What Is a Flash Drive?

Flash drive, USB drive, or thumb drive

 Westend61 / Getty Images

A flash drive (sometimes called a USB device, drive or stick, thumb drive, pen drive, jump drive or USB memory) is a small storage device that can be used to transport files from one computer to another. The flash drive is smaller than a pack of gum, yet many of these devices can carry all your work for an entire year (or more)! You can keep one on a key chain, carry it around your neck or attach it to your book bag.

Flash drives are small and light, use little power, and they don't have any delicate moving parts. Data stored on flash drives is impervious to scratches, dust, magnetic fields, and mechanical shock. This makes them suitable for transporting data conveniently without risk of damage.

Using a Flash Drive

A flash drive is easy to use. Once you have created a document or other work, simply plug your flash drive into a USB port. The USB port will appear on the front or rear of a desktop computer’s case or on the side of a laptop.

Most computers are set up to give an audible notice such as a chime when a new device is plugged in. For the first use of a new flash drive, it is advisable to "format" the drive to ensure compatibility with the operating system of the computer being used. 

When you opt to save your work by selecting “Save As,” you will find that your flash drive appears as an additional drive.

Why Carry a Flash Drive?

You should always have a backup copy of any important work you’ve completed. As you create a paper or large project, make a backup on your flash drive and save it separately from your computer for safekeeping.

A flash drive will also come in handy if you are able to print out a document elsewhere. You can compose something at home, save it to your flash drive, then plug the drive into a USB port on a library computer, for instance. Then simply open the document and print it out. 

A flash drive is also handy for working on a project on several computers at once. Carry your flash drive to your friend’s house for a joint project or for group study.

Flash Drive Size and Safety

The first USB flash drive was available for sale in late 2000 with a storage capacity of a mere 8 megabytes. That gradually doubled to 16 MB and then 32, then 516 gigabytes and 1 terabyte. A 2 TB flash drive was announced at the 2017 International Consumer Electronics Show. However, regardless of the memory and its longevity, the USB hardware is specified to withstand only about 1,500 insert-removal cycles.

In addition, early flash drives were not considered safe, as any major problem with them resulted in the loss of all recorded data (unlike a hard drive which stored data differently and could be retrieved by a software engineer). Happily, today flash drives rarely have any issues. However, owners should still consider data stored on flash drives as a temporary measure and keep documents secured on a hard drive as well.

mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Fleming, Grace. "What Is a Flash Drive?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-flash-drive-1856938. Fleming, Grace. (2020, August 28). What Is a Flash Drive? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-flash-drive-1856938 Fleming, Grace. "What Is a Flash Drive?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-flash-drive-1856938 (accessed June 2, 2023).