Can a USB drive be cloned?


Yes, it is possible to clone a USB drive. Cloning a USB drive means making an exact copy of the contents of one drive onto another drive. This allows you to have an identical backup or to duplicate the same files across multiple drives. There are a few different ways it can be done, using both software tools and processes built into operating systems.

Some key questions about cloning USB drives include:

– What is the benefit of cloning a USB drive? Cloning creates an identical copy which can be used for backup, transporting files between devices, or duplicating data across multiple drives.

– What risks are there? Cloning overwrites all data on the target drive, so accidental cloning could result in data loss. Malware could also be copied onto the clone drive.

– What software tools can clone drives? Common USB cloning software includes tools like Clonezilla, Macrium Reflect, Acronis True Image, and Redo Backup. Operating systems also have built-in cloning capabilities.

– What types of drives can be cloned? Cloning works between drives of equal or greater capacity, including USB flash drives, external hard drives, and internal hard drives. The cloning process makes an exact sector-by-sector copy.

Benefits of Cloning a USB Drive

There are several potential benefits to cloning a USB drive:

Creating an Identical Backup

One of the biggest reasons to clone a USB drive is to create a complete backup. The cloned drive will be identical to the original, providing redundancy. This allows data recovery in case of drive failure, accidental file deletion, or malware. The backup clone ensures the exact system state and files can be restored if needed.

Transporting Files Between Devices

Cloning a drive provides an easy way to move many files between devices. For example, the contents of a USB drive could be cloned to a larger external hard drive when more capacity is needed. Or an operating system installation on one computer could be cloned to USB and then cloned onto other machines. The portability of USB drives makes cloning a convenient transport method.

Duplicating Data Across Multiple Drives

Cloning enables easy duplication of data onto multiple drives. This could be useful for distributing files to coworkers by giving each one an identical cloned USB drive. In an office, cloning one drive onto many could be an efficient way to setup multiple computers with the same data and software configuration. Clones act as digital master copies.

Saving Time Over Individual File Copying

Manually copying the contents of one USB drive to another requires copying individual files and folders. Cloning automates the process, copying the entire drive contents all at once. For drives with large amounts of data, cloning can save significant time versus manual file copy operations.

Risks and Precautions When Cloning USB Drives

While cloning a USB drive can be very useful, there are also some risks to be aware of:

Overwriting Target Drive Data

When a drive is cloned to, all existing data on the receiving drive will be overwritten and permanently deleted. So cloning to the wrong target drive could unintentionally erase wanted files. Precautions should be taken to avoid accidentally selecting the wrong target drive and losing data.

Propagating Malware

If the original USB drive is infected with malware, cloning will also transfer that malware to the cloned drive. Any harmful software or viruses will be faithfully copied. So cloning from an already infected drive can spread malware. The original should be scanned beforehand.

Cloning Errors Resulting in Data Loss

The cloning process itself could go wrong and cause data corruption or loss. For example, a power failure during cloning could result in an invalid half-copied drive. Using reliable software and hardware reduces this risk. But there is still a small chance of physical data errors.

Booting Issues After Cloning System Drives

System drives containing an operating system sometimes fail to boot properly after cloning due to configuration differences or cloning errors. Additional steps may be needed after cloning system drives to get them to boot correctly. This is an advanced scenario.

Legality of Clone Content

If cloning drives that contain copyrighted or illegal material, you should ensure you have ownership or rights to that content before propagating it through cloning. Even inadvertent piracy or privacy violations could be unlawful. You bear responsibility for clones.

Software Tools to Clone USB Drives

There are a variety of software tools available to clone USB drives:


Clonezilla is a very popular free, open source cloning program that runs from a bootable CD/USB. It can clone drives or partitions on a wide range of file systems. Clonezilla saves and restores images as files for flexible cloning. It supports multicasting to clone multiple drives simultaneously.

Macrium Reflect

Macrium Reflect is cloning software for Windows, with a free option and paid upgraded versions. It makes exact drive copies easily selectable via a GUI. Scheduling, incremental cloning, and disk imaging are additional features. Supported file systems include NTFS, FAT, HFS+ and ext2/3/4.

Acronis True Image

The disk cloning capabilities of Acronis True Image are part of a comprehensive backup suite. It offers enhanced verification of clones and can resize partitions to fit the target drive capacity. The modern interface guides users through selecting source and destination drives.

Redo Backup

Redo Backup is a free, fast cloning app for Windows and Mac. It has the ability to take system and data drive snapshots for cloning. Physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-physical drive cloning can be performed as well. Redo supports scheduled backups.

Operating System Native Tools

Operating systems like Windows, macOS and Linux have built-in drive cloning capabilities via their command line interfaces. For example, Disk Utility can clone drives on Mac and the dd command works on Linux. PowerShell and other Windows tools can copy drives.

