How to Format a Flash Drive without Losing Data on Windows

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format usb without losing dataWhen Windows says that your USB needs to be formatted, it’s often due to an error that has occurred. In most cases, the USB flash drive will still contain data you need to retrieve. But, what do you do if the problem that has arisen is preventing you from accessing the USB?

Thankfully, there is a way you can format the USB without losing data. But, you must act swiftly to ensure the damage doesn’t worsen. Read on to learn how to format a flash drive without losing data.

Can You Format a USB Without Losing Data?

Formatting a flash drive will delete everything on the USB and give it a new file system. Reformatting a flash drive will do the same thing, as it overwrites the previous file system with a new one. In order to format a USB without deleting everything, you must first back the data up. This may seem obvious, but it can be challenging if the USB is faced with a problem that doesn’t let you access it like normal (for example, a corrupted file system).

This is one of the reasons why data recovery software exists. See, when you delete a file (either intentionally or as a consequence of formatting), only the record to locate that data is deleted. The data itself remains, but only for a limited time.

If you need to format or reformat a USB drive, recovering the data on it first is the top priority (although sometimes it is necessary to format the USB first, then attempt to recover the data).

How to Back up Data From a USB Flash Drive

We’ll show you two possible methods for recovering data from a USB flash drive, one where the data isn’t accessible, and one where it is.

Scenario 1: The Data Isn’t Accessible – Data Recovery Software

Corruption, malware, user error – these are all common problems that USB drives face. If something has happened that is blocking you from getting to your data, data recovery software is the way to go. Disk Drill, a data recovery tool, specializes in cases like this. You can use it to scan your USB drive and get your data back in no time.

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
  2. Connect your USB thumb drive and select it. Click Search for lost data.Scanning the USB for recoverable data.
  3. Click Review found items when the scan is finished. If you want to recover everything straight away, click Recover all… instead.Viewing the found USB data.
  4. Select the data that you want to recover. Be sure to use the preview panel where necessary to make sure you’re choosing the file files. To make it faster, you can also use the filter buttons and search box. When you’re ready, click Recover.Recovering data from the USB with Disk Drill.
  5. Choose an appropriate output location. Make sure you’re not choosing a location on the same USB you’re recovering from. To finish, click Next.Finishing USB recovery with Disk Drill.

Should data recovery software not be enough, consider seeking the services of a data recovery professional instead. This may be required in cases where the USB has become physically damaged and is no longer detectable.

Scenario 2: The Data Is Accessible – File Explorer

If your USB is being read by your computer like normal and you can access all of its contents, you simply need to back up the data using File Explorer.

  1. Open File Explorer and navigate to your USB.Viewing the USB data.
  2. Copy the contents of the USB.Coping the data from the USB.
  3. Paste it to a location on your computer or another healthy storage device.Pasting the USB data to a new folder.

Once your data is backed up, consider implementing a regular backup routine. File History is a great place to start, as it’s free and included with Windows.

How to Format USB Drive on Windows

Once your data is safely recovered and backed up, you can proceed to format the USB. Formatting a USB is a great way to remove most forms of damage it has sustained and restore it back to working order.

We’re going to show you a few ways you can go about formatting your USB drive.

Method 1: File Explorer

File Explorer is most probably the easiest way to format a USB flash drive, as all Windows users are familiar with it. In just a few clicks, your USB drive can be formatted and ready to store data once more.

Here’s how you can format your USB flash drive through File Explorer:

  1. Open File Explorer and click This PC.navigate to this pc in explorer
  2. Right-click your USB flash drive and click Format.format usb in explorer
  3. Input a volume label and make sure Quick Format is ticked. Click Start.quick format usb drive
  4. Click OK when asked to confirm the action.

Method 2: Disk Management

Disk Management is another easy way to format a USB drive, as it can be done through a graphical user interface and also gives you more options to modify the flash drive after it has been formatted.

We’re going to show you how to perform a quick format. A quick format will delete everything on the drive, but leave some chance of recovery if needed. A full format, on the other hand, will completely zero the drive, rendering everything unrecoverable.

