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:
❌ Erasure of all data: Formatting a USB drive will erase all existing data stored on the device. This includes files, folders, applications, and settings. It's like starting with a clean slate.
✔️ File system change: The formatting process allows you to choose a specific file system (FAT32, NTFS, exFAT, etc.) for your flash drive. It determines how data is stored and organized on the flash drive.
💽 Bad sector identification: Bad sectors can occur on USB drives due to physical damage or software errors. If present, it is marked to prevent new data from being stored.
🗃️ Creation of a new directory structure: Formatting re-creates the directory structure on the flash drive. This includes a boot record, file allocation table, root directory, and data area. This structure is necessary for the operating system to recognize and adequately interact with the drive.
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.
USB drive status
1. When trying to open a USB drive, the system prompts you to format it before you can use it.
2. When you connect the flash drive to the computer, it does not appear in the file explorer.
3. The system prompts you, "Please insert the disk into the removable disk."
4. The USB capacity is displayed as 0, the folder is empty, data reading fails, the file system is displayed as RAW, access is denied, etc.
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:
Right-click the USB in the drive list and select the "Format..." option.
You can choose the file system, allocation unit size, volume label, and format options in the Format window.
Click "Start" to begin formatting your flash drive.
For Mac OS:
Click Applications at the bottom of the screen and go to Utilities > Disk Utility.
Select your drive in the left panel.
Click on "Erase" at the top.
Choose your desired format and scheme, and enter a name for the drive.
Click "Erase" to start formatting the drive.
Method 2. Use Command Line
On Windows PC:
Press Win + X and click Windows PowerShell (Admin) or Command Prompt (Admin).
Type diskpart and press Enter.
Type list disk to display all the disks of your computer.
Type select disk # (replace # with the number of your USB drive).
Type clean to erase the USB drive.
Type create partition primary to create a new primary partition on the USB drive.
Type select disk #.
Type active to make the partition active.
Type format FS=FAT32 quick to format the drive. Based on your needs, you can replace FAT32 with NTFS, exFAT, etc.
Type assign to assign a drive letter to the USB.
Finally, type exit to exit DiskPart when the format process is complete.
Go to Applications > Utilities > Terminal.
Type diskutil list and press Enter.
Un-mount the USB drive by typing diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk# (replace # with the number corresponding to your USB drive) and press Enter.
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.
Enter your computer login password to confirm the format operation.
Type diskutil eject /dev/disk# and press Enter.
Open a terminal window.
Type sudo fdisk -l to list your disks. The USB drive will usually be /dev/sdb1 or similar.
Unmount the drive by typing sudo umount /dev/disk1 (replace disk1 with the name of your USB drive; the fourth step is the same).
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.
Yes, it's possible, but it requires careful steps. Before formatting, you should back up your data to another device. This way, even if the data is erased during the formatting process, you still have a copy of it.
You can manually copy the files from your USB drive to your computer or use backup software. If there is a situation where access is denied to the drive, you can use data recovery software to get the files.
You might need to format your USB drive for several reasons: it might be infected with a virus, it might not be working correctly, or you might want to change the file system.
There are several types of formatting; here are some of the most common ones:
Low-Level Formatting: Also called physical formatting, it will reset the physical parameters of the tracks, sectors, and cylinders on the disk. If you use this method to format your storage device, all the data will be permanently gone without any chance of recovery.
Quick Formatting: This method creates a new file table on a hard disk but does not entirely overwrite files or erase the disk. This can be done on Windows by selecting the "Quick Format" option when formatting a drive.
High-Level Formatting: It creates a root directory and a system for keeping track of all the files and directories to be added later.
Full Formatting: This includes high-level format features and scanning the drive for bad sectors. It is more time-consuming than a quick format.
As for file systems, there are several types, including FAT32, NTFS, and exFAT. FAT32 is widely compatible but has a file size limit of 4GB. NTFS is compatible with Windows systems and supports larger files but is read-only on Mac systems. exFAT is compatible with both Windows PC and Mac and supports large files.
If you accidentally erased your USB drive without backing up your data, you can also retrieve your files using Windows or Mac data recovery software. However, stopping using the drive immediately is essential to avoid overwriting the data.
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.