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What additional tools do you use on a regular basis to help in your job?

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  • What additional tools do you use on a regular basis to help in your job?

    Many of us have a collection of third-party tools that are frequently used to help us in our jobs, especially the litigation support and IT teams which support a processing or review environment. I'd like to open the floor for folks to discuss what tools a lot of us use on a regular basis to help investigate data or resolve issues with possibly problematic native, image, or load file data. I'll start by describing a few tools that I use while troubleshooting issues for our clients, which can be very useful by both IT and Lit Support personnel.

    We won't provide full details on how these tools are specifically used, but we would like to list a few examples of tools that fall outside of the "standard realm" of Ipro utilities which we and our clients use on a regular basis. Feel free to pitch in and talk about some of the other tools you've found useful!


    BeyondCompare
    A text comparison utility and so much more, BeyondCompare's biggest flagship feature is to be able to compare two text documents with one another and provide an easy visual representation of the differences between them. This tool is extremely useful for comparing application configuration files as well as settings files (such as for eCapture) to highlight the changes between both copies. For configuration files, the comparison can be leveraged after an upgrade provided a backup was made of the config file in question, to help identify if there were specific settings that were not properly applied to the new config file. eCapture Job Template files (INIs) can be compared to one another to help identify the differences between different templates. While some text tools have comparison functions built into them (or available via plugins), BeyondComapre also offers a few other options such as the ability to compare two directories, which can be useful to help identify if file contents are different between machines -- which might help indicate why a piece of software is not functioning as expected.

    Things I've personally used it for: comparing application configuration files written by Ipro installers, to determine consistency when generating these files. Also using directory compare functions within the tool to compare file counts and versions.


    Structured Storage Viewer (SSView)
    Structured Storage Viewer (or SSView) is a utility designed to display the property streams of any OLE Microsoft Office document, and is intended for deep dives into problematic Office docs. This tool is not for the faint of heart! It works for older "binary documents" (doc, xls, ppt, msg, etc) but will not work for newer XML-based Office docs (docx, xlsx, pptx, msgx, etc) which utilize a different internal storage structure. Binary Office documents store embedded contents as well as document properties in a structured but complex framework: data within one of these documents are stored in properties described by hexadecimal addresses, and the contents of these properties may either be a boolean value, an integer, a date, or a string. The property tree can be very difficult to navigate, since properties are listed by hex address rather than by a human-readable name, and often times the contents of these properties are also stored in hex, integer, or binary form; however, there are several open resources on the internet including MSDN itself that provide additional details about the properties present within these docs, and the expected values that they should be set to.

    SSView is most frequently helpful in determining why certain metadata cannot be extracted from an object or why a document is not able to display properly. Ipro uses SSView predominantly to help identify invalid data properties that cause processing failures. For instance, a common error is that an email displays that it should contain attachments, but eCapture is unable to extract any attachment data; using SSView, we could investigate the object properties, and in several situations we have found that while the email object contains a property naming the attachment, the property which should contain the attachment data is either not present, or is empty. It should also be noted that it's very common that if a document contains an invalid property, Microsoft applications may make their "best guess" handling of the document and may not visibly raise errors related to it, while a third-party viewer (for instance, OutsideIn/Stellent) will not be able to render the doc due to this invalid property.

    Things I've personally used it for: Identifying invalid attachment content, invalid document properties, mismatches between stated and actual document formats (such as a property defining that an email's body text is in RTF format, while the body text is actually in HTML format), and documents with nonexistent properties which should be present for that document to function correctly.


    HXD Hex Editor
    A hex editor tool is a great way to get an extremely low-level view into various file data, and HXD is a standby I've used for around a decade or more. Much like SSView above, hex editors require a much greater degree of familiarity with the structure of specific data formats, and usually will also require a functional understanding of endianness as it relates to data storage within a file, and an understanding of single- vs multi-byte data, and how these concepts interact with one another within a computer environment. This is an even deeper dive into the underlying data structure of an item since it doesn't display an orderly property structure, but instead allows a complete raw, unfiltered view at the source data. This is very much a tool used by computer engineers and data analysts to be able to identify fundamental issues with the data.

    Things I've personally used it for: Reading and validating very low-level file header information from files (such as audio or image data), inserting or removing BOMs in UTF8 Unicode text files (for compatibility with older software which can't parse UTF8, or to be recognized as Unicode for software which incorrectly fails to recognize BOM-less UTF8), identifying invalid or missing BOMs in UTF16 Unicode text files, identifying files which have a few bytes improperly truncated from or appended to the end of the file -- possibly due to errors with file transfer systems. Outside of the litigation world, I also use a hex editor frequently when prepping binary files to be burned to ROM chips for embedded systems and vintage computers.


    Fiddler by Telerik
    Fiddler 4 by Telerik is a web API development and debugging tool. This tool is used especially to troubleshoot issues which we believe may be related to Eclipse and/or ADD communication, by allowing us to intercept and view a copy of the API messaging being passed to and from ADD. ADD API messages are in a standard JSON format, and when intercepting traffic we are able to identify what Eclipse or eCapture is requesting of the ADD Services website, and how the ADD Services website is responding.