Follow these steps to format your USB drive using Windows Disk Management:

  1. Right-click Start and click Disk Management.Opening Disk Management on Windows 10.
  2. Right-click the volume of your USB and click Format.Formatting the USB drive with Disk Management.
  3. Choose your desired format parameters. This is where you can also change the format of the USB. Make sure Perform a quick format is ticked and click OK.Formatting the USB.
  4. Click OK again.

Method 3: PowerShell

PowerShell is a command-line config management program. With it, you can perform various administrative tasks and operations, such as formatting.

Note: This method will involve formatting the entire flash drive and creating a single partition. So, if you have other partitions on the flash drive, be sure to back the data up first.

The below instructions will guide you through formatting a USB flash drive using PowerShell:

  1. Right-click Start and click Terminal (Admin). Alternatively, open Start and search for PowerShell. Open it as an administrator.launch powershell
  2. Type get-disk and press Enter. Make note of the disk number associated with your USB flash drive.get-disk
  3. Type clear-disk -number X -removedata. Replace X with your USB drive number. Press Enter Type Y, then press Enter again to confirm the action.clear-disk
  4. Type new-partition -disknumber X -usemaximumsize | format-volume -filesystem FAT32 -newfilesystemlabel Y. Replace X with your USB drive number, and Y with what you want to name the drive. Press Enter If you’re asked to initialize the disk first, please refer to the note at the end of the instructions for additional steps.new-partition
  5. Type get-partition -disknumber X | set-partition -newdriveletter Y. Replace X with your USB drive number, and Y with the drive letter you want to be assigned to it.get-partition

Note: If the USB drive became uninitialized after step 3, type initialize-disk -number X. Replace X with your USB drive number. This command will initialize the disk with the GPT partition style. If you want to use MBR instead, add -partitionstyle mbr to the command.

Method 4: Command Prompt (CMD)

Command Prompt is another reliable way to format a USB flash drive using a CLI. We’re going to guide you through two ways, one using DiskPart and the other using the standalone format command.

Format Command

  1. Right-click Start and click Command Prompt (Admin). On Windows 11, you will need to search for it manually and open it as administrator.launch command prompt
  2. Type format *: /q. Replace * with the drive letter that’s assigned to your USB drive. Press Enter, and press Y if prompted to confirm.execute format command
  3. Provide a volume label if needed, then press Enter.name your volume

DiskPart

  1. Right-click Start and click Command Prompt (Admin). On Windows 11, you will need to search for it manually and open it as administrator.launch cmd with admin rights
  2. Type diskpart and press Enter.start diskpart utility
  3. Type list disk and press Enter. Make note of your flash drive’s disk number.list disk in diskpart
  4. Type select disk *. Replace * with your disk number. Press Enter.select drive to format
  5. Type clean and press Enter.execute clean command
  6. Type create partition primary and press Enter.create partition on a drive
  7. Type format fs=FAT32 quick and press Enter.format drive to coherent file system
  8. Type assign and press Enter.diskpart assign command

Conclusion

Formatting a USB deletes all of its contents. In order to avoid this, you must back up the data first. If you can access your USB fine, back up everything by copying and pasting it to a safe location on your computer or another storage device. If the USB is inaccessible, use a data recovery tool like Disk Drill to recover the data.

Once the data is secured, you can proceed to format the USB knowing that all of its contents are safely backed up.

FAQ:

When you format a USB drive, you are writing a new file system to the USB. In doing so, all of the data on the USB is deleted. In order to format without losing data, you must back the data up first.
First, let’s distinguish between the terms ‘erase’ and delete’. When you erase data, it’s unrecoverable. However, when you delete data, there is still a chance for it to be recovered. Formatting a USB doesn’t erase its contents, it just deletes it. A new file system is written to the USB and the records for the data on it are deleted. However, even though it’s invisible through normal means, the data may remain intact for a limited time, meaning it can be recovered until it is overwritten.
Typically, USB flash drives come preformatted and ready to use. However, there may be times where you need to format it yourself. For instance, if you connect a USB to your Windows 10 or 11 machine and it’s in a raw state (meaning it has no file system), you can format the USB to FAT32 (or your desired file system) to begin using it. If it comes with a different format than you desired and you’ve already begun writing data to it, you can change the USB format without deleting files by backing the files up first.