In Windows there is a straightforward "Format" option in a flash drive's right-click pop-up menu. Where's that in Ubuntu?

  • I tried to format my mp3 player with widows-7 and failed. gparted solved the issue. – Habeeb Perwad Mar 26 '14 at 15:24

14 Answers 14

up vote 226 down vote accepted

You can use Disks it's installed by default and easy to use.

enter image description here

  • 1st: Click on the Dash icon
  • 2nd: Search for "Disks"
  • 3rd: Click on Disks

The application will shows up:

enter image description here

  • 1st: Choose the USB flash drive
  • 2nd: Click on the "gear" icon and choose "Format"

This little window will appear, just choose the option you want and click on Format...:

enter image description here

  • 1
    Thanks.That's it. But one more question comes up. In FS choice it offers just FAT alongside with ext2, ext3 and encrypted FAT. But is this meant to be FAT16, FAT32 or exFAT? In my particular case I'd prefer FAT16 as my flash drive is only 1GB in size. – Ivan Jan 20 '11 at 8:46
  • 1
    no you don't have to install gparted just goto System -> Administration -> Disk Utility and format. – Lincity Jan 20 '11 at 11:07
  • 6
    I don't think there's any reason to choose FAT16 over FAT32. – loevborg Jan 20 '11 at 12:18
  • 5
    FAT16 will waste more of your limited space. It should not be used on anything over 256mb or so. – psusi Jan 20 '11 at 15:28
  • 5
    In 12.10 and on, the "format..." option has disappeared. Disk utility has a long-term bug that makes formatting impossible:bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/+source/udisks/+bug/1059872. Your only option is to use GParted --- see next answer. – Rmano May 15 '13 at 10:45

In Ubuntu there are many methods by which you can format your pen drive.

1 With the Disks utility

Disks screenshot

see the video

This is the simplest way.

2 With GParted

GParted screenshot

see the video

You can install it

  • from Ubuntu Software Center or

  • on the command-line:

    sudo apt install gparted
    

3 On the command line

see the video

  1. To show the USB drive among all storage partitions and volumes on your computer use:

    lsblk
    

    You can also use:

    df
    
  2. Suppose it may be /dev/sdy1. Unmount it with:

    sudo umount /dev/sdy1
    
  3. To format drive with the FAT32 file system format:

    sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdy1
    

    To set a file system label for your pen drive in the process:

    sudo mkfs.vfat -n 'name_for_your_pendrive' /dev/sdy1
    
  • 2
    It will work even if the usb is write protected. Thanks alot. – Mansoorkhan Cherupuzha Feb 5 '16 at 12:07
  • The first two videos are not available anymore – Martin Thoma Jun 21 '17 at 6:39
  • For pen-drive, you don't need the -I option, and might prefer to use: mkfs.fat -v -F 32 -n "MyUsbStick" /dev/sda. – not2qubit May 30 at 13:07
  • To rename a FAT16 or 32 filesystem I am more used to: sudo mlabel -i /dev/sdy1 ::name_for_your_pendrive #(on one line, mind the dobble :) – kFly Sep 23 at 10:51

The Command-Line Way

In case you can't get your device formatted from the GUI, try this way.

  1. Open the Terminal (Ctrl+Alt+T)

  2. List your block storage devices by issuing the command lsblk
    Then identify your pen drive by it's SIZE. In my case its /dev/sdb

    enter image description here

  3. Erase everything in the pen drive (This step is Optional):

    sudo dd status=progress if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdb bs=4k && sync  
    

    Replace /dev/sdb with your corresponding device.

    Type very carefully this name or your may end up erasing one of your other disks. This will take some time. (option status=progress is not mandatory but provide you some feedback)

    It will pretend to be stuck. Just be patient.

    for example:

    dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdb bs=4k && sync
    dd: error writing '/dev/sdb': No space left on device
    
    1984257+0 records in
    1984256+0 records out
    8127512576 bytes (8.1 GB) copied, 1236.37 s, 6.6 MB/s
    
  4. Make a new partition table in the device:

    sudo fdisk /dev/sdb
    

    Then press letter o to create a new empty DOS partition table.

  5. Make a new partition:

    • Press letter n to add a new partition. You will be prompted for the size of the partition. Making a primary partition when prompted, if you are not sure.

    • Then press letter w to write table to disk and exit.

  6. Format your new partition.

    • See your new partition label with the command lsblk
      In my case it is /dev/sdb1. Once again pay attention to this name as there will not be any protection to prevent you to erase an other disk.

    lsblk output

    • Issue the command below to format the new volume:

      sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1  
      

      Please replace /dev/sdb1 with your corresponding device.

