When 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.
- Download and install Disk Drill.
- Connect your USB thumb drive and select it. Click Search for lost data.
- Click Review found items when the scan is finished. If you want to recover everything straight away, click Recover all… instead.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- Open File Explorer and navigate to your USB.
- Copy the contents of the USB.
- Paste it to a location on your computer or another healthy storage device.
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.
- Right-click Start and click Disk Management.
- Right-click the volume of your USB and click Format.
- 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.
- Click OK again.
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.