When you want to format your USB from Linux, the Desktop Environment you use matters. That is because the formatting software applications used on Linux will vary depending on the desktop environment of your distribution. For instance, Ubuntu, Debian, and Fedora (Fedora Workstation) use GNOME 3 as their default desktop environment and as such GNOME Disks is recommended. However, those using KDE Plasma 5 or Xfce will require a different tool to format their USB from Linux. The most appropriate tool will vary depending on whether you are using the distribution’s default DE or chose to install a different one.
Note that those using a derivative distribution (such as the Ubuntu-based Linux Mint or Bodhi Linux) can also use the primary Distro tool to format their USB from Linux. If you see that your derivative distribution has no formatting tool, you can fetch the software used by the main Linux distribution using the package manager. Both the primary Linux distribution and its derivatives are based on the same framework and will thus use applications that offer cross-compatibility. Sometimes, however, an OS derivative will offer its version of the usual partitioning app based on the same architecture as the parent distribution.
It wouldn’t be practical to give a step-by-step guide for all the possible tools used to format a USB from Linux. Instead, this article focuses on the ones found on some of the main Ubuntu and Debian desktop environments. I chose three: GNOME 3, KDE Plasma 5, and Xfce.
- I included GNOME 3, as it is the default DE of prevalent distributions such as Ubuntu and Debian
- I added KDE Plasma 5, as it is one of the most popular and versatile desktop environments
- I also included Xfce, as it is a great lightweight desktop environment
If you are looking for a one-size-fits-all approach, I suggest using the command line.
Those using Linux Arch might also want to take a look at SK’s procedure found on the by SK on the OSTechNix website (https://www.ostechnix.com/format-usb-drives-windows-format-arch-linux/)
The desktop environments and the integrated formatting tools that will be covered are:
- GNOME – GNOME Disks (Ubuntu section)
- KDE Plasma 5 – KDE Partition Manager (Debian section)
- Xfce – GParted (Debian section)
I opted to give the procedure for each Linux formatting tool related to its associated desktop environment instead of testing all of them within the same DE. That is because it is always better to use a formatting tool made for your current desktop environment. As each DE uses a specific widget toolkit, using a program made for a different desktop would result in having to fetch additional dependencies. You will notice that in the following guidelines, I sometimes refer to the formatting apps as partitioning tools. Applications to format your USB from Linux are often included as part of a partitioning tool or referred to as such.
Format your USB from Linux – Ubuntu GNOME 3
As the main Ubuntu download page only provides the standard Ubuntu version which comes with GNOME by default, we will take a look at GNOME’s partitioning tool. If instead, you’d prefer to use another desktop environment, you have two choices. You can reinstall Ubuntu using the ISO file of one of the different Ubuntu flavors offered. Alternatively, you can install a new desktop environment on your current stock Ubuntu.
Formatting your pen drive from GNOME 3 using GNOME Disks
Click on the “applications” icon on the lower left of your screen. From there, search for “partition.” Disks will appear. “Disks” is an abbreviation of the GNOME Disks partitioning and formatting tool.
Once within the partition utility, look for your pen drive on the left side menu.
Once you have selected your USB key, click on the gear icon (Additional Partition options) and select Format Partition. Alternatively, use the Shift+Ctrl+F keyboard shortcut.
A menu will appear.
The Volume Name refers to the name you want to give to your pen drive.
The Erase option is pretty self-explanatory; it will overwrite your existing data. There is no need to toggle the ON button unless your pen drive currently hosts data that you want to overwrite.
As for the Type, you will have a choice between Ext4, NTFS, FAT or Other.
Ext4 is limited to Linux. You shouldn’t select it unless you are sure that you will never use your pen drive on a Windows or Mac computer.
NTFS is exclusive to Windows, so know that if you choose this filetype, your pen drive will be unreadable on Linux and Mac.
In GNOME Disks, FAT refers to exFAT. It is the filetype that I’d recommend using; exFAT is generally considered a great choice as it is compatible across all modern Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems.
As for Other, it provides more options such as FAT32 and other filetypes. You can find more information as to the use and limitations of the main formats available on Windows, Mac, and Linux in this article.
