Using Ubuntu 11.10, how do I format an external or USB drive?

I don't find an option to 'format' when I right click. In the new version, the drives don't come up on the desktop, but instead come on the Launcher.


7 Answers 7


You can use the disk utility(installed by default) to format the drive. There is an option 'format volume' select that option.

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  • 7
    And what if I get "Error creating partition table: helper exited with exit code 1: cannot open /dev/sdc: Read-only file system"?
    – Bucic
    Feb 17, 2012 at 18:51
  • 7
    What's the package name for this application? I don't have it installed on Kubuntu.
    – enedene
    Aug 28, 2012 at 18:15
  • Just for completeness, how to pull up Disk Utility from the command line? Jul 21, 2015 at 22:55
  • It looks like it's gnome-disks (from the gnome-disk-utility package) or palimpsest. See "How to run Gnome disk utility"
    – user834
    Aug 21, 2016 at 18:22
  • This is always formatting pendrives with bad permissions. After using this app in Ubuntu 16 and 17 it will be usable for writting only in your computer :s
    – gal007
    Apr 16, 2017 at 18:12

Formatting a USB drive (Updated for Ubuntu 13.04)

Type Disks in Dash

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Click on the little gears to open the sub menu as seen in the image below, and click on Format.

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Once the format window appear, choose the way you want to erase, The type of format, and volume name if you need, and then click on format as shown in the image below.

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  • 1
    Works also in ubuntu 13.10!
    – malisokan
    Dec 26, 2013 at 12:09
  • Hmm, in 14.04 it wasn't giving me an option to select the Type for my USB key (which had a busted HFS+ partition on it). GParted worked though. Jun 12, 2015 at 14:46
  • This is probably installed as gnome-disks if you're looking for it from CLI. To install on fedora, do sudo dnf install gnome-disk-utility Mar 9, 2022 at 19:13

I would recommend you installing GParted which is quite a powerful tool but still easy to use:

sudo apt-get install gparted

when you installed and opened it, it should be self-explanatory, otherwise dont hesitate to ask in a comment.

  • 2
    Just a note: You need to actualize/commit the changes for them to take effect.
    – nanofarad
    Aug 2, 2012 at 15:44

You can try the GParted program for all your partitioning tasks.

You could search for it in the Ubuntu Software Centre or you could type this in the terminal:

sudo apt-get install gparted

With GParted you can format your External HDD partition to ext4, but the partition should be unmounted.

Select your external hard drive from the top right corner (it would be marked as /dev/sdb most probably), then right click on the partition and format.


After formatting, click on the accept button (it's in the middle of the menu bar) to save the changes.

Now you would have successfully formatted your external drive to ext4, and it would show up in GParted as a single ext4 partition.

As suggested by hellocatfood, after formatting the drive, one will have to take ownership of it as well. To do that, type this in the terminal:

sudo chown yourusername: /media/mountpoint

One more thing-

Your partition should be mounted in /media/mountpoint

To find the mount point, run mount in the terminal, and locate the line that corresponds to the drive or partition in question. If you have never named (or set the label for) it, it will probably look something like:

/dev/sdb1 on /media/bf9a2c45-491a-4778-9d76-47832fe38820

If you have set the label with something descriptive, it should like similar to:

/dev/sdb1 on /media/1Tb Pocket Drive

After you have the mount point, run

sudo chown hellocatfood: /media/bf9a2c45-491a-4778-9d76-47832fe38820

(hellocatfood is the name of the user)

Or as suggested by Mik, if the drive name has spaces it will need to be escaped or quoted:

sudo chown $USER: /media/"1Tb Pocket Drive"

Note also that you dont have to specify your user name here; the $USER variable will automatically get your username from the system.

This should give the ownership to the current user, and it would be persistent after reboots as well.

I took help for the permissions part from http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1840948

and for finding out the mount point, from http://ubuntugenius.wordpress.com/2012/06/07/ubuntu-hardware-permissions-how-to-set-ownership-of-drive-or-partition-internal-external-hard-disks/

If anyone has any trouble please let me know.


There's a tool which is called Disk Utility (gnome-disk-utility). Just open it by searching in the Dash. It should show all your drives and USB sticks. I think using it is very easy. ;-)

  • I just checked. You should indeed be able to format drives with it, and it's called Disk Utility in the English version. Oct 19, 2011 at 4:56
  • 2
    You can't find the gnome-disk-utility from the dash. For some reason it goes by the name 'palimpsest'... Don't ask why
    – user43845
    Jan 27, 2012 at 17:48
  • For arch users; sudo pacman -S gnome-disk-utility. Launch using gnome-disks Mar 18, 2020 at 4:40

On Ubuntu 16.04

Just right-click on your USB/External Disk and select format

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Enter Name and click on Format...

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  • the only thing I don't like about this UX is it goes into the background and gives you no indication of progress. open the disk utility to monitor progress askubuntu.com/a/1003024/453746 May 9, 2019 at 19:18

script automation way to format SDcard or USBstick into FAT:

mformat -i /dev/cardDevice -s 32 -h 2 -T <total number of sectors> -v cardLabel


/dev/cardDevice would be /dev/mmcblk0 for SDcard for example.

-s 32 -h 2 are the few "standard" but mandatory settings (number of sectors per track and number of heads) for the legacy information inside FAT formatted partition.

<total number of sectors> will reflect the length of the partition arranged on the device

cardLabel would be the label applied to the partition

if it's necessary to format for FAT32 - append -F flag at the end

don't forget to call sync command after the formatting

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