Formatting disks

If you have a computer, sure you have heard the term "to format a disk" before. Most people do not know exactly what it means, however, so here it goes:

When you own a disk, you own a piece of hardware which is prepared to store information in it. You already know this. What you may not know yet is that your computer's operating system will not be able to use it until you give it permission to write a sort of directory on it; a directory where the operating system will record which part of the information stored in the disk belongs to each file.

Formatting is what creates this directory in the disk; and once the formatting procedure has been completed, your disk will have what is known as a file system. It is the file system where the computer will control which piece of information goes to each file.

Now that you know what you do when you format a disk, there are a few extra things you need to know about this formatting procedure:

+ The first one is that these days it is a standard to sell computer disks pre-formatted. That is to say that you do not need to format every new disk you purchase. You can actually use it right away.

+ The second one is that formatting a disk will not erase any previous information stored in it. Formatting will just create a new file system for the disk, and replace any previous one in it. This means two things, in practical terms:

+ It means that if you accidentally formatted a disk you didn't mean to format, not everything is lost. If no new files have been written to the disk, you can still recover your information.

+ It also means that if you wanted to erase sensitive information from a disk by formatting it, you chose the wrong procedure. What you need to do is to wipe the disk to make it unrecoverable, instead. This means to ask your computer to fill in all the information spaces in the disk with zeroes, replacing all the information that could be there before.

Last words, formatting disks is not a game to play. Use the formatting procedure only when it is strictly necessary.

Knowledge + Computers and the Internet