    Things I've personally used it for: As detailed above, we primarily use this when troubleshooting communication between Eclipse client machines and the Eclipse and/or ADD web servers, or between eCapture components and the ADD services endpoint.


    nc (netcat) and telnet
    netcat is a utility originally developed for UNIX-like operating systems to capture network traffic and print the raw flow to the screen, based on certain filtering conditions. netcat can also be used to help investigate connections between machines and is generally much more versatile than an ICMP ping (which are often filtered traffic).

    netcat and telnet can both be used as a raw client to connect to TCP ports and ensure that the destination machine can accept connections on that port, and for certain services, viewing the greeting header presented by the service upon connection. Since both tools just connect into the target server and port as a raw command line, a successful connection test might just be displayed as a blank screen with no apparent activity, while a failed connection test would specifically indicate the failure with some manner of message.

    Things I've personally used it for: predominantly for testing access to a web server when pages are not being delivered properly, verifying that Ipro services can receive connections from other machines.


    SQL Server Profiler
    Technically this isn't a third-party utility since it's a built-in component to Microsoft SQL Server, but this is one of the most powerful tools that we have at our disposal. This tool allows logging (to a high level of detail) on the activity passing through a SQL server, and can display the text of a query as well as the execution results (successful vs not successful).

    Things I've personally used it for: This is one of the most common utilities we use at Ipro, and we use it frequently when behavior within a database does not match the data or user input being fed into the system. This lets us see in detail how things are occurring in the back end of the system.


    ProcMon and ProcessExplorer
    Provided by SysInternals, this pair of utilities allows a user to investigate a plethora of requests made on a system, including lookup requests to DLLs, failed method calls, filesystem permissions checks, read/write requests to the filesystem and registry, as well as numerous other system requests. This can easily generate a log containing tens of thousands of events within a few seconds of operation since it will capture nearly everything within the system, but can be filtered on a multitude of conditions. This tool is yet another very deep dive into the low-level workings of the operating system itself.

    Things I've personally used it for: Determining which copy of a DLL an application is using, identifying failed method calls and the names of dependent objects which could not be found, identifying permissions issues on disk or within the registry.




    That's some of my top tools that I use when helping to dig into all manner of issues! What are some of the third-party tools you folks use, outside of Ipro tools or text editors?
    "Tough and Competent." Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. ... Competent means we will never take anything for granted.

    - Gene Krantz, NASA Flight Director (Gemini, Apollo)

  • #2
    ProcMon is the best. This is great topic Gus. Here is what I use:

    Informatik Reformat

    This is a tool used to renumber productions for the most part. So let's say you produced documents with a certain production prefix and now "they" want you to reproduce the production but add another set of production numbers and you'd like to keep those numbers (I know, why would someone ask for this, but it happens). This is a great tool for something like that. Also, let's say you produced and now "they" want the same production but with no endorsement, you can use this tool to blank out the endorsement for the same production on disk and send it back out (why would someone ask for this? Trust me, it happens). Great tool that can be used to modify images on disk instead of redoing productions from the review product.

    Windows Performance Monitor

    Use this to create a collector set that will gather information on processing, memory, and Disk usage on a given machine. Great utility to find out how a given machine is performing. Just don't forget to stop the collector set once you're done Or you will run out of disk space.

    Greenshot

    Snippet might be a popular screenshot application but Greenshot runs circles around it. You can capture a full page or parts of a page. You can annotate, obfuscate, and highlight. Multiple export options including, attaching to an email and copying to clipboard. I like it because it's very light weight and you'll forget it's even there until you screenshot.


    iConvert+

    I can't do this post without an Ipro Plug. This utility provides conversion of image load files to and from most popular litigation support file formats. For example, Summation DII files can be converted to Ipro LFP files and vice versa. Supported formats include:
    • Ipro Tech DLF (image only)
    • Ipro Tech LFP
    • Custom Data Format (export from LFP only)
    • Opticon
    • Ringtail
    • Summation
    • Trial Director
    • Visionary
    • DB Textworks
    • Case Central
    • Doculex Version 3
    • Doculex Version 5
    • Documatrix (export only)
    • Introspect (export only)
    • ETech
    A built-in image verification function enables validation of the image files in a directory and sub-directories to ensure proper decompression. The verification function supports PDF, TIF, JPG, GIF, and PNG files.


    WinDirStat

    What's taking up your storage? WindirStat is a disk usage and cleanup utility. On start up, it reads the whole directory tree once and then presents it in three useful views:
    • The directory list, which resembles the tree view of the Windows Explorer but is sorted by file/subtree size,
    • The treemap, which shows the whole contents of the directory tree straight away,
    • The extension list, which serves as a legend and shows statistics about the file types.
    FastCopy

    If you're copying a file from one location to another Or deleting a file, this utility is probably the best in copying and deleting. It lives up to the name.


    Comment


    • #3
      EM Editor
      EmEditor is a great text manipulation tool that will open almost any load file, no matter the encoding. It also boasts that it can open data files up to 25GB in size! I use it primarily for modifying load files that are encoded with UTF16 or for splitting large DLF files. It comes with advanced search replace functionality and will work with regular expressions as well as escape sequences

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