Slashdot Asks: Do You Need To Properly Eject a USB Drive Before Yanking it Out?

In a story earlier this week, Popular Science magazine explored an age-old topic: Do people need to safely eject a USB stick before they pull it from their computer? The magazine’s take on it — which is, as soon any ongoing transfer of files is complete, it is safe to yank out the flash drive — has unsurprisingly stirred a debate. Here’s what the magazine wrote: But do you really need to eject a thumb drive the right way? Probably not. Just wait for it to finish copying your data, give it a few seconds, then yank. To be on the cautious side, be more conservative with external hard drives, especially the old ones that actually spin. That’s not the official procedure, nor the most conservative approach. And in a worst-case scenario, you risk corrupting a file or — even more unlikely — the entire storage device. To justify its rationale, the magazine has cited a number of computer science professors. In the same story, however, a director of product marketing at SanDisk made a case for why people should probably safely eject the device. He said, “Failure to safely eject the drive may potentially damage the data due to processes happening in the system background that are unseen to the user.”

John Gruber of DaringFireball (where we originally spotted the story), makes a case for why users should safely eject the device before pulling it out: This is terrible advice. It’s akin to saying you probably don’t need to wear a seat belt because it’s unlikely anything bad will happen. Imagine a few dozen people saying they drive without a seat belt every day and nothing’s ever gone wrong, so it must be OK. (The breakdown in this analogy is that with seat belts, you know instantly when you need to be wearing one. With USB drives, you might not discover for months or years that you’ve got a corrupt file that was only partially written to disk when you yanked the drive.)

I see a bunch of “just pull out the drive and not worry about it” Mac users on Twitter celebrating this article, and I don’t get it. On the Mac you have to do something on screen when you eject a drive. Either you properly eject it before unplugging the drive — one click in the Finder sidebar — or you need to dismiss the alert you’ll get about having removed a drive that wasn’t properly ejected. Why not take the course of action that guarantees data integrity? What are your thoughts on this? Do you think the answer varies across different file systems and operating systems?