    • Eject the device:

      sudo eject /dev/sdb
      
  • 15
    if you lost patience while waiting for dd you can always ps aux | grep dd copy process id then watch -n 4 kill -USR1 pid – Donald Derek May 9 '15 at 18:52
  • As opposed to the GUI way it actually properly formats the stick and allows (using the -n <name> parameter) to set the label of that disk. The GUI way doesn't work for me. – Matthias Hryniszak Dec 26 '16 at 9:58
  • Thanks worked for me. I wasn't able to format using the graphical way.:) – john400 Sep 7 '17 at 4:24
  • After erasing with the dd command you can try reconnect and do the partition in the GUI itself. – Krishnadas PC Sep 23 '17 at 4:42
  • This is great. I suggest also doing sudo apt-get install pmount - it will take care of the sync and remounting at the same location automatically. – SDsolar Jan 16 at 22:27

gparted - the only way to go with formatting drives and HDs etc. It's available for download in the Ubuntu Software Center, just search for gparted.

Run the below commands to format the usb to fat32 filesystem from terminal,

sudo su
fdisk -l 

(this helps to discover your pendrive /dev/sdxx)

umount /dev/sdxx

then format your device to FAT32

mkdosfs -F 32 -I /dev/sdxx

Where "xx" is from the command fdisk -l which denotes your usb drive's last letters.

  • doesn't work in Ubuntu 14.04 . Says "Error synchronizing after initial wipe: Timed out waiting for object (udisks-error-quark, 0)" – Nabin Aug 21 '14 at 7:25
  • works just fine on 14.10, apparently it was rather hardware glitch in comment above. – silpol Mar 6 '15 at 6:11
  • Easy and straightforward! (@14.10) – Milkncookiez May 11 '16 at 19:43
  • ITs workin for me.. used "umount /dev/sdb1" and "umount /dev/sdb2" .. as per my requirement. – Amitabha Biswas Mar 14 '17 at 7:56
  • It's better to say thanks in the form of upvote rather than comment :-) – Avinash Raj Mar 14 '17 at 8:03

Here are some instruction :

  • Plug your flash drive into an empty USB port and back up any data on the drive. Open the main menu, move your cursor over "Accessories" and then click on "Terminal." At the terminal prompt, type sudo apt-get install gparted and press Enter.
  • Enter your Ubuntu administrator password when prompted and press Enter. This will download and install GParted, which is an open-source drive partitioning program
  • Go to the Ubuntu main menu after the installation is complete, move your cursor over "System," select "Administration" and click "Partition Editor." Enter your administrator password when prompted and click "OK."
  • Click on "GParted" in the toolbar. Hover over "Devices" and select your USB flash drive from the list (dev/sdb1, for example). Right-click on the device in the main GParted window and click "Unmount." It may take a few minutes for the device to be unmounted
  • Right-click on the device again after it is unmounted and hover over "Format to." Select the desired file system type -- RiserFS, linux-swap, Ext 2, Ext 3, FAT16 or Fat32, for example -- and click "Apply" in the toolbar. Depending on the size of the flash drive, it will take three to four minutes for GParted to complete the process.
  • Close GParted after the flash drive is formatted. To mount your USB flash drive, unplug it and then plug it back in. The drive is now ready to store data in the file format you selected.

Firstly use fdisk -l in order to see usb partition, then if:

ext == > mkfs.ext3 /dev/sda1
FAT/FAT32 ==> mkfs.vfat /dev/sda1

Note: You must be root or using sudo to do that.

sfdisk CLI non-interactive method

echo 'start=2048, type=83' | sudo sfdisk /dev/sdX
sudo mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdX1

erases all data, and creates a single partition that takes up all USB with an ext4 filesystem.

Choose X based on the output of:

sudo lsblk
sudo fdisk -l

For more detailed description of sfdisk see: https://superuser.com/questions/332252/creating-and-formating-a-partition-using-a-bash-script/1132834#1132834

fdisk automation

It is also possible to do the same as above with:

printf 'o\nn\np\n1\n\n\nw\n' | sudo fdisk /dev/sdX

but this method is less maintainable than sfdisk, which was designed for Scripting fdisk, specially if you want to create more complex partition tables.

Restore a USB drive to a standard storage device

Install and use mkusb (mkusb-dus), which can format alias restore a USB drive to a standard storage device (with an MSDOS partition table and a partition with the FAT32 file system). These instructions are also relevant for other drives (memory cards, hard disk drives, HDD, solid state drives, SSD).