For the sake of this example, my volume name is “Lari’s USB,” I opt out of erasing the pen drive and chose FAT as the filetype.
Once you have chosen the Format Volume options, click Next. A warning will appear; click “Format.”
The formatting process will begin; the only way of knowing that the procedure is still ongoing is by looking at your drive located on the left menu. A spinning wheel should appear.
Once the formatting is complete, no message or other indication will tell you so. You know the process is over when the spinning wheel disappears. You will also see that under the Volumes section, your drive will indicate its new format (in this case, FAT).
Voilà! You have completed the procedure to format your USB from Linux and can now safely eject the pen drive. Click on the eject icon and exit GNOME Disks.
Format your USB from Linux – Debian KDE Plasma 5 and Xfce
As you might already know, when installing Debian, you will be prompted to choose one or more desktop environments. However, if you opted out of additional desktops, you will end up with the default Debian desktop environment, GNOME.
As the provided formatting tool will vary depending on your Debian desktop environment, we will focus on how to format your USB from Linux using the following two DE:
- KDE Plasma 5
- Xfce (the default desktop of the “Debian desktop environment” for architectures besides amd64 or i386 (uncommon))
Because my computer’s architecture is amd64, my default Debian desktop environment is GNOME.
As we have already covered GNOME under the Ubuntu section, you can refer to the Ubuntu GNOME steps for your machine running Debian. However, unlike Ubuntu, Debian’s GNOME doesn’t come with the formatting tool pre-installed. Look for it by searching and installing “GNOME tools” within the software manager.
Formatting your pen drive from KDE Plasma 5 using KDE Partition Manager
Open the Discover software manager (found in the default Favorites menu).
In the search bar, look for “KDE partition manager.”
Click on “Install.” You will be asked to enter your root password. After doing so, KDE Partition Manager will start downloading.
Once done, close Discover then look for your new software in the main menu (you can also use the search feature to find it quickly).
In KDE Partition Manager, select your device from within the Devices menu. Make sure that you choose the correct device. Otherwise, you might end up formatting your internal hard drive! Alternatively, you can select your USB key by clicking on Device → Select Current Device → [your pen drive].
Select your primary partition by clicking on “/dev/sdb1” or “/dev/sdc1”, depending on the amount and order of your connected drives. If your pen drive has multiple partitions, select the main one.
Make sure that your device is unmounted. To check if it is, click on the Partition menu. If you see an “unmount” option, it means that your device is mounted and you need to unmount it before proceeding.
Click on Device → New Partition Table (alternatively Ctrl+Shift+N). You will be asked to choose a partition table type, either GPT or MS-Dos.
Choose GPT, unless you intend on using your device to burn a Windows 10 or Linux disk image. In that case, special partitioning conditions have to be met beforehand. I’d suggest referring to THIS guide for the full Windows 10 procedure. Both GPT and Ms-Dos (aka MBR) are boot loaders. Note that GPT will eventually replace MBR; if you want a partition table with higher performance and do not intend on burning a Linux OS or Windows 10, use GPT.
Click Apply. One the procedure completed, click OK.
You can now create a new partition. To do so, click on Partition → New. Alternatively, you can use Ctrl+N. Make sure that you have selected your unallocated partition beforehand.
A new window will pop up. Next to “File system,” a drop-down menu will show the available file types.
If you aren’t sure of which one to choose, you can refer to THIS handy guide which explains the use and limitations of each format. For this example, we will use exFAT, a convenient file type supported across all modern Mac, Windows, and Linux operating systems. KDE Partition Manager will automatically assign an appropriate size for your partition. The size and other remaining options do not need to be modified unless you intend to create more than one partition.
Once done, click “OK.” Your operation will now be pending. Click the Apply icon or click on Edit → Apply.
A popup warning will appear. Click on Apply Pending Operations. Once the operation completed, click OK.
Voilà! You have completed the procedure to format your USB from Linux and can now safely eject the pen drive. To do so, click on the USB icon in the taskbar and click on the eject icon.
