Why is my USB not showing my files?

There are a few common reasons why your USB drive may not be showing files when plugged into your computer:

The USB Drive is Corrupted

One of the most common reasons a USB drive will suddenly stop showing files is because it has become corrupted. Corruption can occur for a number of reasons:

  • Improperly ejecting the USB drive before unplugging it
  • A virus or malware infection on the drive
  • Physical damage to the drive from dropping or liquids
  • Power failure or unexpected computer shutdown while the drive is in use

Corruption often damages the file system or partition table of the drive which prevents the operating system from recognizing files properly. You may see the drive show up but with little to no usable space available.

How to Fix a Corrupted USB Drive

If the corruption is minor, you may be able to repair the drive and regain access to files using Windows built-in chkdsk utility. To do this:

  1. Open File Explorer and locate the corrupted USB drive
  2. Right click the drive and choose Properties
  3. Click the Tools tab > Check button to launch chkdsk
  4. Tick “Automatically fix file system errors” and click Start

This will scan the drive and attempt to repair logical file system errors. If the damage is severe however, third party data recovery software or professional recovery services may be required.

Drive is Unallocated or Uninitialized

Another common reason a USB appears empty or cannot be accessed is because it has become unallocated or uninitialized. This means the drive does not contain a working file system for organizing data.

This can happen if:

  • The drive was never partitioned and formatted properly
  • The partition table or master boot record was erased or damaged
  • A partition on the drive was deleted accidentally

In disk management, the drive may show up as an “Unallocated” space without a drive letter assignment.

How to Fix an Unallocated USB Drive

To fix an unallocated USB drive in Windows:

  1. Open Disk Management (press Windows Key + R and type “diskmgmt.msc”)
  2. Right click the unallocated space and choose New Simple Volume
  3. Follow the prompts to initialize the drive and format it with a new NTFS partition
  4. Assign a drive letter when prompted

This will create a new partition and file system so your files can be read and stored properly again.

Drive Letter Conflict

If your USB drive shows up in File Explorer but appears empty, the issue may be a drive letter conflict. This happens when two disk volumes are mistakenly assigned the same drive letter.

Common causes include:

  • Connecting a new USB drive that is assigned the same letter as an existing volume
  • Changing the drive letters of internal disks which reassigns the USB drive
  • Using the USB drive in multiple computers with different drive letters

This causes Windows to mount the first volume it sees and hide the second. The files will still be present but will not be accessible due to the duplicate drive letter.

How to Change the Drive Letter in Windows

To resolve a drive letter conflict:

  1. Open Disk Management
  2. Right click on the USB drive and choose Change Drive Letter and Path
  3. Click Change and assign a new unused drive letter
  4. Click OK to save changes

This will mount the USB drive under the new letter and make the files accessible again.

Hidden Files and Folders

Another simple possibility is that all files and folders on the USB drive have been hidden. When hidden, they will not be visible in File Explorer unless the option to show hidden files is enabled.

Files and folders can become hidden by:

  • Accidentally marking them as Hidden in File Properties
  • A script or program that hid folders to prevent accidental deletion
  • Syncing folders from a system that had hidden operating system files
  • Saving files directly from a program that hides temp files on a USB drive

How to View Hidden Files in Windows

To make hidden files and folders visible on a USB drive:

  1. Open File Explorer and select the View tab
  2. Tick the Hidden items checkbox
  3. Any hidden files/folders on the drive will now become visible

You can then access and unhide them as needed by right clicking and changing the properties.

Drive Failure or Mounting Issues

If there are still no files showing on the USB drive after trying the above steps, the drive itself may be having a hardware failure or mounting problem.

Signs of a failed or malfunctioning USB drive include:

  • Loud clicking or beeping noises
  • Very slow response when plugged in
  • Not showing up at all in File Explorer
  • Getting detected but not showing correct size
  • Feeling excessively hot when plugged in

This is usually caused by either a logical controller failure or the physical storage media being damaged. For flash drives, this can happen after a certain number of read/write cycles as the memory wears out.

How to Test and Fix USB Drive Problems

To troubleshoot a USB drive that is having issues mounting or being detected properly:

  1. Try plugging into a different USB port and computer
  2. Check for errors in Disk Management and run chkdsk
  3. Update USB and chipset drivers for your system
  4. Try a different high quality USB cable if connection seems loose
  5. Scan for and remove any malware such as viruses or trojans
  6. Use manufacturer tools to test the drive hardware
  7. If necessary, contact a data recovery pro for physical issues

If the drive has failed completely, your only option may be to replace it or have a specialist attempt recovering the data.

Faulty USB Port or Cable

Before assuming the USB drive itself is faulty, be sure to also try different cables and ports on your computer. Bad connections can sometimes mimic drive failures.

Things to check:

  • Test the drive on another computer if available
  • Try different USB ports on your system
  • Inspect cables for damage and try a new high quality cable
  • Check for debris, moisture or damage in USB ports
  • Connect other devices to isolate the issue
  • Update USB and chipset drivers if issues persist

Damaged ports or cables are much simpler to replace than a failed drive. Some easy first troubleshooting steps can help identify any connectivity problems causing USB files not to show.

