Importance, levels, and types of disk formatting

As a computer user in this information age generation, you may have come across a storage device that requires formatting. Disk formatting means preparing the device for the storage of data for the first time.

Depending on the type of storage device you are using there are different levels and types of formatting that can be used. For a new disk, it is formatted then it is partitioned for use. You can read about the difference between disk formatting and partitioning in this article.

The main importance of disk formatting is to prepare the disk for initial use. the 2 levels that a disk can be formatted are low-level and high-level formatting. Depending on the type of disk and system that you are using a disk can be formatted using FAT, NTFS, or HFS file system high-level formatting.

Level of disk formatting

Low-level formatting

This formatting help prepare the physical structure of how the disk will store data. It makes the initial layout of cylinders, tracks, sectors, and blocks where data will reside. This was done by the use of a special separate disk controller. In earlier computers, users were supposed to carry out this physical formatting before they start using the drive. However, in today’s drive, the low-level formatting is done by the manufacturer of the drive.

Low-level formatting is not recommended to be done many times because it can physically damage the disk. This reduces the lifespan of the disk. Once the disk is formatted at this level it is very hard to recover data even using data recovery tools. It can be used when users want to dispose of a disk to erase all their personal data.

High-level formatting

After the physical preparation of the disk at a low level, the disk can now be formatted logically. High-level formatting involves creating the type of file system that will be used to read and write to the disk. It also creates the cluster size, assigns the drive a label, and checks for bad sectors and other errors on the disk.

High-level formatting can be done by the user using an operating system or other disk management tools. It is simple and doesn’t damage the physical disk since it is a logical operation. Disk formatted at this level can recover data by use of data recovery utility software.

The formatting also creates boot sector information if the disk is being formatted for operating system installation. This formatting can be done on logical disk partitions independently. 

Types of disk formatting

To discuss disk formatting we need to discuss the file system that the disk use. This is because formatting describes how the disk is organized to allow the storage of data. 

File system information about how and where the data is stored within the same disk. This takes up some space that is not available for the user. That is why when you buy a hard disk of let’s say 500GB it will read low-volume than that space. The space that is not available is used to store the disk’s own management data. 

There are different versions of formatting file systems. In this article, we will discuss 3 main types of file systems used in a modern computer.

File Allocation Table (FAT) formatting

It was the first type of file system that was developed for computers that used a floppy disk. When storage advanced to hard disk the technology was adopted. This file format is supported by all types of operating systems.

There are many versions from the initial FAT12, FAT16 FAT32 to the current FAT64 (exFAT) extensible FAT. The number represents the number of bits that the disk can store in a cluster. The most common FAT32 can allow a maximum single file size of 4GB.

Disk formatted using FAT file system its structure is organized in different parts such as:

  1. Partition boot sector: this is the sector that keeps records about system booting and related files.
  2. FAT: It keeps records about different types of clusters that the disk has. There are 2 where one is a copy of the other for recovery purposes.
  3. FAT Root folder: this table keep the record for all files and folder on the root directory.
  4. Data area: this is where other files and folders are located.

New Technology File System (NTFS)

This was designed by Microsoft for its Windows operating system computers. It can be supported on Apple Mac computers but only as a read-only. On Windows, it is set as the default formatting of big storage devices like hard disks.

It is an improvement of FAT formatting which offer more security, and advanced and fast file retrieval among other benefits. It also removes the issue of a single file size that can be stored and the overall size of the disk used. 

Hierarchical file system (HFS)

This is the type of formatting that is only supported by Apple Mac computers. The advanced version is macOS Extended Journaled which offers more security and reduces data corruption. Computers installed with Windows operating systems cannot use this type of formatting.

Importance of  disk formatting

  1. To create clusters for data storage
  2. When the disk is to be used as the primary booting disk formatting prepares it for the booting process.
  3. Formatting erases data to start using the drive fresh.
  4. When the disk is formatted it deletes the bad sector and checks the disk errors that may have been corrupted by malware.

Does formatting a disk erase data?

Yes, if the disk was formatted using low-level formatting. If it was formatted using high-level formatting you can use data recovery software that can help recover most of the lost data. Please note that it is not guaranteed that data will be recovered so take care before doing any disk formatting.