Closing Windows Pt 5: Formatting a USB Device
Guest post from Full Circle Magazine Issue 58. Written by: Ronnie Tucker (KDE), Jan Mussche (Gnome), Elizabeth Krumbach (XFCE), Mark Boyajian (LXDE), David Tigue (Unity)
Formatting (or erasing) a storage device in Windows is relatively easy. You right click the drive you wish to format, and you’ll be presented with a window which details the steps to take in erasing all information from your device.
Linux is slightly different in this regard as it’s almost impossible to format a device without seeing a mention of partitions. And that always bothers people. Think of partitions as being drives within a drive. If you want to only format a USB/SD storage device, then you’ll more than likely not bother with partitions.
WARNING: Be very careful with formatting storage devices. If you choose the wrong device, and click OK, you could be in big trouble. Make 200% sure you’ve got the right device before clicking that final OK button!
On first loading the application, you’ll see a list of your storage devices at the top left, and a diagram of your devices space at the top. The middle section lists partitions, types, labels, and so on.
While the bottom panel shows operations pending. Sometimes, it can be difficult to tell which device is which. In the list above, one of them is a USB device, but which one? Well, I can narrow it down by knowing that the others are too large to be my USB device. Clicking the name /dev/sde tells me (middle panel) that it’s a Kingston DataTraveler and is 8GB – which confirms what is physically written on my device.
Right clicking on the top or middle panels will get me almost no options other than ‘Unmount’, so do that first. Now we have access (via right clicking, or the buttons at the top of the window) to more options, and the main one (for now) is ‘Delete’. This will remove the current partitions before letting us choose ‘New’. This window will let you assign a file system, a label (if applicable), and how big to make this new partition. I’ll call it ‘My USB’, use the ext4 file system, and use the full capacity of the USB.
After clicking OK, the last thing to do is to click ‘Apply’. It’s absolutely critical that you double check you’ve got the right device before clicking apply – as you’ll get only one more sanity check! Once KDE Partition Manager tells you it’s done, your USB device is shiny and new! To begin using it, you need to remove the device (it’s safe as it’s still unmounted) and plug it back in again.
By default, Lubuntu comes with a program called Disk Utility that easily handles all standard disk
management tasks. The program can be opened from the main menu by selecting System Tools > Disk
Disk Utility is simple but powerful. As mentioned earlier in this article: you need to exercise caution before committing an action or you could find yourself reformatting the wrong drive!
As you can see (below), Disk Utility “sees” all the drives attached to your system, which it displays in the “left pane” under the title Storage Devices; I have selected the USB drive. Disk Utility provides a lot of information about the selected drive, and segregates the results into two categories: Disk and Volumes. The former provides disk-level information and functionality. In this example, there are three functions you can perform at the disk level: Format Drive, Benchmark, and Safe Removal. To invoke a function, hover your mouse over the function until it becomes highlighted, then click it. (Note: Depending on the type of drive selected in the left pane, the available functions will change.)
The Volumes section (lower half of right pane) analyzes and displays attributes and functions related to the volumes (partitions) on the drive. In this example, there is only one partition and it is represented graphically by the blue rectangle. If we wanted to reformat this partition, you would simply click on Format Volume. A simple pop-up menu will prompt you for the type of file system you want, and a name for the volume – then you would click the Format button. (Note: doing this will destroy any data you have stored on this partition; however, if you had more than one partition on the selected drive, the other partitions would remain unaffected.) In this example, to delete the entire partition and leave the disk unallocated, you would click Delete Partition. Once the partition is deleted, you can create a new partition(s) – specifying the type, size, and volume name.
From the Drive section (upper half of right pane) of Disk Utility, you can select Format Drive to delete all the partitions on a drive with a single action. Disk Utility is very easy to use, but it assumes you understand the consequences of your actions. At most, Disk Utility will warn you once before you execute a destructive action (e.g. delete a partition, format a drive, etc.); however, it is simple to operate and easy to learn.
In this version of Ubuntu, you can find the program Disk Utility (System > Administration > Disk Utility). Once started, you will see an overview of all disks connected, or built into your computer. Since it is the same program as has been described above in the Lubuntu section, I will explain only some of the features of this program that have not been described already.
Top right, you see the section Drive. Here you see a lot of information about the drive. Just have a look at some drives in your computer, see if you can recognize them. In this Drive section, you see 3 buttons: Format drive, SMART Data, and Benchmark. Clicking SMART Data, you will see this screen which tells you about the condition of your drive.
The Benchmark button tells you about what the drive can do regarding read and write speed.
In Unity, the default application is ‘Disk Utility’. Click on the Dash icon, start typing ‘Disk Utility’, and then click the icon when it appears. The usage for this tool has already been mentioned before, so I won’t go into details here. I would just like to emphasize that you unmount the volume before formatting, and also make sure you are 100% certain this is what you want to do before you click the final button. This will cause you to lose all data on the drive, so make sure that formatting the drive is what you want to do. Good luck.
Xubuntu 11.10 does not ship with a default graphical application for formatting a storage device. If you don’t want to install software, you have the option of using the command line tool “parted” which does ship with Xubuntu – you can find documentation for this tool on the parted website: http://www.gnu.org/software/parted/.
However, it is instead recommended that you use the same tool already recommended for Lubuntu and Gnome, “Disk Utility” – which you can install from the Ubuntu Software Center by simply searching for “Disk Utility” and clicking Install. Once installed, you can access it via Xubuntu mouse menu > Settings > Disk Utility.
Usage has already been covered, so I will quickly mention that, in Xubuntu, USB Flash Drives are automatically mounted when inserted – so they will show up when you load up the the Disk Utility application. You can go to Xubuntu mouse menu > Settings > Settings Manager, and select “Removable Drives and Media” to make modifications to this behavior.