You are trying to save data to your USB flash memory, but there is a problem. Each time you try to save, a message appears stating that the drive is "write protected". How can that be?
The drive doesn't even allow you to reformat it, and there's no obvious switch to enable or disable write protection. Confused? Here's how to format and reuse your write-protected USB flash drive.
Is the USB drive write-protected or damaged?
Before you proceed, take the time to ensure that the drive is truly write-protected. A couple of other problems could come into play here.
The USB port on your PC is defective or completely burned out. Repairing a damaged USB port can be difficult, but not impossible.
The flash drive is damaged. Regardless of whether you are using a full USB flash drive or a USB SD card adapter, problems with the device can occur. These steps will help you repair a damaged flash drive.
Are you sure the problem is just the write protection of your USB stick? Let's have a look.
1. Toggle the switch of the USB flash drive!
We'll start with the simplest solution first. Many USB sticks have a switch, usually on the sides, with which you can switch the write protection on and off from the outside. Unplug it if your USB drive has one too.
Re-insert your USB drive and see if you can format it. If you can, great. But if it still doesn't work, don't lose hope. Skip to the next section and give Diskpart a try.
2. How to remove USB write protection using Diskpart
Before you begin, insert your USB stick into the USB port on your computer.
Windows has a built-in tool for managing hard drive partitions called Diskpart. You can open this by pressing Windows Key + R, enter cmd, then hit Enter.
User Access Control asks you to confirm the action. click Yes keep going.
You should now see CMD, the command line tool. At the command prompt, enter:
A new command line window will open with a new DISKPART prompt. It's time to see what hard drives are attached to your computer:
List of data carriers
The resulting table lists the devices currently available. But which one is your USB drive?
Disk 0 is the system drive of your computer. This is the one that Windows is installed on. If you have multiple partitions, they will be numbered consecutively. Notice that the size is shown for each hard drive.
If a USB flash device is connected (that is Disk 1 or higher) you should be able to identify it by its comparatively small capacity.
In the illustration above, Disk 0 is 931 GB while Disk 1 is 57 GB.
Hence, Disk 1 is the USB flash drive. You should be able to check the capacity on the device itself, as this is usually printed on the case of a drive. If not, you can confirm this in Windows Explorer.
Choose the right hard drive!
Before proceeding, make sure that you have identified the USB stick. Also note that USB flash drives can be up to 1TB in capacity at the time of writing (like the PNY Pro Elite), which could be larger than your computer's hard drive. Striving to be completely secure at this stage is critical to the integrity of the data on your computer.
Once you are sure, it is time to choose your hard drive. In our example this means entering:
Select data carrier 1
This is confirmed with the message that Disk 1 is now the selected disk. Next, request attributes:
Various information is displayed. Check the first line. This is the current read-only status. If you cannot write to the hard drive or reformat it, Current Read-Only Status is set to Yes.
Notice that in our case it is set to No because the write protection is deactivated on our flash drive!
However, you can easily remove the write protection from your USB drive. Just enter this command:
Erase disk attributes write-protected
If successful, the step is confirmed with the message "Hard disk attributes deleted successfully".
You can now format the drive using Diskpart's Clean command. First, make sure you select the hard drive:
Select data carrier 1
Then you can create and format a partition:
create primary partition
format fs = ntfs
Wait for this to complete – you should now have a fully functional and formatted USB flash drive.
Check the drive's write protection status by copying a small file.
3. Use USB format utilities to remove write protection
Below are two free tools to format your USB drive in the event of a write protection failure. These can be used in addition to or instead of Diskpart. Useful if you don't like getting your hands dirty at the command line!
Number one on your list should be the SD Association's SD Formatter Tool. Although it is clearly intended for SD cards, the tool is compatible with USB sticks. After all, a USB flash drive is basically an SD card that is connected to a USB interface.
Just plug in the device, select the drive, select a format option, and click format.
Download: SDFormatter (free)
Kingston Format Utility
The Kingston Format Utility is intended for older Windows systems (Windows XP through Windows 7) and is ideal for Kingston USB flash devices.
Note that this has a somewhat archaic installation method. Once downloaded, run the exe file and press Search to select a location (like the Desktop or documents). click Unzip, then navigate to the new location and double-click Kingston Format Utility.exe.
This will run the app. Now all you have to do is do that. choose device and file System from the drop-down menus. click format When you're done, wait.
Download: Kingston Format Utility (Free)
4. Still can't erase the write protection from your USB drive?
If none of the suggestions you've tried so far have worked, don't give up hope just yet. It is worth visiting the support pages and forums on the drive manufacturer's website for links to tools that have been confirmed to work with the device.
If you've tried all of the above methods and still got stuck, it is probably time to buy a new USB drive. Sometimes after USB sticks have been used for a long time, they just cancel when they reach their limit.
Note, however, that most flash memory manufacturers offer a long warranty on their devices. Once you've registered the drive, you can likely repair or replace it.
Format your write-protected USB stick
If everything went right, you may have unlocked and reformatted the write protection on your USB flash drive. You may have done this using Diskpart or through a third-party utility.
Ultimately, you should have a working USB drive. If this is not the case, there is a good chance that it is defective. So if the drive is still under warranty, explore your options for a manufacturer replacement.
How to format a USB drive (and why you need to)
Formatting a USB drive is easy. Our guide explains the easiest and fastest ways to format a USB drive on a Windows computer.
About the author
(1493 published articles)
Deputy Editor for Security, Linux, DIY, Programming and Tech Explained and a really useful podcast producer with extensive experience in desktop and software support.
As a contributor to Linux Format Magazine, Christian is a Raspberry Pi tinkerer, Lego lover and retro gaming fan.
By Christian Cawley
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