Crazy title, isn’t it?! “Feels like you are working in a copy of the database but you know it’s not a copy”!
As a support technician, I often-times think I have seen it all. But, last week, I ran into something I had never seen before, with regards to our software at a customer site. When I finally, perplexedly Googled the symptoms, looking for an explanation or solution, nothing helpful came up. It was the most dumbfounding thing I had ever seen! So, hopefully, should anyone else ever run into this situation, the information I am about to include here may help!
I work for a transportation software company that caters mostly to over-the-road trucking companies. Our data is stored in xBase flat file .dbf format and each software module may have dozens of database tables.
The support call came in from one of our customers, that one of his dispatchers had entered a new truck in the system, but for some reason, he couldn’t see it from his computer. He could see where a new load (order) referenced that truck, but he just couldn’t see the truck, itself, in the truck file maintenance screen.
My first thought was bad index, so I recommended indexing the files. When he said that didn’t’ help, I remoted into his system to have a look. He was correct, the truck just didn’t show up on his Windows 7 workstation. I remoted over to the workstation that had created the entry, an older XP, and the truck was there and active. “Hmmm… how odd”, I thought. There has to be a simple explanation for this!
But it became more confounding by the moment! My second thought was that he MUST be working in a backup copy of the system! But as I jumped back and forth between his computer and his dispatcher’s computer, checking the paths and the folders that the data was stored in, I could see that they were both pointing to the network’s F: drive and to the same data folder. I tried creating a text file in the data folder from the dispatcher’s XP computer and sure enough, I could see it from both computers. So I knew they were both working in the same folder and looking at the same files! So why was the new truck record not showing in the truck database from both computers???!
I asked them if anything had changed recently. They said not really, but three weeks earlier they had added this new Windows 7 machine to their network. But they said it had been working fine until that day. I asked if there had been any other changes or problems. They said no, not really. They had had a printer problem earlier that day, but it was unrelated and already resolved.
I decided that maybe the Windows 2008 file server was acting up and told them to try rebooting it. They said they had done that earlier, but they would try again. I told them if that didn’t help, to try adding that same truck to the system from the machine that couldn’t see it. I figured maybe it was just some oddness that might work itself out in a few days. I was WRONG!
They called me about four days later and said, “Sunny, we really have a problem! The user on the new Windows 7 machine has added about 200 new loads and we just realized that the other dispatcher cannot see any of them”!!
What was the deal???!!! The new load records being added from the Windows 7 computer were not being seen by the XP machine and truck records by XP wasn’t being seen by the Windows 7! But, they could see everything else in all of the other shared tables. I reaffirmed, again, that there was no shadow of a doubt, they were working in the same file folder on the network! To make it even more strange, with the exception of the load file and the truck file, they could both see the same information that was stored in other files in that same folder!!! It was as though a few isolated files were not being shared, almost like they were working in a backup copy of that file, yet everything pointed to the correct place. With this particular piece of software, there was no way to tell it to write to some files in one folder and other files in a separate folder. They MUST be in the same physical location! How could this be happening??!!?
I finally told the customer that I was just flabbergasted and had no explanation and that I really didn’t think it was something in the software. I suspected something in the hardware setup, but had no reasonable explanation as to what that could be. He called in two different network consultants, but they were as bumfuddled as I was. It was as though, out of dozens of files, that mostly they were both seeing, there were an isolated few, where it was as though they were looking at two different copies! But where were the copies and how was this happening??!!?
Finally, the second network tech, Dave, and I were looking at one of the files in question, through Windows Explorer, when suddenly he noticed in small letters, but right in plain site: Offline status: offline
WTH!!!?? Then the pieces of the puzzled started falling into place. After quizzing the user a little more, we discovered that a week ago, when they had the printer problem (you know, the one that was unrelated!), one of the dispatchers had decided to reboot the server. It never occurred to him to have everyone log out first. He just REBOOTED! In the meantime, the user on the Windows 7 machine was just working merrily away! Windows 7 had sensed the loss of the network connection, so it took “offline” the open database tables that he was working in. When the network was brought back up, it should have synchronized his offline files with the network online files, but it did not.
Fortunately, now that we had finally identified the problem, it was a relatively easy fix. For more information about offline files and file synchronization, go to: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Working-with-network-files-when-you-are-offline