Always eject external discs before unplugging them from your Mac

Always eject external discs before unplugging them from your Mac
Quick Mac Tip, 14 November 2010

You may sometimes plug in some kind of disc to your Mac. It could be a thumb drive, an external hard drive, or perhaps a reader for your digital camera’s memory card.

Seeing a friend recently just unplug a drive sparked this quick tip.

Always eject an external drive

Eject a disc properly to avoid corrupt files.

Eject a disc properly to avoid corrupt files.

There’s a simple rule about such devices: always eject them before you unplug.


The computer needs to do some filing and housekeeping on every drive. If you unplug without warning that housekeeping can be missed or go wrong and your files may be corrupted or damaged.

How to eject a drive

When you do one of the following actions the computer carries out its housekeeping, but it doesn’t ‘spit out’ a hard drive in the way it does a CD or DVD. Wait a few moments before unplugging the drive from the computer.

If the device has a display light it will flash a few times and then shine steadily. Wait until the light is steady before unplugging.

Eject a disc by clicking the Eject symbol.

Eject a disc by clicking the Eject symbol (obscured below the yellow Tooltip).

  1. Select the drive in the Sidebar of a Finder window and choose Eject from the File menu.
  2. Select the drive in the Sidebar of a Finder window and click the Eject symbol (⏏) beside the name of the drive.
  3. Select the drive on the Desktop and drag it to the Trash. As you start to drag the Trash can icon will change to an Eject symbol (⏏).
  4. Select the drive on the Desktop. Right click or Control (⌃) click on it and choose Eject from the pop-up menu.

Advanced users: use an Applescript like the following, replacing Elements with the name of your drive.

tell application "Finder"
	eject "Elements"
end tell 

Do you have any stories about ejecting drives (or failing to)? Tell us in the Comments.


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  1. Lynn said:

    My problem is when I plug in my external hard drive which is powered by an outlet, and uses a usb cable keeps ejecting when doing a back up. So as I am starting the back up it starts then it ejects itself and says
    “The disk was not ejected properly bla bla bla. I cannot or have not been able to do a back up because of this error. I have tried other external hard drives and it does the something. I also took off all sleep capabilities, no screen saver etc.

    What is your thoughts

    Lynn Heiser

  2. Kieran Meehan said:

    Hi, just read your article, but a little too late, I turned off the power on my eternal HD before ejecting it from mac and now the drive is corrupted! It s was FAT 32 formatted drive and now neither my mac of pc will read it. Is there any way of gaining access to the drive and recovering the files?

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      If the files are important enough then search the web for a data recovery service. That’ll cost you.

      Of course, if you had a backup, go there first.

  3. treyboone said:

    I’ve been using my nikon D70 on my mac and have accidentally unsafely removed it from the computer a couple of times now. Just recently i did it again, and now when I plug my camera into the computer the icon doesn’t pop up on the desktop. The camera recognizes that it is connected to the Mac, but it seems the Mac doesn’t recognize the camera. How do I make my computer show me my camera.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      A bit of Googling suggests that’s actually a common problem. :-( I’d suggest trying the Nikon forums or your local Apple support for help.

  4. Andrew said:

    I did not eject it properly is there anything i can do to recover my corruputed video files?!?!?!?

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Do you know the video files are actually corrupted or do you simply suspect they might be?

      Perhaps check the forums for the video app you’re using, or simply go to your backups.



  5. Pet said:

    I accidentally ejected an external driver wrong from my Macbook, the problem here is that it was not mine though I Plugged it back in everything seemed to be fine. But I wonder is there any obvious way to detect if there is any problem with the files or does your computer let you know right away.

  6. Dominic said:

    I’m not exactly sure if this is where I should be asking this question, but i have a problem with my Dynex memory card reader. When i first plugged it in it was fine, but then i unplugged it without clicking the eject button first. Now everytime i plug it back into my mac it gives me the message: “The disk you inserted was not readable by this computer.” I’ve tried using multiple SD cards and it allways displays the same message. I haven’t tried using it on another computer yet though. Any idea on how to make it work again on my mac?

  7. Ashley said:

    I have a number of WD portable hard drives. I’ve been using them for years on my PC. Last summer I got a MacBook Pro and went through the painstaking task of moving the files, reformatting each HD for Mac, and moving everything back. All was well until I upgraded to Lion OS. Now I’ll be in the middle of something on them and the message of it has not been ejected properly will pop up and my computer has ejected the disk on it’s own. This just happened again and now it won’t recognize the drive at all.

