[Techtalk] USB thumb drives -- VFAT vs Ext3 format

Akkana Peck akkana at shallowsky.com
Thu Jul 10 05:08:50 UTC 2008

Miriam English writes:
> Thank you. I am very grateful for that info. I really must do more 
> reading on the differences between Ext2/3.
> I am definitely reformatting my thumb drives to Ext2.

I just went back to remind myself of the original query, and it
involved corruption because Windows wouldn't unmount the drive and
it needed to be pulled out anyway. ext2 wouldn't have helped that,
because you can't use ext3 to transfer files to a Windows box at
all. (Well, I guess in a way that helps, since if you hadn't been
able to transfer files, the corruption wouldn't have happened. :-)

The original query included this:
> It annoys me that we must be oh-so-careful about unmounting a thumb 
> drive when finished reading/writing it lest the data be mangled, 
> wrecking the filesystem on the drive and requiring it to be
> reformatted. 

ext2 doesn't help the problem of needing to unmount before
unplugging the drive -- you can still get corruption that way.
That's why most Linux systems run fsck every time you mount
ext2-formatted partitions (ext3, being "journalled", is less
prone to that corruption, so typically they don't run fsck every
time, just every now and then).

You also mentioned this:
> One of the things I've noticed with VFAT is that its blindness to 
> upper/lower case can cause subtle problems so I'd be glad to be rid of 
> it on that count alone.

DOS (FAT) has that problem, but VFAT doesn't. If you're seeing things
come through in all caps or with short filenames, it either means you
formatted as DOS and not VFAT, or that you're mounting a VFAT
filesystem as DOS. Sometimes that happens if you mount it as "auto"
in /etc/fstab ... and I've seen it happen in a few other odd cases,
like one just recently when I was plugging a USB2 MP3 player in via
a hub and the hub's power plug had come loose (that can also cause
USB2 devices to use the much slower USB1).

Not to discourage you from using ext2 -- it's a perfectly good
filesystem if you're only ever going to talk to Linux machines and
never need to use the USB drive with Windows or Mac.


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