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A volume name is a descriptive name that you assign to disk. Some utilities require that you enter it before they'll do something risky or destructive.

I have an external drive (FAT) that's been on the shelf, new in the box, for a couple of years. I wanted to start using it but I wanted to convert to NTFS before anything was put on it. I tried your steps but the first thing I was asked, was to type in the volume name. What's that?

The volume name, or "label", is a name you can assign to each drive on your system. The conversion (and some other utilities) will ask you for it as a way to confirm that you're really asking them to operate on the drive you think you are.

We'll look at how to see, and set, the volume name on your drives.

Fire up Windows Explorer with the Windows Key + E (or right click on My Computer and click Explore). On my Vista laptop that gets me, in part, this:

Windows Explorer showing Volume Names

"A volume name or label isn't strictly required in most cases, but I find it helpful ..."

My computer name is LEOPRIME, but the label or volume name of my C: drive is also "LEOPRIME", which I've highlighted in the two places it's displayed in Explorer. (Windows XP is similar.) You can also see that my D: drive has a volume name of "RECOVERY" (placed there by Dell), and that my E: drive is "LEOPRIME-DATA".

These are the names you would type in for the drive corresponding to the one you are attempting to convert.

To change the volume name, just right click on it, and click on Rename.

In some cases, drives, particularly new ones, often don't come with a volume name, and yet the utility you're running might still require that you enter one. The solution is simple: create one (using those same rename steps), and then you're good to go.

The "Volume Name" is also known as the "Label". Label is in fact the utility that's used from the Windows command line to set or change a Volume Name.

Labels are also instantly visible in the Windows Command Shell. Just fire one up (typically in Start, All Programs, Accessories), and then type in "DIR" followed by Enter to get a directory listing:

[E:\]dir
Volume in drive E is LEOPRIME-DATA
Volume Serial Number is FE04-319E

Directory of E:\
...

There you can see that while on my E: drive, a directory listing starts by displaying the volume name of the drive.

You can also view, change or remove the volume name using the label command:

[E:\]label
Volume in drive E: is LEOPRIME-DATA
Volume Serial Number is FE04-319E
Volume label (32 characters, ENTER for none)?

A volume name or label isn't strictly required in most cases, but I find it helpful to keep track of what disk I'm really working on, particularly with multiple machines and multiple drives.

And as you've seen, some utilities use it as a way to double check you really mean what you've said.

Article C3588 - December 11, 2008 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
David
December 16, 2008 12:56 PM

Funnily enough, I`d only just realised that a recently-bought Western Digital 640 gigs external drive I have been using was pre-formatted to FAT32 (why?). It only came to light when I used a lightweight fast desktop search program (instead of Google Desktop Search)called "Everything". (See: http://www.voidtools.com) which wasn't finding stuff on that drive, as the program only works with NTFS.
I tried to convert the drive to NTFS, using the command-line but kept getting a warning message that the disc was in use, despite closing everything in sight, so I took the offer for it to be done on next boot-up, but on next re-start, I got another message that the file system could not be recognised on that drive! Hmmm. However, I tried it in safe mode and it worked fine. It didn't take too long, either, just a matter of minutes. No data loss, although Microsoft do say the risk is minimal (http://support.microsoft.com/kb/307881). I have two back-ups anyway, so I wasn't too concerned if it went wrong.

Ron N.
December 17, 2008 3:52 AM

They are in FAT32 for compatibility with older OSs, Macs, and Linux. Also, all flash drives and camera cards are in FAT.

It is still a fine format dispite what you hear. It is highly reliable, but can't handle extremely large files. Another nice thing is that ntfs uses a lot of space for the mbr, and other overhead. FAT avoids that. Just a thought.

Packrat1947

Adrian Reedy
January 3, 2009 11:16 AM

Quote from the article:

"You can also see that my D: drive has a volume name of "RECOVERY" (placed there by Dell)"

How'd this come about? I've never seen a recovery volume with an assigned drive letter. I just assumed they were always on a hidden partition at the beginning of the drive. That's all I've ever seen on Dell and HP machines.

I was surprised as well, but it came that way and I just left it. I do hear from others who see similar.
- Leo
04-Jan-2009

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