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Is there any chance of breaking your computer or corrupting files when partitioning your hard drive? (with, for example, GParted) How high is the risk?

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its safe unless you tell it to do something you don't want. with partitioners, always measure twice and cut once, because they are most unforgiving of mistakes or fat fingers. –  Frank Thomas Apr 22 '13 at 16:38

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Partitioning can't cause any physical damage to your computer. At worse you can erase all your data from your hard drive. If you partition an empty hard drive, this is completely safe. Resizing or moving existing partitions is generally safe, although data corruption might rarely occur (partitioning programs always advise users to have a backup of their data when resizing or moving partitions): if you have a hardware problem or if the computer hangs or turns off for any reason during the operation, you might end up with a corrupted file system.

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There is absolutely a chance that you'll end up with a slurry of incomprehensible bytes rather than a filesystem. How likely that is depends on a lot of things, and it's not always easy to tell how a partition resize will go before you actually run it; for the most part, it's a safe process, but I have seen it go horribly wrong on occasion. Here's what I recommend:

  • If your file system requires defragmentation (e.g. NTFS), defragment it before you attempt to shrink the partition.
  • If you use RAID, LVM, or some other arrangement of storage that isn't just a bunch of disks, consult the documentation for your storage controller to ensure you don't need to take special precautions.
  • Back up your data! If you have anything you care about on the disks whose partitions you're modifying, the best way to ensure you don't risk losing it is to make a safe copy and store it entirely offline, as with a USB drive you unplug before entering gparted.
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