Software Supported OS Key Features
Clonezilla Linux, Mac, Windows Open source, boots from CD/USB, saves images of drives
Macrium Reflect Windows Free and paid versions, easy GUI, incremental cloning
Acronis True Image Windows, Mac Verification, resize partitions, comprehensive backup
Redo Backup Windows, Mac Fast, snapshots, physical-to-virtual cloning

Types of Drives That Can Be Cloned

USB drives come in many shapes and sizes. But the cloning process works in fundamentally the same way for all these drive types:

USB Flash Drives

Small USB flash drives, also known as thumb drives, use flash memory chips for storage. They connect via standard USB ports. Common capacities range from 1GB to 256GB. Larger flash drives can hold more data but clone just as easily.

External Hard Drives

External portable hard disk drives connect via USB and typically offer 500GB to 10TB of storage or more. The data on these larger capacity portable drives can be cloned like any other drive. Just be aware the clone time is proportional to capacity.

Internal Hard Drives

Internal hard drives from desktops and laptops can be cloned by removing them and connecting them externally via USB, or by cloning them directly within the computer they are installed in. This includes 2.5″ laptop drives and 3.5″ desktop drives.

Operating System Drives

The primary drive containing the operating system, whether its a USB drive, external drive, or internal drive, can be cloned. Special care may be needed when booting from the clone, but the cloning operation itself works the same.

Virtual Machine Drives

Drives attached to virtual machines, often in the VMDK or VHD format, act just like physical drives. They can be cloned by making an image backup from the running VM or directly through the virtualization platform.

Drive Type Description
USB Flash Drive Small thumb drive, capacities from 1GB to 256GB
External Hard Drive Portable drive connected by USB, 500GB to 10TB+ capacity
Internal Hard Drive 2.5″ or 3.5″ drive inside a computer or enclosure
OS Drive Primary drive with operating system installed
Virtual Machine Drive Emulated drive attached to a virtual machine

Cloning vs. Imaging a USB Drive

While cloning and imaging a USB drive are related concepts, there are some key differences:


Cloning copies all data sector-by-sector directly from one drive to another. This duplicates the exact structure and contents of the original drive onto the clone drive. Cloning writes the data to the clone drive immediately.


Imaging backs up data from a drive and saves it as a single compressed file archive called an image. The image can be stored elsewhere then restored to a drive to construct a clone from the image. Imaging does not directly copy to the clone drive.

Key Differences

– Cloning copies data directly drive to drive, imaging saves data as an intermediate file.

– Images can be compressed for smaller storage, clones are uncompressed.

– Clones can be booted instantly, images require restoration before booting.

– File-level access requires imaging, cloning duplicates the full drive structure.

– Imaging allows easy repeats from the image file, cloning copies fresh each time.

Either cloning or imaging can be suitable choices for backing up and duplicating USB drive contents. The needs of a specific use case determine which method makes more sense.

Step-by-Step Guide to Clone a USB Drive

Cloning a USB drive only takes a few steps:

Step 1: Select the Source Drive

First, insert the USB drive you want to clone from into your computer. This is the source drive that contains the files you want to copy. Be very careful to choose the correct source drive to avoid erasing anything accidentally.

Step 2: Select the Destination Drive

Next, insert the target USB drive that you want to clone to. Make absolutely sure this is the correct drive, as its contents will be overwritten. The destination drive should be the same size or larger than the source drive.

Step 3: Install Cloning Software

Install and launch your cloning software of choice, such as the free options Clonezilla or Macrium Reflect Free. Pick a reliable, well-known cloning utility for best results.

Step 4: Run the Cloning Process

In your cloning software, select the source drive and destination drive. Then start the cloning procedure. The software will copy all data from the source to the destination drive.

Step 5: Verify the Clone

Once cloning is complete, browse the files on the destination drive to verify everything copied over properly. Check that the capacity matches and spot check some file contents.

Step 6: Use the Cloned Drive

Finally, eject the source drive and use the cloned drive just like the original. Enjoy having an identical copy of your USB drive!

Cloning a drive is as straightforward as picking a source, picking a destination, and running the clone tool. But care should be taken in Steps 1 and 2 to avoid any accidental data loss.


In summary, USB drive cloning is a simple and useful technique to create identical backups or duplicates. Cloning can save time versus manually copying files and makes transporting data between devices easier.

Common open source tools like Clonezilla provide an easy way to clone on Windows, Mac, and Linux. And operating systems have built-in command line cloning capabilities as well. Any type of drive, including flash drives, external drives, and virtual machine drives can be cloned.

While cloning is powerful, precautions should be taken to not overwrite important data and to check clones for errors or malware. Used properly, drive cloning gives a convenient way to backup, copy, and distribute data through quickly duplicating full USB drives.