Do you really have to eject a USB before pulling it out of your computer?

Image: supplied

Go on, you little rule breaker, admit it — you don’t always safely eject your USB stick before unceremoniously yanking it from its safe little home in the side of your computer, do you? Yeah, me either.

Deep down, you know you probably should go through this process each and every time, but sometimes you don’t have those extra 15 seconds to spare, or you just can’t be bothered. So does it really matter how you eject your USB?

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Short answer: yes, it does. Yep, it might actually be worth taking note of the condescending, judgemental pop-up that alerts you to your naughty USB-ejecting ways.

The good people at Science Alert and Gizmodo have investigated the potential risks of removing your external drive without following proper procedure, and found it can cause you to lose hours (or days!) worth of data regardless of when you last saved. (Post continues after gallery.)

It all comes down to your computer’s operating systems, which are designed to treat external drives (that’s your USB, zip drive, etc) like they’re just a permanent fixture of the computer.

The system assumes these files will always be accessible and unless you click ‘Remove USB safely’, it has no warning that you’re about to yank out the source. This means your computer won’t bother backing anything up unless you tell it things are about to change.

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So, understandably, when you go and rip out your USB (I’ve seen you) your computer gets all in a tizz. It’s confused, it’s unsure of itself, it doesn’t know what the heck is going on. It’s actually not all those precious Mad Men episodes living on your USB that you need to be worried about — it’s the brains of your computer (i.e. the exy bit to fix).

If this happens it’s likely you’ll score yourself some lost data, corrupted files and crashing programs — all the fun things about computer use that leave us hurling expletives (or hurling the danm thing itself).


So what happens, exactly, when you do the right thing and eject your USB safely?

First of all, your computer clears itself and flushes any other file transfers which might be taking place. Then, it alerts all the necessary programs that it's about to take action because the disk is about to be removed. This gives everything the required time to take action and prepare itself for the departure of its house guest.

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It also gives the computer time to assess whether there are any issues with file transfers and give you a heads-up, so you won't be left standing in front of a crowded presentation wondering where on earth your slideshow went. (Post continues after video.)

This is because the operating systems are too efficient to just stop what they're doing and save information when you tell them to. Rather, they determine the most appropriate time to do so without affecting the performance of your other programs.

This is known as cache writing, and please bear with me — it's not as complex as it sounds. Cache writing basically means that rather than moving your files individually, your computer waits until there's a sufficient amount of data to transfer across. Safely ejecting your USB tells the computer it's time to gather the files together and prepare to move them. Yanking it out without telling the operating system means your computer may not have finished its processes, leaving you with missing data and a very confused laptop.

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However, software designers are well aware of your rebel status and are constantly updating operating systems to combat your rule breaking antics. This means faster data transfer — although really, taking an extra 30 seconds to properly eject the USB is probably worth it for the tears and panic (not to mention files) you could save yourself.

You've been warned.

So... do you ever remove your USB safely? Or are you a reckless rebel?