Hard Drive

How to Format a Hard Drive Without Losing Data: The Ultimate Guide

6 min read

Reading Time: 6 minutesFormatting your HDD is sometimes absolutely necessary. Mainly, if you want to do a clean installation of Windows. But, formatting completely removes all the data on your hard drive.

Therefore, it is useful to know how you can format a disk without losing data. In a nutshell, that involves first creating a backup of your data, then proceeding with formatting. This article will show you how to do just that.

What Does Formatting of a Hard Drive Mean?

When formatting an HDD, Windows lets you choose which File System you want the drive to use. Basically, there are various file systems, such as NTFS, FAT, and exFAT that determine how data is stored and accessed in a hard drive or partition. Each one has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Now, each File System has a set of associated files that contain the relevant information about all the files stored on the hard drive. These files are called File System Metadata files, and they also contain information about how much free space there is on the HDD, as well as other unique attributes about the partition they’re concerned with.

In Windows, you can choose to either perform a Quick Format or a Full Format:

Quick Format: When you format a hard drive using Quick Format, your OS essentially rewrites the information in the File System Metadata files. The Metadata files are instructed that all the space in the hard drive is now available for use. Technically, your previous data is still there on the HDD until it is overwritten, but it can no longer be accessed because the Metadata files have been rewritten. The old data is wiped out for good once you write new data to the drive.

Full Format: A full format, i.e. a non-Quick Format, does wipe out all the data in a hard drive because the process writes zeros to all the data present in the disk. It rewrites the File System Metadata files as well as checks the file system for errors.

Now that you are aware of what formatting does, let’s understand how to format a hard drive without losing data.

How to Save Your Data During the Formatting Process

To reformat a hard drive without losing data, you will have to first copy the entire data on your hard drive to another partition or an external storage device. This way, you will have access to your files on the Windows File Explorer.

To copy all your files to another location, you can either use the traditional way i.e. select all the files in the drive, then right-click > Copy. Then manually navigate to the external HDD and again right-click > Paste all the data there. That is simple enough for all of us.

But, a major reason that leads people to format their hard drive is due to the data on it becoming inaccessible. In this case, you cannot simply copy and paste the data from your HDD. Additionally, directly scanning the hard drive will stress it even further.

Here, data recovery programs, such as Disk Drill, are a godsend. How? Well, using Disk Drill you can create a disk image (at the byte level) of your hard drive and scan that disk image to find existing files as well as recover the inaccessible data.

Read the section below to learn how to create a disk image and use it to effectively format a drive without losing data.

How to Create a Disk Image Using Disk Drill

  1. Download and install Disk Drill.
  2. After installation, launch Disk Drill.
  3. On the Disk Drill home screen, click on Drive Backup, under Extras.
  4. Now, select the hard drive, partition or USB drive you want to create an image of.
  5. Click on the Byte-to-byte Backup option.Byte to Byte backup option in Disk Drill.
  6. On the pop-up, choose the export location of the image and set the Format option to Bytes.Byte-to-byte backup pop up in Disk Drill.
  7. Click OK and wait for Disk Drill to create the image. It may take a while, depending on the size of the image.Byte-to-byte backup underway.
  8. After Disk Drill finishes creating the image, click on Done.Byte-to-byte backup complete screen.

How to Scan a Disk Image Using Disk Drill

  1. Open Disk Drill.
  2. Click on the Attach disk image option.The Attach Disk Image option in Disk Drill.
  3. Browse for the disk image that you created previously, and click Open.
  4. Now, click on the Search for lost data button.Disk Drill home screen.
  5. Wait for Disk Drill to finish scanning the disk image.
  6. Click on Review found items.Review Found Items screen in Disk Drill.
  7. Select the files you want to restore, then click on Recover.Recover data screen in Disk Drill.
  8. Select a recovery location.
  9. Click on OK.

How to Format Your Hard Drive on Windows

After understanding how you can create and scan disk images to effectively recover and keep your data, let’s get to the actual process of formatting. On Windows, you can format your hard drive using the File Explorer, Disk Management tool, and Command Prompt.

Windows Explorer

  1. Open Windows Explorer.
  2. Right-click on the partition you want to format, then click on Format.Format option in Windows Explorer.
  3. On the next pop-up, change the settings according to your needs.
  4. Click on Start.Format options in Windows 11.

Disk Management

  1. In the Start menu search bar, type Disk Management.
  2. From the search results, click on the Create and format hard disk partitions option.
  3. Again, right-click on the partition you want to format and choose Format.The format option in Windows Disk Management.
  4. Pick the appropriate settings in the subsequent pop-up and click OK.Format options in Disk Management.

Command Prompt

  1. Search for cmd in the Start menu search bar.
  2. Right-click on Command Prompt > Run as administrator.
  3. Now, type the following commands in order and press Enter after each one:
    • diskpart
    • list disk
    • select disk x (replace x with the number of the disk.)
    • list volume
    • select volume x (again, type the number of the partition you want to format.)
    • format fs=ntfs quick (you can change the file system by changing ntfs to fat, etc. and do a normal format by removing quick.)Format commands in Windows Command Prompt.