Incorrect File System

If another computer shows your drive files properly, the issue may be an incompatible or incorrect file system defining how data is organized on it.

For example, Windows can only read drives formatted with specific file systems like:

  • FAT32 – for smaller USB drives
  • exFAT – for larger flash drive sizes
  • NTFS – optimized for external hard drives

Trying to access a drive formatted with Linux, macOS or other unsupported file systems can make it appear blank in Windows no matter the actual files present.

How to Check and Fix USB File System Issues

To check the file system and reformat an incompatible USB drive:

  1. Open Windows Disk Management utility
  2. Right click the problem USB drive and select Properties
  3. Check the File System type listed
  4. Backup files and reformat the drive if needed

This will setup the proper FAT, exFAT or NTFS file system so your USB drive contents display correctly in Windows.

Drive is Encrypted

Some USB drives offer hardware encryption that requires software and/or a password to access the files. This enables important data to be protected from unauthorized access if the drive is ever lost or stolen.

Symptoms include:

  • Seeing a manageable but empty/near zero size drive
  • Notices about providing a decryption key
  • Needing to install proprietary software to open the drive
  • Associated encryption utility software on the USB itself

The files are still present but encrypted and inaccessible until unlocked with the correct encryption key or password.

Accessing an Encrypted USB Drive

To use an encrypted USB drive, you’ll need to:

  1. Locate any required encryption software on the drive
  2. Install and launch the encryption utility
  3. Follow prompts to enter the password or import keys
  4. Unlock the drive to access files normally

This will decrypt the USB drive contents allowing you to see the files again through File Explorer and related programs.

Drive Contains Non-Desktop Files

Some USB drives are used to store files not typically accessed on a desktop OS like Windows. For example:

  • RAW camera files
  • Disk images
  • Linux installation files
  • Android APK app packages
  • Console game ROMs
  • System recovery backups

While the files are present and the drive has available space, these types of non-desktop files often don’t display properly in File Explorer. The correct apps or tools are required to open them.

How to View Special USB Drive Files on Windows

If you need to access non-standard files from a USB drive, try the following:

  • Open them on a device like the camera, mobile phone, or console they are meant for
  • Install any required apps for the file types such as photo software or emulators
  • Convert files to a Windows-compatible format if possible
  • Use FTK Imager to browse image contents as a forensic image
  • Boot a Live Linux environment capable of reading the files from the USB

This will enable access to special USB drive files that Windows itself can’t open natively.

Drive Needs to be Initialized

For a brand new external hard drive that is not showing files, the solution may be as simple as initializing the disk:

  1. Open Disk Management
  2. Find the new drive and right click it
  3. Choose Initialize Disk and select a partition table like GPT or MBR
  4. Right click the volume space and create a new simple volume
  5. Go through the wizard formatting and assigning a drive letter

This will take an empty raw disk and prepare it for file storage so it will then appear properly in Windows File Explorer.

Using Utilities to Investigate

When troubleshooting a USB drive not showing files as expected, some handy utilities to try are:

Disk Management

Disk Management is built into Windows and provides low level tools to view disk partitions, volumes, change drive letters, format drives, and attempt data recovery.


DiskPart is a powerful command line disk management utility, allowing you to thoroughly investigate drive properties and errors through scripts.


Chkdsk scans an entire drive to find and repair logical file system errors and corruption that could cause missing files.

SFC Scannow

SFC Scannow is a system file checker that scans Windows system files and can replace corrupted files which sometimes affect drives.

Data Recovery Software

When files have been accidentally deleted or a drive has failed, data recovery software seeks to restore lost files by scanning the raw disk contents.

Prevention Tips

You can help prevent many common USB file problems by:

  • Always safely eject the drive before unplugging it
  • Have an active antivirus to protect against malware
  • Store and handle the drive carefully to prevent physical damage
  • Avoid forcibly removing flash drives during writes
  • Plug drives directly instead of through hubs when possible
  • Use high quality brand name USB drives from reliable retailers

Following drive maintenance best practices helps minimize file system corruption and physical faults over time.

When to Seek Professional Data Recovery

If DIY troubleshooting does not restore access to your important files, a professional data recovery service may be required. They have specialized tools and clean room facilities to physically repair drives and extract data.

Look for recovery experts if the drive has failed due to:

  • Physical damage from being dropped, water, fire, etc
  • Electronics malfunction or burned out components
  • Incorrectly supplying power resulting in firmware corruption
  • Exceeding the maximum read/write cycles of USB flash memory

Avoid further use of the drive to prevent overwriting data. Reputable recovery firms offer free evaluations to determine feasibility and cost of retrieving your files.


A USB drive not showing files can be caused by everything from simple connection issues to major hardware failure. Working through potential file system errors, drive problems, malware, and initialization can help successfully view contents again.

For severe physical damage that prevents a drive from functioning, professional data recovery services may be able to extract data by directly working with the storage media. Backup your important files regularly to avoid needing extensive file recovery.