Ask LH: Do I Really Need To Use ‘Safe Eject’ On USB Thumb Drives?

Ask LH: Do I Really Need To Use ‘Safe Eject’ On USB Thumb Drives?

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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  • I usually just yank the usb flash drive out as when I try to use safety remove it usually says that the drive is in use and blocks me from using it so waiting until the files have been written then yanking it out is the best option how ever I have lost files before.

  • Wouldn’t it be nice if that while the USB was in action it was clamped in and couldn’t be forced to be removed ie only during transfer of data. If at any time it was safe to remove, those clamps would be removed and you could pull it out at any time
    Patent pending

  • Some years ago, I was given a USB drive literally five seconds after it had been yanked from a Windows Vista system. When I plugged it into my Ubuntu Linux system, a dialogue box popped up to tell me the drive could not be read because it was still logged into another computer.

    Clearly, Ubuntu picked up some sort of flag had been written to the USB drive by Windows.

    I have never had a similar experience again, or heard of it happening to somebody else, but I’m careful now to eject properly when I can.

  • If you try to eject a USB, but some mystery app prevents you, shut down the PC.

    While it would be nice to be in charge, with a “force close and eject” the closest I’ve found in reality is the power button.

    • I believe it is because Microsoft has a few trolls on payroll.
      To try and get around the design flaw, I use EMCO UnLock IT. Does not work all the time but may save time shutting down the PC.
      Nonsensical UI problems exist all over the place with bulk file transfers, permissions, booting, etc…

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