Why does my external hard drive say the volume is in use when I try to format it?

Jessi January 23, 2012

I’m trying to format my external hard drive to FAT32 using the command line, and every time I try, it ends up telling me “Cannot lock the drive. The volume is still in use.”

I’m going to guess and say that it’s telling me something on my computer is using the hard drive, but I’m absolutely sure that nothing is.

How can I get past this so I can format my HD?

  1. Buntydee
    January 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

    We can try this method to disengage the program that is preventing the Formatting of the Ext HDD. 
     You can Safely EJECT a USB stick by a method that I have discovered.(Works on Win7, not always on Vista+ do try on XP.) 
    1)Open Task Manager(Ctrl+Sft+Esc)
    2)In Processes, close Explorer (1 or 2 instances will be there)
    3)Go to FILE/New TASK run, type : explorer, & explorer opens again.
    4) Safely eject, & Voila!
    (You could go to `#4` & skip #3 if the dialogue box is stil open, I`ve forgotten if it does stay open)
    After this, I`m sure the Format wont be stopped.
    (PS: In the 1st place, it should be checked that NO BACK UP OPERATIONS ARE GOING ON TO THE eXT HDD, coz that is the 1st thing that could be preventing the Formatting.)
    Cheers & regards,

  2. Dlandry30
    January 25, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    With windows xp there is an better way to format the drive in question to FAT32. Check to see if you have any other programs open. Close down command line also.
    1) Right click the task bar and open task manager. Check to see what programs are running in the background that would access the harddrive.
    2) Check to see if you have indexing service active in your services tab. One of the updates that went out for xp was to add indexing services for faster searching before the end of life happened.
    3) Now open windows explorer and verify the drive letter that the external drive has been assigned. This is to be sure that you do not format the wrong drive.
    4) Right click the drive then select format.
    5) A new window will open up with all the available selections for you to choose the format type, allocation size, name the drive, and few others.

    Possible causes for not the drive being active:
    1) Auto run programs on the drive from the manufacturer
    2) Auto run programs on the drive from previous use either on purpose or accident from an infected pc.
    3) USB corrupt driver files could be causing the issue.
    4) Indexing service is actively setting up the drive to be scanned easier.
    5) Backup service is trying to set the drive for backing up your pc.
    6) Windows explorer could be open in the background asking you what you would like to do with the drive.

    Here are some links to help with some of the issues of not able to eject a drive.
    1) http://support.microsoft.com/kb/899869
    2) http://kb.sandisk.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/4396/~/formatting-a-64gb-flash-drive%2Fremovable-disk-on-windows-xp
    3) http://products.wdc.com/library/um/eng/4779-705032.pdf
    4) //www.makeuseof.com/tag/format-usb-drive/
    Just copy the link then paste into your browser address line to view. #3 is a pdf from western digital.

  3. Pkm021922
    January 25, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Just one quick question, are you using the c line from your internal hard drive to apply the action to the external drive? If you are using the c line from the external drive to apply the action to itself?
    -food for thought.

  4. Khairul
    January 25, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    It could be some program still using your external hard drive where it refer to somewhere inside your drive. 

    Make sure to close all open program. Open Task Manager or similar and look for unknown program. Then terminate it. After that try format the drive. 

    If it doesn't work try restart your computer. When  start up is complete, try to format it again.

    You can use Windows Explorer (right click the hard drive) or Windows Disk Management Utility (under Performance and Maintenance inside Control Panel) to format the hard drive. 

  5. Anonymous
    January 25, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    We need more info. What command are you typing in to format the drive?


  6. PlaGe
    January 25, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    Make sure there isn't any scan's running, AV or chkdsk.
    If you can't remove it, something is holding on to the drive.
    Do a restart/shutdown and unplug your drive/device when your machine is off.

    Then! You try again.

  7. Bruce Epper
    January 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm

    Well, since you are using the command line, is your current directory on the drive you are attempting to format?  If so, you have found the culprit!  There are also AV packages that will keep a handle open to every drive on the system.  Temporarily disabling your on-demand AV can sometimes resolve this issue.  Just remember to turn it back on once the format has completed.

  8. Ryan Dube
    January 23, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    Jessi, I've seen this happen with my USB stick any time I have Windows Explorer open and have been using it to access files on the memory card. It was surprising because I wasn't browsing the card at the time, but for some reason explorer had it locked. This may not be the case for you, but thought I'd mention it.

  9. Anonymous
    January 23, 2012 at 9:15 am

    sometime windows do not safely eject external hard drives, so windows thinks the hard drive is still connected since last time or work is going on, so it is in use.

    try Easus partition master

    • JerryB
      January 25, 2012 at 12:02 pm

      EaseUS Partition Manager will help, but is not necessary.
      XP wants to operate System Restore and Recycle Bin on any hard drive, as well as share it. To prevent this, start Windows without the drive connected.

    January 23, 2012 at 3:05 am

    Hello, try using the safely eject drive option in taskbar.  If it tells you it is busy, let it be and try a few minutes later until it tells you that that drive is safely ejected.  Unplug drive and then plug it back again.  After doing this, try formatting your drive.  You could also try using My computer to eject the drive.

    -- click on start
    -- click on my computer
    -- click on external drive
    -- right click and select eject
    -- unplug drive

    What commands have you used in command prompt?  Are you using format or convert command?

  11. Ed
    January 23, 2012 at 2:43 am

    This is usually caused by a program or virus constantly trying to access your external drive. You can try booting in safe mode and see if you can format the drive there.

    additional info: How to boot in safe mode

    Restart your computer. Press F8 repeatedly after the POST and before Windows XP loads. Select Start in Safe Mode.

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