Linux Mint – Utilizing Storage and Media

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So far in our adventure, we have learned the basics of how to install and configure a Linux Mint system. We have looked at the best practices for installation, how to use the Cinnamon user interface, as well as how to execute commands in a Linux shell. However, we are yet to cover how Mint handles storage. With cloud-based storage becoming more and more accessible to all users (even beginners), removable media such as flash drives and external hard drives are not used as often as they used to be. However, removable media is still an important subject today, and it is important to know about managing internal storage as well.

Linux Mint offers custom tools for managing removable storage. For example, there is a tool for analyzing exactly where your used disk space is being heavily utilized, burning optical media, formatting USB flash drives, and even a tool for writing Linux ISO images to flash drives so that you can boot from them.

In this chapter, we will discuss the following topics:

  • Accessing removable media
  • Formating flash drives
  • Mounting and unmounting volumes
  • Automatically mounting volumes at boot time
  • Analyzing disk usage
  • Gibibytes versus gigabytes, and mebibytes versus megabytes
  • Burning CDs and DVDs
  • USB Image Writer
  • Universally Unique Identifiers

Accessing removable media

As mentioned earlier in the tutorial, the lack of drive lettering is one of the most difficult thought habits for Windows users to leave behind in the Linux world. In Windows, drive letters are ingrained into the culture. A typical Windows user may associate the A drive with floppy disks, the C drive with local OS storage, and the D drive with optical media. Flash drives are typically given the first available drive letter when inserted. A user would open My Computer (or more recently, simply Computer), and the flash drive or optical media will be listed there for access.

In Linux, removable media is handled very differently from the Windows platform. The insertion and access of removable media in Linux is mostly the same as Windows. Once a flash drive or optical media is inserted, the user is either shown the contents straight away or given a prompt to allow the individual to choose what he or she would like to do as a result of inserting the media. In most cases, once the removable media is inserted, an icon for it will appear right on the desktop as My Computer is not a typical inclusion in Linux.

Note

Although each desktop environment (Cinnamon, GNOME, KDE, Xfce, and others) contains a largely different user experience, removable media is typically handled very similarly on each one. If you insert a flash drive into your computer, most environments will either create an icon for it on your desktop, in the notification area, in the file browser, or in all the three locations.

If all that you would like to do is access the contents of removable media (such as a flash drive) to save or read files, there’s nothing more you would need to know. In the case of Cinnamon, an icon for your flash drive would appear on the desktop, so all you would have to do is double-click on the icon, and the contents of the drive would appear in Nemo for you to peruse. When you’re finished and wish to remove the flash drive, you would click the Eject icon in Nemo next to the drive to safely disconnect it from the filesystem. Although accessing flash drives is fairly straightforward, more advanced concepts come into play when you wish to perform tasks such as reformatting or repartitioning a drive.

Right out of the box, flash drives work fine in most Linux distributions. Flash drives are typically preformatted from the factory with the FAT filesystem (in some cases, exFAT for larger flash drives), and most Linux distributions are able to utilize them as they are without any trickery or hackery. However, it’s important to understand that the FAT filesystems are a proprietary of Microsoft, and no Linux distro is required to recognize proprietary formats. While most do recognize them, you may run into a situation where you’re using a distribution that doesn’t. In the case of Mint, there’s nothing you need to do to add support for these devices. You’re good to go, as all the tools you need are included right from the beginning.

As not all Linux distributions are able to access FAT-formatted devices, formatting flash drives in a format that Linux inherently understands (such as EXT2 and EXT3) may be beneficial. This may become an issue if you’re using a flash drive in more than one environment as not all platforms recognize Linux formats either. So, which filesystems should you use on your flash drives? The basic rule of thumb is if you have a mixed environment (Windows, Mac, Linux, and so on), you can leave the flash drives formatted as FAT. If you use only Linux, you may consider changing the filesystem to EXT3 for greater compatibility.

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