You’ve finished work for the day. The only thing left to do is stick the files onto a USB flash drive. Then you get this message: “The disk is write protected. Remove the write protection or use another disk.” You immediately pull your hair out. This is your USB stick; you should be able to read, write, and do whatever you want with it!
Okay, you didn’t pull your hair out. You stayed nice and calm. But you definitely need to get your USB drive fixed. Luckily, there are a few simple steps to fix write protection on a USB drive. It’s just technology. You can fix it.
1. Check the USB Stick for Viruses
Every time you plug a USB drive into your computer, you should be automatically scanning it for viruses—especially if you have used it on a computer that you don’t own, or a public computer.
Viruses often act in a manner that will fill your USB drive with nonsense files and this can make your USB drive respond with the Write Protected error.
Depending on your antivirus software, you may be able to configure it to automatically scan a USB drive when first plugged in. If not, you can navigate to the USB drive in Windows Explorer, right-click, and force a manual antivirus scan.
If you do find a virus, eliminate it using your antivirus software. At this point, I would advise performing a full system scan after updating your virus definitions. If there is one virus lurking on your USB drive, you never know what might be propagating on your main system.
2. Check the USB Drive Body
Normally I’d make something this simple the first step. However, I’d rather see you protected from a virus, instead of starting with the simpler fixes. Some USB sticks have a mechanical switch on them that puts them into Write Protect mode. This can be a very small slider switch which may have caught on something in your pocket or computer case.
If this is the situation, then simply move the switch to the unlocked position and try to copy files again.
Luckily, there aren’t a lot of newly manufactured USB sticks with these locks on them anymore.
3. Check to Make Sure the USB Stick Isn’t Full
You may see the Write Protected error message if your USB stick is full.
Open Windows Explorer, and browse to My PC. This gives you an overview of all drives connected to your system. Right-click your USB drive and select Properties. You’ll be presented with a delightful donut-chart (what was wrong the venerable pie-chart, Microsoft?) displaying your current drive capacity.
As you can see, I’ve got room to spare. But if your USB drive is completely full, it can return a Write Protection error message.
4. Remove Individual Files With Write Protection
Sometimes a single file can upset the balance. Perhaps one file is marked “read-only,” and refuses to be deleted from the drive. This causes an entirely different error message, but it can be off-putting, nonetheless.
Browse to your USB drive, and locate the offending file. Right-click, and select Properties. At the bottom of the panel, under Attributes, ensure Read-only is unchecked.
Sometimes single filenames become corrupted. In addition, long filenames are an inherited Windows feature, ingrained in the MS-DOS architecture. The long and short of it is that if a filename exceeds 255 characters, you’re going to have a bad time.
Saikat Basu has explained exactly how to delete files with long filenames. Check it out, save yourself some bother, and fix your USB flash drive.
5. DiskPart Command Prompt Utility
Are you familiar with the Command Prompt? Well, you’re about to familiarize yourself a little bit more. Don’t worry, it really isn’t scary, and is the next logical step in our effort to fix your USB stick.
Hit Windows key + X, and select Command Prompt (Admin) from the menu. Type diskpart, and press Enter (1. in the below image). Next, type list disk, and press Enter. You should see a list of currently mounted disks, like so (2. in the below image):
Make sure you can see your USB drive. Mine is Disk 4. Make a note of your disk number. Now enter the following command:
select disk [your disk number]
Once selected, enter the following command:
attributes disk clear readonly
You’ve cleared any remaining read-only file attributes from the USB drive.
6. Clear Write Protection Error in Windows Registry
If none of the previous steps have solved your Write Protection error, don’t worry. We’ve still got a few more tricks in the book. Next, we’re going to edit the Windows Registry. If you’re not comfortable editing the registry, I understand. You can skip to the next section—how to format your write protected USB drive. If that step is a little too drastic, I’d advise giving this option a try.
Press Windows Key + R to open the Run dialogue. Type regedit and press Enter. Now, navigate to the following registry location:
Look for a key named WriteProtect.
If it exists, double-click it. This will open the Edit DWORD (32-bit) Value box. You can now set one of two values: 0 or 1. 1 means “Yes, write protect my USB storage devices.” Conversely, 0 means “No, don’t write protect my USB storage devices.” Set the value to 0, and then press OK.
But There’s Nothing There?
In some cases, there is no WriteProtection registry entry. In this instance, we can create a registry key of our own. Check out the short video I’ve made below:
(Something gone wrong? Reset the Windows registry to default.)
7. Format the USB Drive
Warning: Make sure that you back up all the files and information from your USB drive to your computer. All data will be lost once you format the USB drive.
Formatting the USB stick is a last resort. However, it should make your USB drive able to be read and written to. Prior to formatting the USB drive, determine what kind of file system it already has — NTFS or FAT32. Normally the file system that it already has will be the file system that is best suited for the drive.
Open Windows Explorer, and browse to My PC. This gives you an overview of all drives connected to your system. Right-click your USB drive and select Properties.
Close the Properties window. Now, right-click the USB drive again, this time selecting Format. The Format window contains several customizable options, such as the aforementioned File system, the Allocation unit size, the Volume Label, and the Quick Format option.
Change the Volume label to something memorable. As we are dealing with a potential hardware issue, uncheck the Quick Format box. That will force the format to do more than just erase files. For instance, if there is a bad sector on this USB drive, the “full” format will return an error.
Formatting won’t take long, but the larger the drive, the longer you’ll have to wait. Assuming there is no physical problem with the drive, your USB drive will be formatted, cleaned and ready to go.
8. But I’ve Got an SD Card
Luckily, the majority of the USB drive Write Protection error fixes listed work with SD cards, too.
Unlike regular USB drives, SD cards still tend to come with a physical write protection switch. Ensure this is toggled before you panic.
USB Write Protection Errors, Solved
Sometimes, the problem is simple. Sometimes, the problem is difficult. Hopefully, we’ve found you a solution, in either case. If your USB drive issues persist, it could be that something more significant is afoot. In those cases, such as a deleted Partition Table, third-party software like TestDisk can save the day.
Regardless, you’ve got a lot more troubleshooting tools in your arsenal now and should be able to get your USB drives working again, potentially saving you a tidy sum of money, and the pain of losing all of your files!