Sometimes we may want to format external USB drive. I recently encountered a situation, where I had bootable USB drive with operating system ready to install, but I wanted to remove all this stuff and use disk for storing data. I couldn’t format this disk with GUI tools for some reason and I kept getting errors or information that it’s not possible. In case you don’t know, on Linux everything is always possible, so I quit that GUI tool, opened terminal and start playing with good old and simple programs.

When we insert disk and type:


we can see the output:

loop0         7:0    0 181,1M  1 loop /var/lib/snapd/snap/spotify/36
loop1         7:1    0 147,3M  1 loop /var/lib/snapd/snap/skype/66
loop2         7:2    0  88,5M  1 loop /var/lib/snapd/snap/core/7270
loop3         7:3    0   236M  1 loop /var/lib/snapd/snap/kde-frameworks-5/27
loop4         7:4    0 180,2M  1 loop /var/lib/snapd/snap/spotify/35
loop5         7:5    0 149,6M  1 loop /var/lib/snapd/snap/slack/16
sdb           8:16   1   7,5G  0 disk
└─sdb1        8:17   1   7,5G  0 part /run/media/pw/DISK3
nvme0n1     259:0    0   477G  0 disk
├─nvme0n1p1 259:1    0   200M  0 part /boot
├─nvme0n1p2 259:2    0    24G  0 part [SWAP]
├─nvme0n1p3 259:3    0    25G  0 part /
└─nvme0n1p4 259:4    0 427,8G  0 part /home

When we type:

sudo fdisk -l

we’ll see:


Disk /dev/sdb: 7,51 GiB, 8053063680 bytes, 15728640 sectors
Disk model: USB DISK
Units: sectors of 1 * 512 = 512 bytes
Sector size (logical/physical): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
I/O size (minimum/optimal): 512 bytes / 512 bytes
Disklabel type: dos
Disk identifier: 0x40a863e7

Device     Boot Start      End  Sectors  Size Id Type
/dev/sdb1        2048 15728639 15726592  7,5G 83 Linux

Now, we have basic information about our USB drive. It’s located in /dev/sdb and has 7,5 GB of space. Sometimes, we can have mulitple partitions on our drive. In such case, we may want to delete them and create new partition.

To do that, we can type:

fdisk /dev/sdb

next, we can use d for deleting partition:

Welcome to fdisk (util-linux 2.34).
Changes will remain in memory only, until you decide to write them.
Be careful before using the write command.

Command (m for help): d
Selected partition 1
Partition 1 has been deleted.

and n for creating a new one:

Command (m for help): n
Partition type
p   primary (0 primary, 0 extended, 4 free)
e   extended (container for logical partitions)
Select (default p): p
Partition number (1-4, default 1):
First sector (2048-15728639, default 2048):
Last sector, +/-sectors or +/-size{K,M,G,T,P} (2048-15728639, default 15728639):

Created a new partition 1 of type 'Linux' and of size 7,5 GiB.
Partition #1 contains a vfat signature.

Do you want to remove the signature? [Y]es/[N]o: Y

The signature will be removed by a write command.

after that, we can confirm the process with w command:

Command (m for help): w
The partition table has been altered.
Syncing disks.

next, we can umount drive:

sudo umount /dev/sdb

and create a file system - in our case, we’ll use FAT32 file system in order to make USB drive accessible across all operating systems

sudo mkfs.vfat /dev/sdb1

after that, we can create a label for our disk with name disk3 (it can be anything):

sudo mlabel - /dev/sdb1 ::disk3

Please note, when we create file system of a different type, we need to use different commands for creating disk labels. For more information about that, read article about renaming USB devices on Linux.

That’s it! Maybe it’s not that easy as clicking on the GUI, but we can see whole process and format any disk even when something seems to be messed up.