How to Format a USB Drive Without Losing Data

Updated to Troubleshooting Tips by William on Dec 27, 2023 | Approved by Jennifer Allen

USB flash drives are essential storage devices for transferring important work files or sharing photos with family and friends. However, there may come a time when you need to format your flash drive for various reasons, such as optimizing its performance or fixing errors. But initializing the USB in case access is denied will result in losing your important files. If you face such a problem, then please continue reading this article. We will provide multiple methods to format a USB drive without losing data in Windows 11/10 and Mac.

What Happens If I Format My USB Drive?

Formatting is a process that resets a flash drive and returns it to an empty state. The following things happen:

Remember, formatting a flash drive will permanently delete all its data. So, before proceeding with formatting, be sure to transfer all critical files to a new location. If your USB drive is damaged and inaccessible, don’t worry; you can still use the following methods to avoid data loss.

How to Format Flash Drive Without Losing Data

The files will disappear immediately regardless of how well you format a USB. But did you know that even formatting the flash drive guarantee the safety of your data? Therefore, you need to follow these steps:

Step 1: Extract Flash Drive Data to Other Locations

First, you must transfer your files before you format your drive to avoid losing valuable data. So, choose a method based on the status of the USB drive.

Method 1. Recover Data from Not Accessible USB Drive

While losing access to your files can be frustrating and intimidating, there are still options to get them. Therefore, to format a flash drive without losing data, you must use professional tools - iBeesoft Data Recovery to help recover files from corrupted USB before formatting. To do this, you need to perform the following steps:

Download for Windows Download for macOS
  1. Insert your flash drive into the PC's USB port.
  2. Download and install this USB recovery software.
  3. After running, select your drive to scan.
  4. Select all found files and click the Recover button to save them.

Method 2. Copy Files from an Accessible Flash Drive to a New location

As long as your drive is accessible, formatting USB without losing data is simple. You only need to copy the data saved to other hard drives before formatting.

Step 2: Formatting Your Flash Drive in Windows PC, Mac, or Linux

There are many ways to initialize your flash drive. So, after successfully saving essential data to other hard drives, you can choose a suitable method to perform the erasure job.

Method 1. Use the System's Built-in tool

For Windows 7/8/10/11:

  1. Open File Explorer.
  2. Click on "This PC" from the left pane.
  3. Right-click the USB in the drive list and select the "Format..." option.
  4. You can choose the file system, allocation unit size, volume label, and format options in the Format window.
  5. Click "Start" to begin formatting your flash drive.

For Mac OS:

  1. Click Applications at the bottom of the screen and go to Utilities > Disk Utility.
  2. Select your drive in the left panel.
  3. Click on "Erase" at the top.
  4. Choose your desired format and scheme, and enter a name for the drive.
  5. Click "Erase" to start formatting the drive.

Method 2. Use Command Line

On Windows PC:

  1. Press Win + X and click Windows PowerShell (Admin) or Command Prompt (Admin).
  2. Type diskpart and press Enter.
  3. Type list disk to display all the disks of your computer.
  4. Type select disk # (replace # with the number of your USB drive).
  5. Type clean to erase the USB drive.
  6. Type create partition primary to create a new primary partition on the USB drive.
  7. Type select disk #.
  8. Type active to make the partition active.
  9. Type format FS=FAT32 quick to format the drive. Based on your needs, you can replace FAT32 with NTFS, exFAT, etc.
  10. Type assign to assign a drive letter to the USB.
  11. Finally, type exit to exit DiskPart when the format process is complete.

On Mac:

  1. Go to Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
  2. Type diskutil list and press Enter.
  3. Un-mount the USB drive by typing diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk# (replace # with the number corresponding to your USB drive) and press Enter.
  4. Type sudo diskutil eraseDisk exFAT MyUSB /dev/disk# (replace MyUSB with the name you want to give to your formatted drive and replace # with the disk number of your drive) and press Enter. You can also replace exFAT with JHFS+ (Mac OS Extended), ExFAT, FAT32, etc.
  5. Enter your computer login password to confirm the format operation.
  6. Type diskutil eject /dev/disk# and press Enter.

On Linux:

  1. Open a terminal window.
  2. Type sudo fdisk -l to list your disks. The USB drive will usually be /dev/sdb1 or similar.
  3. Unmount the drive by typing sudo umount /dev/disk1 (replace disk1 with the name of your USB drive; the fourth step is the same).
  4. Format the drive by typing sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1(vfat is FAT32, you can Replace with ntfs).

Step 3. Transfer previous data to the USB drive

Once the formatting process is complete, you can reopen the drive and copy the files that were once stored in it. Look! Formatting a USB flash drive without losing data in Windows 10/11 and Mac may seem challenging, but you can do it easily by following the above steps.

FAQs

Conclusion

Flash drives have become a convenient way to store and transfer files between devices, but what happens when you need to format USB without losing data on your Mac or Windows PC? When it is healthy, you can do this by transferring or backing up files to other drives in advance. However, when it gets damaged, this can be nerve-wracking. To this end, this article provides effective workarounds to help you do this. Following the appropriate steps, you can have a fresh new flash drive with all your essential files intact.