September Question of the Month

Question: Is it necessary to eject USB drives before unplugging them?

Answer: While it is possible in some cases to remove a USB drive without using the eject option and not cause harm, you should always eject a drive before yanking it out of the port to be on the safe side. Some USB drive users thought this was only necessary with Linux and Mac because the dialog to eject a device is so prominent, and Windows doesn’t always make it clear to safely eject a USB drive. It is, however, possible to corrupt the data on the drive accidentally even when using Windows.

The information stored on USB drives can become corrupt when the device is pulled out because most operating systems employ something called write caching, a fancy way of describing the OS when it sometimes saves tasks to do all at once in order to be efficient. When a computer user initiates the proper ejection process, it tells the OS to complete all those tasks first before it’s safe to remove the drive from the USB port.

Windows handles removable drives a little differently than Mac and Linux, which is perhaps why the way to safely eject USB drives isn’t as easy to find. Often, Windows doesn’t even categorize these drives as removable, and this actually makes proper ejection even more important. When a removable drive is identified as a non-removable one, Windows automatically uses write caching. This means that any data associated with a saved task can be lost in the event that a user pulls the drive out without first clicking the “Safely Remove Hardware” option in the system tray.