    Obviously I cannot afford to go out and by all new Mac specific hard drives. I’m a photographer and this is not a good thing at all. Most of my drives are 1TB so using Dropbox is not an option to store all my tens of thousands of images.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Ashley, first up I’d carefully check and even replace the cables. I use a MacBook Pro and also have the problem of drives ejecting sometimes. For me it’s a matter of the cable jiggling a bit and disconnecting as I and my laptop move around.

      If the cable has a break inside that you can’t see then movement could cause a disconnect. It would be a lot cheaper to replace a $5 cable and see if it makes a difference.

      The WD drives themselves should be fine, though I’m not a technician…

  8. M.Harris said:

    The icon for my card reader does not show in finder therefore I can not eject properly. How can I get the icon to show.

  9. Josef. J said:

    Hello, could someone please help or explain this problem,

    Less than a week ago I purchased a SanDisk Cruzer Switch 16gb Pen Drive, first plug into my imac and load a few files (no more than 2gb worth) onto it (works fine). The next day I re-plug the drive back into the imac and get the message …

    “Because a USB device was drawing too much power from your computer, one or more of your USB devices have been disabled”

    I have tried plugging the drive into each of my imacs ports and always receive this message. Can’t access the drive at all. Is the pen drive now useless?

    My keyboard works fine through the usb and so does my printer.

    Thanks Josef

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      If your iMac is still under warranty, or you have Applecare then I suggest you contact Apple to query this. It sounds as though it could be a hardware problem.

  10. Nick Garrett said:

    If I pulled the external hard drive out before ejecting it and my everything on my external hard drive was deleted is there a way I can get that info back?

  11. veronica said:

    Hi, My external hard drive does not appear in the side bar of the finder window and i have no clue how to eject it or find the hard drive, also i was having problems with the hard drive saying that i did not have access to change anything on the hard drive….any help???

  12. Joey Wilburn said:

    I had shutdown my computer without ejecting my hard drive. The next time I turned on my computer, I got the error message. Now, when I plug in the hard drive, I get that message and the icon disappears from my desktop before I can try to repair it. What is going on with that?

  13. Mark said:

    My hard drive that I was using for Time Machine was unplugged by accident. The “disc not ejected properly” window popped up but it was obviously too late. Now when I plug the drive in nothing shows up. I tried re-starting with the drive plugged in and without it plugged in (and plugged it in after start-up) and it never shows up. Any thoughts or is this just fried!

  14. ksp said:

    Having just received my first Macbook Pro for christmas, I am a complete newbie to the Mac/Apple world. I have an iPhone and iPod, but have not used a computer from Apple for years.

    The other day I accidently jiggled my flashdrive out of the usb port and my Mac laptop stated it was done incorrectly and desingated a few files as now corrupt, just as stated above. Here’s the problem, I run a transcription business and all of my work is located on the flashdrive. If I do not have access to the templates or reports, it is problematic. Is there a way of preventing this from happening should the flashdrive accidently be jiggled out again? Or at least ensure that I can locate the files should they become corrupt and disappear…

    I have never had a problem with my PC (my little girl pulls the flashdrive out all of the time). Any help would be greatly appreciated.


    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Hi ksp,

      good question. I have also sometimes accidentally jiggled a USB device and had a warning that files *may* be corrupted.

      Quite honestly though, if this is your income-generating work and you’re relying on those files then keeping them on a thumb drive is quite a risk.

      I would really urge you to take a look at the free Dropbox service. It allows you to easily share files (privately) with yourself and provides a handy way of making sure a file you’re currently working on resides in more than one place.

      I use Dropbox myself and have done for several years. I would not be without it.

      For more info see:

      If you use a PC at work and a Mac at home Dropbox is an ideal way to always have access to your files.



  15. Gerald Dickinson said:

    The sidebar in the Finder Window does not list Magic Jack which is plugged into the USB port,
    so how can I safely eject the Magic Jack?

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      I’m not familiar with the device I’m afraid, but a quick Google search showed plenty of results discussing it and how to remove it.

  16. Linus said:

    My USB works perfectly fine, the above mentioned error occurs only when i tried connecting the usb to ubuntu (vmware fusion) visual machine. Any solution for this?

  17. Sam said:

    I always drag my hard drive to the eject button before unplugging it, but maybe it didn’t recognize it fast enough because I got the warning message pictured above. Now, every time I plug it in it just clicks at me and won’t even show up on my computer! Or if it does, it quickly tells me off and goes away and starts the clicking noise again — which only stops if I unplug it!

    It is a new hard drive so I don’t even have anything crazy important on it so if I absolutely HAVE to I’ll delete everything on it and re back-up my entire computer, I just want my hard drive to work again! Any suggestions? Thank you!