If you run standard Ubuntu, you may need an extra instruction to get the repository Universe. (Kubuntu, Lubuntu ... Xubuntu have the repository Universe activated automatically.)

sudo add-apt-repository universe  # only for standard Ubuntu

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mkusb/ppa  # and press Enter
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mkusb mkusb-nox usb-pack-efi

See these links with more detailed instructions,

mkusb version 12 alias mkusb-dus: enter image description here

mkusb wipes the first megabyte as a first step of restoring it

Sometimes some data are 'tricking' the software to think that the pendrive does not work, even when it is good, and it is enough to wipe the first megabyte to get rid of those data. You may 'look at' the drive with a tool, that does not recognize or understand correctly the structure of the boot system, for example if it was cloned from an iso file.

What to do if mkusb fails

There are many ways that a USB pendrive can fail. So it is worth trying different things. If mkusb fails, try according to this list,

  • On some pendrives and on many memory cards there is a small mechanical switch for write protection, that can toggle between read/write and read-only. You might have set it read-only without intention.
  • Reboot the computer and try again to restore or wipe the first megabyte with mkusb.
  • Disconnect other USB devices. Sometimes USB devices can disturb the function for each other.
  • Try other USB ports and another computer.
  • Try another operating system (Windows, MacOS) in another computer.
  • If you still cannot wipe the first megabyte of the drive, and the drive is read-only, it is probably 'gridlocked', and the next stage is that it will be completely 'bricked'.

There is a limit, when you have to accept that the pendrive is damaged beyond repair, at least with tools available to normal users like you and me. See this link

Pendrive lifetime

if you are running Ubuntu 12.04 LTS then you can easily do this. just plug in your usb and in left panel you will see a USB icon. go over there and right click. there will be a option to format it.

Here is a very simple way: In linux system: use fdisk to check which is your usb disk. then use fdisk sdx,usually is sdb, to do some operation on your usb disk.

press o enter press d enter to empty your disk.

then you can plug your usb drive to a windows operation system and do the normal format.

I use Startup Disk Creator, installed by default, to format my USB drives.

  • Open up 'startup Disk Creator' by searching for it in the dash.
  • Insert your flash drive, it will be detected automatically.
  • Select it (in case you have more than one)
  • Press 'Erase Disk'

See screenshot below:

enter image description here

  • what translation pack are you using in this screenshot? – d3vid Feb 22 '17 at 14:00
  • @d3vid What do you mean by translation pack? – Parto Feb 22 '17 at 14:08
  • @Parto, as an Arabic speaker, the title bar of the window was extremely hard to read because I kept on interpreting the Arabic letters rather than figuring out what those letters are suppose to look like as English characters.. lol – Fadi Mar 9 '17 at 20:35
  • @Fadi Hahah. It's the 'Pseudo Saudi' - font. dafont.com/psuedo-saudi.font – Parto Mar 10 '17 at 7:11
  • @Parto lol nice! :D – Fadi Mar 10 '17 at 16:38

Open a terminal (Ctrl+Alt+T) and enter the following command

gksu palimpsest

after the disk manager comes up, follow the instructions in this video.

I faced this problem especially after the installation of Ubuntu, my USB drive just became no longer usable. I could only use around 1 GB of my 16 GB USB drive. When I entered lsblk command on the command line interface it only showed 1 GB part of the USB available but it did not show the rest 14.5 GB as an unavailable part. So I tried almost everything, I googled it, I looked on many Linux and Ubuntu helps sites and this StackExchange network as well. I could not figure out how to make my computer read my USB. Eventually, I created a partition on my USB by using GParted on Ubuntu. Open GParted and then GParted -> Devices -> /dev/sdb (14.56 GiB) in my case. I selected that and then go to Device -> Create Partition and then click on "Apply". After that, I unmounted and mounted back my USB. Then GParted -> Devices -> /dev/sdb on my case, and then Partition -> Format to -> fat32. I clicked on that and then click on the green tick symbol and then it will format. The similar command of that format in command line interface is I think mkfs.fat -F 32 -v -l -n. That was my case. I hope it will help. Please, ask the questions that you don't understand and you will hopefully get an answer, even if I cannot answer the gurus here will hopefully help you. Thank you, everybody. PS: I'm using Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

Edit: this happened to me 2nd time. I did the refreshing format not through Gparted but Disks. Thanks.

protected by Community Feb 4 '14 at 2:44

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