Unlike MS-DOS commands, Mtools does not emulate the limitations and peculiarities of DOS, offering more flexibility in operations such as moving subdirectories.

Supported File Systems

The primary filesystems supported by Mtools are FAT and FAT32, which are commonly associated with MS-DOS and Windows environments. The suite offers comprehensive documentation, community support, seamless file management on FAT/FAT32 systems, integration with Linux utilities, enhanced security, cross-platform compatibility, and versatile commands for efficient file operations.

Comparison with MS-DOS Commands

Mtools commands are designed to be similar to their MS-DOS counterparts, providing a familiar interface for users. However, Mtools extends the functionality by removing certain DOS restrictions. For example, Mtools allows for the manipulation of long filenames and supports high-capacity disk formats, which are not typically possible with standard MS-DOS commands.

Installation and Configuration

Obtaining Mtools

To get started with Mtools, you can find the software package in most Linux distribution repositories. Use your package manager to search for mtools and install it. For instance, on Debian-based systems, you would use sudo apt-get install mtools.

Installation Process

The installation of Mtools is straightforward. After obtaining the package, follow the prompts provided by your package manager. Once installed, Mtools will be ready to use without the need for immediate configuration, thanks to default values that cover common use cases.

Configuring Mtools for System Environment

Mtools looks for its configuration file location in a few places, with a specific parsing order. The general syntax of the configuration files allows for both global variables and per drive variables, ensuring flexibility for different environments. To configure Mtools:

  1. Identify the location of the device node for accurate location information.
  2. Create or edit the configuration file in one of the expected directories.
  3. Use the general configuration file syntax to set global or drive-specific variables.
  4. For advanced users, old style configuration is available for backwards compatibility.

Remember, in most cases, you won’t need to create a configuration file due to Mtools’ sensible defaults.

Working with Disk Images

Using the -i Option

Mtools simplifies the management of disk images through the -i option, which enables operations on a disk image as if it were a real device. For instance, to copy a file to the root directory of an image, the command would resemble mcopy -i floppy.img kernel.elf ::. This option is particularly useful when working with emulators like DOSBox-X.

Supported Formats on Linux

Linux supports a variety of disk image formats, including the high capacity XDF format, which is exclusive to the Linux environment. The use of the -i option with Mtools allows for seamless interaction with these formats, ensuring compatibility and ease of use.

Common Use Cases

Mtools is often employed for tasks such as:

  • Creating and managing disk images
  • Copying files to and from disk images
  • Formatting and initializing disk images

It’s an essential tool for users who need to interact with DOS environments or legacy systems that require disk images.

Common Mtools Commands

Mtools is a collection of utilities to access MS-DOS disks from Unix without mounting them. It is compatible with DOS versions 2.0 and above, and supports various types of disk images. Understanding the command set of Mtools is crucial for efficiently managing DOS file systems under a Linux environment.

File Manipulation Commands

Mtools offers a variety of commands for file manipulation, similar to traditional DOS commands. Users can copy, move, delete, and rename files using commands like mcopy, mmove, mdel, and mren. These commands are intuitive for those familiar with DOS or Windows file operations.

  • mcopy: Copy files from and to MS-DOS file systems.
  • mmove: Move or rename files within the MS-DOS file system.
  • mdel: Delete files from the MS-DOS file system.
  • mren: Rename files within the MS-DOS file system.

Directory Management

Managing directories is straightforward with Mtools. Commands such as mdir, mcd, mdeltree, and mmd allow users to list, change, delete, and create directories, respectively.

  • mdir: List the contents of a directory.
  • mcd: Change the current working directory.
  • mdeltree: Recursively delete a directory and its contents.
  • mmd: Make a new directory.

Disk Operations

For disk-related operations, Mtools provides commands like mformat, mbadblocks, mcheck, and mlabel. These commands facilitate formatting disks, checking for bad blocks, verifying the integrity of file systems, and labeling disks.

  • mformat: Format a disk.
  • mbadblocks: Check for bad blocks on a disk.
  • mcheck: Verify the integrity of the file system on a disk.
  • mlabel: Create or change the label of a disk.

Mtools commands are designed to be used without the need for mounting the file systems, providing a safe and convenient way to interact with DOS disks from a Unix-like environment.

Troubleshooting and Limitations

Common Issues and Solutions

When working with Mtools, users may encounter various issues. Common problems include device driver error messages when the tool fails to guess the proper device for multiple disk capacities. These messages are typically harmless and can be ignored. Additionally, users might face compatibility issues with FAT file systems, especially on disks formatted with older versions of Mtools. Setting the MTOOLS_FAT_COMPATIBILITY environment variable can help bypass these issues.

Understanding Exit Codes

Mtools provides exit codes that can be used to understand the outcome of a command. Exit codes are numerical values that indicate success or failure, with zero typically denoting success. Familiarizing oneself with these codes can aid in diagnosing problems and automating tasks.

Known Bugs and Workarounds

Mtools has a few known bugs that users should be aware of. For instance, the FAT checking code may fail on certain disk formats. To address this, users can set specific environment variables to avoid the checks. It’s also worth noting that support for non-Linux operating systems has not been thoroughly tested and may contain bugs or not work at all.

An unfortunate side effect of not guessing the proper device is an occasional error message from the device driver. These can be safely ignored.


In summary, Mtools is an invaluable suite of command-line utilities that enables Unix and Linux systems to interact with MS-DOS-based filesystems, such as FAT. It offers a convenient way to read, write, and manipulate files without the need for mounting or complex configurations. The ability to use disk images with the -i option further enhances its versatility, making it a go-to tool for managing DOS-formatted disks and images. Whether you’re dealing with floppy disks or disk images, Mtools provides a familiar DOS-like interface for file operations, streamlining the process for users accustomed to DOS commands. The public domain status of Mtools, along with its availability in most Linux distribution repositories, ensures that it is accessible and maintainable by the community. For more information and to contribute to the development of Mtools, visit its homepage and consider diving into its source code or documentation to enhance your system’s capabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is Mtools and what is its purpose?

Mtools is a collection of utilities that allow Unix systems to manipulate MS-DOS file systems, such as FAT. Its purpose is to read, write, and move files on an MS-DOS filesystem without the need for mounting, emulating equivalent DOS commands where possible.

How can I obtain Mtools for my Linux system?

Mtools can be obtained from the package repositories of most Linux distributions or can be built from source under Cygwin. The source code is available at

How do I use Mtools to work with disk images?

To use Mtools with disk images, you can use the ‘-i’ option followed by the disk image file name. For example, to copy ‘kernel.elf’ to the root directory of ‘floppy.img’, you would use: mcopy -i floppy.img kernel.elf ::.

Are there any file system formats that Mtools supports only on Linux?

Yes, Mtools supports certain high capacity formats, such as 2m and XDF, only on Linux.

What are some common commands provided by Mtools?

Mtools provides commands that mimic DOS commands, such as mdir (similar to DIR), mcopy (similar to COPY), mdel (similar to DEL), and more. Each command starts with the letter ‘m’ and functions similarly to its DOS counterpart.

What should I do if I encounter issues with Mtools?

If you face any issues with Mtools, you can refer to the documentation for common problems and solutions, understand the exit codes provided by Mtools for troubleshooting, and check for known bugs and workarounds.

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By Shaun A
Hello and welcome to my blog! My name is Shaun, In this blog, you'll find a treasure trove of information about Linux commands. Whether you're a seasoned Linux user or just starting out on your journey, I aim to provide valuable insights, tips, and tutorials to help you navigate the world of Linux with confidence.
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