Formatting your pen drive from Xfce using GParted
*IMPORTANT NOTE: As of August 2019, GParted doesn’t support the exFAT filetype. If you want this format, use the command line or use an alternative desktop environment such as KDE Plasma 5. The KDE Partition Manager software supports exFAT.
Open the Applications menu, then select System and click on Discover. Discover is the default software manager of Xfce.
When searching for partitioning tools, you will notice that the three most popular ones are “KDE Partition Manager,” “GParted,” and “GNOME Disks.” As the first one is best suited for KDE Plasma 5 and the last one for the GNOME desktop environment, we will install GParted. This software also has the advantage of being compatible across all Linux desktop environments; when in doubt, install this one.
Once installed, you will find GParted under the Applications → System menu.
Once in GParted, look at the upper right collapsible menu. You should see an icon displaying a device such as “/dev/sda” or “/dev/sdb.” Make sure that your USB key is selected.
Usually, “sda” is reserved for the main internal drive, while “sdb” or “sdc” is for external drives. If you have a single pen drive inserted, this will make the selection easier. Otherwise, you can look at the device’s size as a clue.
Select your pen drive by clicking on it. If it contains multiple partitions, make sure to select the main one (sdb1 or sdc1, for example).
Now that you have selected USB flash drive click on Partition → Format to. From the drop-down menu, select the file type you prefer. As the choice will depend on the intended use of your pen drive, you can find more information as to which file type to choose HERE.
For this example, let’s say that we want to use the pen drive exclusively on a Windows operating system. We will thus select the NTFS filetype.
Once your filetype selected, click on the green checkmark to apply the changes. Alternatively, you can also click on Edit → Apply All Operations or use the Ctrl+Return keyboard shortcut.
A popup warning window will appear. Click Apply.
Once the procedure completed, GParted will indicate that all operations have been completed. Click Close.
Voilà! You have completed the procedure to format your USB from Linux and can now safely eject the pen drive. To do so, you have three choices. Eject it from the desktop, use the command-line Terminal, or access the default Xfce file manager and click on the eject icon next to your device. Voilà!
A note regarding USB drives
You can use any old pen drive laying around to burn a disk image or stock data. However, as with most things tech-related, the better the hardware, the easier the process. For instance, the type of USB you choose (USB 2.0 vs. USB 3.0 vs. USB 3.1) will have an impact on the data transfer speed. The brand you opt for (e.g., a free pen drive received as a promotional item from your dentist vs. a SanDisk USB flash drive) will also have an impact. The better recognized the brand and the better its hardware reputation, the fewer chances you will have of having your electronics fail on you at a critical time.
If you are interested in Linux, then you might also be a gadget-geek like me. As we are talking about a USB flash drive procedure, I figured why not add some high-tech pen drives recommendations to this article.
Initially, I wanted to add both a SanDisk option and a Kingston Digital one, as usually the latter is often considered a more economical alternative to the former. However, upon searching multiple USB flash drive reviews on Amazon, I no longer felt comfortable recommending a high-end 3.1 SanDisk pen drive. As such, you will instead find two options: a Corsair USB 3.1 pen drive, and a Kingston Digital USB 3.1 pen drive.
Corsair is not generally the first brand that pops in mind when thinking USB flash drives. Instead, people usually associate Corsair with their RAM products. I’ve had the opportunity to buy four Corsair Vengeance memory kits for my custom-built PC and can vouch for this brand’s high-quality standards.
I have not personally tested these USB keys. However, I feel confident about their performance judging by the numerous, well-detailed reviews available for these particular models. As always, YMMV. These flash drives are for those that are looking for some serious performance from their electronics. If instead, you are looking for something a bit more economical (while still being high-quality), I will refer you to the USB keys listed in THIS ARTICLE.
And for the security and tech aficionados, a 64 GB Lexar USB drive with fingerprint authentication (up to 10 fingerprint IDs allowed, no software needed)
Note that the three links posted above are affiliate links. If you go through them to make a purchase, I will earn a commission (at no cost to you). I link these companies and their products because of their quality and not because of the commission I receive from your purchases. These links are used to pay for the cost and upkeep of ITgirl.tech. Thank you!