Update: 30 August 2012
It’s been five years since I first wrote on this topic. As it happens, it remains one of my most popular posts, which suggests that lots of folks are still having problems using flash drives on Ubuntu, and possibly other Linux distributions as well. 
A lot has changed in the last five years, so here’s an update on how I currently access flash drives on my Ubuntu 12.04 desktop.
When you first put a flash drive into the computer all you will see is the light on the flash drive come on, if it has one.
If you do
$ ls /media
you won’t see any sign of the drive.
So what you do next is to open
File Manager. It’s right there near the top of the main menu. It should show the flash drive. All the drives I have come with a built-in id, and File Manager will display it near the top of its page. Look for text that begins with
For example, I just plugged in a drive while writing this. It has the id 054A-FDA0.
Leave File Manager running, while you access the drive
If you again do
$ ls /media
you should see the drive. For example, I just did and found the file
You can now do things like
$ cp /media/054A-FDA0/work.tar .
and so on.
It is good form to close the drive when you are done using it. This is not really needed if you are just reading the drive, but is important if you have written data to it. You want to know all the data has been written.
There are two ways to what in Linux is called “unmounting” the flash drive.
Note the command is “umount” and not “unmount”. This is one case where Unix terseness, in this case saving a single letter, did more harm than good.
Another is to go back to File Manager, find the symbol for the drive in the left column, and right click your mouse on it. You will get a list of options, one of which is
Eject Removable Medium. Then pick that, and remove the drive
Either will work. You make the call.
By the way, whenever you are typing a command that includes the flash drive id, as soon as you have typed the first letter or so, you should hit the Tab key. The shell will then complete the rest of the name for you.
(This is true whenever you are entering a file name. It’s one of the very nice features of Linux: thoughtful people have worked hard to make your work easier.)
1. This post has been among my five most popular for several years now. The only one consistently more popular has been A Brief History of Pperating Systems, based on a couple of days of writing while I was at IBM. Steve Mills, then and now head of IBM’s Software Group, felt that his salesmen didn’t know enough about this topic, and asked that someone put something together. The request landed on my desk, and not having anyone else I could kick it down the road to, I had to do it myself. 
2. One of the sagest observations I have ever heard came from Ralph Griswold in a conversation almost forty years ago:
I wish I had done it myself. In the long run I always do.
======== End of update of 30 August 2012 ========
======== The text below was originally posted on 30 August 2007 ========
If you want to access a USB flash drive in Ubuntu then just plug it into a working USB slot on your machine. On your desktop you should then see a window with a title of the form “label – File Browser,” where “label” is the label the manufacturer used when the drive was formatted.
You should also see an icon containing the drive label near the top of the window and also within a list of devices on the left side of the window. Or, If you want to access the drive from a command line in a terminal window, you can type
$ ls /media
and you should see an entry with the drive’s label. For example, I’m using a Kingston DataTraveler I 2GB Flash Drive (USB2.0 Portable) Model DTI/2GB – Retail that I recently purchased from newegg. It has the label “KINGSTON,” so I can list the files on it with
$ ls /media/KINGSTON
If you just want to read files from the drive then you can just pull the drive from the slot when you are done. If you want to write files to the drive you need to unmount the drive when you are done. You can do this either by right-clicking on the drive’s icon in the list on the left side of the window and selecting “Unmount,” or you can use the command line; for example,
$ sudo umount /media/KINGSTON
This is of course very straightforward, and I expect you’re asking, “Why blog about this? Duh!”
Thing is, nothing happened the first time I tried this by just plugging the drive into a USB slot. After a little investigation, I decided to see what happened if I just plugged the drive into a USB slot on one of my other Ubuntu machines, and found that it worked.
Which is why I just inserted the word “working” into the first sentence of this post.
Which means I can give you an answer to another question about Ubuntu:
Question: How do you tell if a USB port is working on your Ubuntu machine?
Answer: Plug a USB flash drive into a USB slot. If nothing happens the slot is broken or isn’t connected.
In my case, it’s more likely — since I built this machine –that I didn’t properly connect the wires from the front USB slots to the motherboard.
Back to the
drawing mother board…