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Just bought an external hard drive to back up my files.

Do I need to make a partition on this drive? It seems not working for me by only set the file system to ext4.

OS is Linux

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2 Answers 2

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While technically possible, it's highly unusual to see disks without a partition. If nothing else it should be avoided due to possible compatibility issues, because it does not bring any obvious benefits that I can think of. The only thing you're doing is adding a new potential risk, which is that other devices (whatever they may be) that you plug this external drive into may not recognize the drive as usable.

So the short answer is: create a single partition taking up the entire drive and format that, because it's what's mostly expected and deviating from this standard brings no benefit.

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  • The first sentence should read "it is highly unusual for an external hard drive not to have a partition".
    – Hermann
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 17:16
  • ....and if you later want to move the storage to another drive, this is much easier with partitions.
    – symcbean
    Commented Apr 3, 2023 at 16:23
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Do I need to make a partition on this drive? It seems not working for me by only set the file system to ext4. OS is Linux

assuming from your wording that you're newbie'ish...

Like was said, depending on what you bought for an external hard drive, it may or may not be formatted. And this day and age with malware and marketing my personal preference would be to reformat it so I know it is clean and empty rather than it having some files/folders already on it which I would have no use for.

You said your OS is linux, such as CentOS, Ubuntu, Mint, they typically do not deal with the Microsoft Windows NTFS file system which your new disk may be formatted to.

It is not preferable, in my opinion, to use NTFS in linux unless you really need to and have good reason to, but it can be done and you need ntfs-3g from tuxera.com then in linux you would do a mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sdx /backup to specify your backup disk if it were to show up as block device x to be mounted to the folder /backup.

But if using linux exclusively and you have no desire to mount your backup external disk in Microsoft Windows then you will have no need for the NTFS file system and your data will be most safe if using either ext4 or xfs file systems in linux.

So do the following with your new external [usb] disk, assuming it shows up as block device x as dev/sdx simply for syntax reasons here; change the x to whatever block device it shows up as for you:

  • alias lsblk2='lsblk -o type,name,label,partlabel,size,fstype,model,serial,wwn,uuid'
  • lsblk2
    • identify the block letter of your external disk, don't blow away the wrong disk; assuming simply for syntax reasons below it shows up as x
  • parted /dev/sdx
  • mklabel gpt
  • mkpart primary 0% 100%
  • exit
    • you now have wiped out the disk, recreating the partition table that is now clean as can be, and the disk has 1 partition spanning the entire disk but it is not yet formatted with any file system such as ext4 or xfs
    • new disks out of the box can sometimes already be partitioned and have hidden partitions or you may not be formatted with a partition that spans the entire disk; after the above you now definitely are using the entire disk.
    • recommendation is if you have many disks already connected to your computer, to disconnect them for this procedure for safety, such that there are only 2 disks connected and you will only see /dev/sda and a /dev/sdb showing up from doing my lsblk2 and will be very easy to choose the correct one rather than risk blowing away the wrong disk. Be careful and sure when using parted
  • mkfs.ext4 /dev/sdx1
    • now you have made a file system on the one and only partition on the disk
    • change ext4 to another file system of your choice if you desire
    • will mkfs.ntfs-3g work if you have the ntfs-3g installed from tuxera I don't know I've never tried and don't know how reliable that would be
  • mount /dev/sdx /backup
  • df -h to verify

fwiw: I run win10 but will boot a second disk to run centos7 linux, and i mount -t ntfs-3g /dev/sda2 to read and write to my C:\users\ron\desktop and have not had a problem in the years i've been doing that, seldomly at home. hope that helps.

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  • For the beginner, I would recommend gparted rather than command-line utilities. Also, NTFS support is available in most distributions out of the box. No need to buy anything from tuxera.
    – Hermann
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 17:17
  • ntfs-3g_ntfsprogs-2017.3.23.tgz is free from tuxera and one simply needs to do ./configure; make; make install to build from source which has been most reliable for me. Alternatively it is available as a yum install ntfs-3g or equivalent from EPEL respository... I am a CentOS guy, Never really used gparted but yeah if it is easier/better then take advantage of that.
    – ron
    Commented Jan 9, 2022 at 17:22

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