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When a mounted USB stick is manually unplugged (without unmounting it) the device name in /dev (e.g. /dev/sda ) is somehow reserved, plugging it on again will yield on my system the alphabetically next device name (e.g. /dev/sdb). Is there a way to make Linux reuse the device file? 'umount'ing the unconnected device doesn't help. Any explanation whats going on there?

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Please read about automount and udev. In your case, the ejected device is most probably not umounted, and therefore the device letter reminds used by the kernel. Thus, the next pluging of the device leads the kernel to search for the next unused letter.

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