It was said that nowadays, common file systems such as NTFS and HFS+ use a journaling mechanism so that when power is cut out or if there is a power outage, the hard drive is still in good shape and no scan disk is needed to restore integrity of the hard disk.

Is it true for external hard drives and USB thumb drives too? As long as it is using a journaling file system, then is it the same no matter what the media is?

up vote 3 down vote accepted
  1. NTFS is not a real journaling file system. It only tries to be, but doesn't go all the way. HFS+, ZFS and btrfs are examples for real journaling file systems.

  2. External hard drives and thumb drives are mostly formatted for compatibility, as they are likely to be used for transferring data between lots of different computers, and the computers may have different operation systems. So they are usually formatted as FAT, as this file system is readable on all major operating systems. Nowadays they are sometimes also formatted as NTFS, because all modern Windows versions read and write NTFS and other OSes are likely to be able to read it too, at least without much additional effort. There is almost no chance that you bought a thumb-drive pre-formatted with something other than FAT or NTFS.

  3. If you specifically want to use a journaling file system on a removable drive (I am not counting NTFS, see point 1), you can easily reformat it, as Daniel Bingham pointed out. By this, you are sacrificing compatibility. For example, if you use a Mac and home and decide to format your removable drive as HFS+, it won't be recognized if you plug it in a friend's Windows machine. So if you are using a Mac or Linux machine and are sure that the removable drive won't be used on another computer, you can consider reformatting it with the file system of your choice (but then, why did you choose a removable device in the first place?!) On Windows, this isn't an option, as Windows doesn't support journaling file systems.

  4. NTFS isn't still an improvement over FAT. If your device is on FAT and you want to use NTFS, you can reformat it as NTFS without sacrificing much compatibility.

It depends on the hard drive or thumb drive. They can be reformatted with different filing systems, and there's no guarantee that they have been formatted with a journaling system. If you want to make sure your hard drive or thumb drive has a journaling file system, then you should reformat it with one.

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