    • Richard B. said:

      Clicking noise? Coming from the drive itself, if so the drive is probably bad.

  18. Richard B. said:

    Unplugging external drive without ejecting it first:

    I did this on two occasions and each time the G-4 refused to go to sleep from then on. I had to re-install the operating system to get “sleep” back. After this happened twice I decided to test my theory. After making a “SuperDuper” back up I intentionally unplugged an external HD. Sure enough, it lost “sleep” again.

    I’ll never do that again although I no longer use the G-4.

  19. Sal said:

    So I unplugged my external hard drive from my MacBook Pro last night. Now the Mac cannot read it (message = “disk not formatted”). Worse yet, my PC cannot read it either. Question? The messages of each laptop ask if I want the machine to reformat it? Is there any danger to doing that? I have all of my iTunes music stored on my Seagate 100GB External HD. Please help, anyone.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Sal, if you reformat your drive it will WIPE all data. You will lose all your iTunes library.

      I’d suggest first trying some things like using different cables, plugging it in to different ports, restart your computer and try again.

      If none of those easy and free things do you any good then you need to seek professional help.

      You may need to pay someone to try to recover your iTunes library from the disc.

      Then I suggest you buy 2 new discs and copy your iTunes Library onto both.

  20. aaron said:

    my mac book will just not eject my flash drive and my mp3 player ( sansa fuze plus ). it keeps saying after trying too eject it, ” unable too eject disk, try quitting applications and try again. i then quit all apllications and it still says the same thing ( HELP THIS IS DRIVING ME NUTS !!!!!!!!! )

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Does this happen all the time, or just this once? If it’s just this once then log out or shut down and pull out the flash drive before you restart.

      If it’s all the time then check to see if Spotlight’s trying to index it and add it to SPotlight’s ‘don’t index’ list. See if that helps.



  21. skyhigh said:

    I was using my external hard drive earlier and was looking for older files, then suddenly the “disk was not ejected properly”….. popped up and the hard drive was instantly removed from the device in finder. Because of that the eject button was nowhere to be found.

    So how can i eject my hard drive w/o damaging my old files? do i just turn off the laptop first then i eject the hard drive?? please help me…

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      By the time the system gives that ‘not ejected properly’ message you may as well just unplug the external drive.

      This has happened to me occasionally. I think it’s caused by the connecting cable not being properly seated. It jiggles a bit and the connection breaks. Or the cable itself may be faulty.

      Make sure you have good backups of whatever’s on the external disc.

  22. Nathan said:

    Hi there, I have just recently entered the “Mac” family and as a newbie, need some help! I am learning more and more about Mac and OS X every day (although I still feel I have many more mountains to climb!!) but think that I might be missing something simple with this one. I have a 1Gb flash drive that keeps ejecting itself from my macbook pro (never a problem on my PC). So I done some research and people say that I should format it to FAT32, so I did this and I am still having the same problems. My Mac just wont let me copy anything into the flash drive – even though its clean and freshly formatted to FAT32. Is there a setting on my mac I am not selecting?? Any help would be much appreciated.. (And sorry if this isn’t the place to ask).

    Many thanks,

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Nathan. Try one of the Mac OS Extended formatting options (the first on the list is the best bet) and see if that solves it. I think (but am not sure) that FAT is more a Windows thing.

      If Extended doesn’t solve the problem then maybe the thumb drive is just faulty. Try another one.

  23. Jay said:

    Hello there,

    Since my upgrade from Tiger to Snow Leopard I need to select each partition if I want to eject a HD that has several volumes. I would LOVE to get the old way back, like in Tiger. Ejecting one partition threw out the others as well. Is there a script or so? I don’t want to have to press a button while hitting eject. Just the old fashioned easy way again. Pleeease?

  24. Cameron said:

    Free menu bar app ejector allows you to eject any disk via a pull down menu that is always visible – highly recommended. Also, of all the times I have accidentally done this I can’t recall one instance of file corruption…

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      I’ve unplugged without ejecting quite a few times. In every case it’s because I was distracted and forgot. I’m not aware of any problems from it, though one of my external drives is behaving oddly. I need to reformat it once I’m sure I’ve retrieved all the data from it.

  25. deb said:

    Being the friend who foolishly pulled the hard drive plug out of the computer before “ejecting”- I would like to say in my defence – there was no warning that this was bad for the computer or hard drive.

    I wish the makers would put a little star over the icon to warn you – or somehow prevent you from taking it out without appropriate action. …..

    finally, one foolproof way of keeping my mac and hard drive safe is to continue to let miraz manage anything but the basics.

    thanks Miraz

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