Ask LH: Do You Really Need To Safely Remove USB Thumb Drives?

Does Safely Ejecting From a USB Port Actually Do Anything?

Dear Lifehacker, I have never used the Safe Eject option when removing USB drives from my laptop. Instead, I just yank it out once the files have been transferred or saved. I'm pretty certain I'm not in the minority here. Is this bad? Thanks, USB Yanker

Dear UY,

For those currently scratching their heads, most PC operating systems have an option to 'eject' a USB drive before it is physically removed. For example, in Windows 10 you can select the Eject icon from the desktop taskbar and wait for the "Safe to Remove Hardware" message.

This helps to safeguard against something going wrong during the removal process. Specifically, it flushes all active writes to disk, alerts open programs that the drive and its contents are no longer accessible and warns the user if anything hasn't saved properly. Above all, it minimises the risk of corrupting your data.

As Quora notes in a handy explainer on the subject:

If a file is open, a program reading the file expects to be able to return to it and continue reading. Similarly, write commands may be dispatched to a writing subroutine and forgotten by the main program. If a drive disappears between the time the subroutine is called and the data is written to disk, that data is lost forever.

You can remove a disk at any time, but you are at the mercy of how well programs using the disk cope with the sudden disappearance of that disk.

So there are clearly benefits to safely ejecting thumb drives; a simple task that only takes a few seconds to action. With that said, if you regularly use thumb drives, that "simple task" quickly becomes bleedin' tedious. Like you, we suspect most users don't bother with this function for this reason.

These days, most operating systems are pretty adept at dealing with the sudden removal of thumb drives. But no OS is infallible. Think of it like playing Russian roulette with a gun that has one million chambers. The odds are a million to one in your favour - but why take the risk?

Cheers Lifehacker

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