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How to format a protected USB stick

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How to format a protected USB stick: Are you trying to format a USB stick but you can’t because Windows tells you that the drive is write protected? If the device in question does not have levers to enable / disable data writing, or in any case you are unable to format the drive despite the protection being disabled, you must act at the software level.

By “acting on a software level” I mean that you have to adjust the Windows settings so that the protection of the stick is deactivated or, alternatively, if the first attempt is not successful, you must use utilities that allow you to format the sticks USB in a “deep” way bypassing any blocks related to data writing.

I know, said so it seems like a titanic feat, and instead I assure you that with a bit of luck you will be able to unlock your key in a short time. To find out in detail what you need to do, read on. Below are several procedures to  format a protected USB stick  illustrated step by step: try to follow them all until you find the one that works with your USB stick (hoping that it has not been damaged irreparably, in that case you will only have to throw it away or replace it ).

Disable the protection of the USB stick from the registry

How to format a protected USB stick

If you want to find out how to format a protected USB stick , the first attempt I recommend is to go to the Windows Registry Editor and disable the write protection of USB drives from there. Then press the combination of Win + R keys on the PC keyboard to call up the Run … tool , type the regedit command in it and press the Enter key .

In the window that opens, use the folders located in the left sidebar to go to the path HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE> SYSTEM> CurrentControlSet> Control> StorageDevicePolicies , double click on the WriteProtect key and set its value to 0 .

If you don’t find the StorageDevicePolicies folder , create it by right-clicking on the Control folder and selecting the New> Key item from the menu that opens. To create the WriteProtect key , instead click with the right mouse button on the StorageDevicePolicies folder and select the New> DWORD (32-bit) value from the menu that opens.

Now restart your computer and try to format your USB stick again. If everything went the right way, you should be able to complete the operation without any problems.

If you don’t know how to format a USB stick in Windows, open the File Explorer  (the yellow folder icon located on the taskbar) and select the  Computer or  This PC item from the left sidebar. Next, right click on the icon of the  USB stick to be formatted and select the Format item  from the menu that appears.

In the window that opens, select  FAT32 or exFAT  from the drop-down menu for choosing the file system, type the name you want to assign to the device in the Volume label field  and click on the Start  and OK buttons  to start formatting the key.

Format a USB stick protected by the Command Prompt

How to format a protected USB stick

Another way to format a protected USB stick is to use the diskpart tool . Start the Command Prompt through its link in the Windows Start menu and from the commands listed below.

If you use Windows 7 or later, you must start the Prompt as administrator, by right clicking on its icon and selecting the  Run as administrator item from the menu that opens. If you can’t find the Prompt icon, go to the Start menu  and type  cmd in the search field (the Command Prompt is the first icon that appears among the results). And now here are the commands you need to give to format your protected USB stick.

  • diskpart to start the Diskpart utility.
  • list disk to list the drives available on your computer and locate the key to format.
  • select disk x to select the unit relating to the key to be formatted (instead of the “x” the number associated with the USB key to be formatted must be entered).
  • attributes disk clear readonly to clear the key’s read-only attributes.
  • clean to delete the contents of the stick.
  • create partition primary to create a new primary partition on the stick.
  • format fs=fat32 to format the stick using the FAT32 file system.
  • exit to exit Diskpart.

Now your key should be “clean”, ie emptied of any content, and freely usable.

Low-level formatting of a protected USB stick

If the solutions just examined have not had the desired effect, you can try to format your USB stick by carrying out a low-level format .

Low-level formatting is a procedure whereby the contents of the drive are completely erased, filled with zeros and the file system structure is not restored. In this way it should be possible to bypass the anti-write protections and restore the key to its correct functioning.

There are several software that can format USB sticks by performing a low-level format, let’s see some of the most valid.

HDD LLF Low Level Format Tool (Windows)


Let’s start with  HDD LLF Low Level Format Tool , a free software (at least in its basic version) that allows you to format USB sticks and hard drives in an advanced way without the slightest effort. To download it to your PC, connected to its official website and click on the link Download Windows Executable (works without installation): HDD Low Level Format Tool ver.xx  which is located in the middle of the page.

Download is complete, start the HDDLLF.xx.exe program and click on Agree first and then on Continue for free . In the window that opens, then select the USB stick to format and click Continue . Finally, go to the Low-level format tab and click on Format this device to start formatting the device.

Apacer USB Repair Tool (Windows)

How to format a protected USB stick

Another software that can perform low-level formatting of USB sticks is Apacer USB Repair Tool . To download it to your PC, connect to the Apacer website and click on the  arrow that is located in front of the  USB3.0 Repair tool item .

When the download is complete, open the zip package you just downloaded on your PC, extract the contents to any folder and start the executable  Restore.exe . In the window that opens, click in sequence on the RestoreRestore and  Yes buttons and wait for the formatting of the drive to be completed. It will take a few minutes.

I recommend, before starting Apacer USB Repair Tool make sure there is only the USB stick to format connected to the PC, otherwise you will run the risk of formatting other devices!

Disk Utility (Mac)

How to format a protected USB stick

Do you use a Mac ? In this case you can perform a low-level format of your USB stick using  Disk Utility , the partition management application included “standard” in macOS.

To start Disk Utility, go to your Mac’s LaunchPad and select the software icon from the Other folder  (or search directly for “disk utility” in Spotlight). In the window that opens, select the primary partition of your USB stick from the left sidebar and click on the Initialize button  located at the top.

Then click on the Security Options button  , set the Disk Utility adjustment bar to the third or fourth position (in order to perform three or four rewrites of the data on the key) and click on the OK button  ; choose the file system and the name to be assigned to the stick and start formatting the drive by clicking on  Initialize .

Utilities developed by USB flash drive manufacturers

In the unfortunate event that none of the programs listed above had helped you, connect to the website of the company that produced the USB stick you want to format and look for an ad hoc developed recovery / formatting utility. Unfortunately, not all manufacturers offer solutions of this type, but trying does not harm.

Format a USB stick protected with GParted

How to format a protected USB stick

In the most desperate situations, that is when none of the standard solutions to  format a protected USB stick works, before throwing in the towel you can try using GParted .

GParted is a free and open source software that allows you to manage the partitions of hard disks and USB sticks in a fairly simple way. It is used as a Linux distro, so it must be downloaded as an ISO file and burned onto a CD / DVD or copied to a USB stick. The drive is then used to boot and so GParted can be used without constraints relating to the Windows protections or system partitions in use.

To find out more in detail how to download and use GParted, read my tutorial on how to partition a hard disk and the official documentation  on the program website.