What Is the Purpose of a USB Flash Drive?

By Filonia LeChat

Store many files in a small device.
i Jeffrey Hamilton/Digital Vision/Getty Images

The long-term slogan of “good things come in small packages” is an applicable motto for USB drives, the small portable storage devices that slip into specially fit ports on your computer. Also known as flash drives, USB sticks and thumb drives, the USB flash drive may be one of your smallest computer peripherals but offers assistance in big ways. Find the true meaning of plug and play, or just plug and go, when you add USB drives to your day-to-day computer tasks.


The main purpose of a flash drive is to provide storage. The physical size of the drive is not related to its storage capacity. USB flash drives hold a variety of amounts of data, such as 2GB or more. USB drives are an external way to organize files, instead of taking up valuable storage space on your computer. Delegate one drive for an archive of family vacation photos, for example, and another to keep written documents secure. When choosing a USB drive, consider what you’ll be saving onto it. An entire program, game or executable file will require more storage space than a single word processing document or graphic.

File Transfer

Hard and floppy disks have become relics of the past, but one purpose they served well was file transfer. In the past, you loaded something, such as a document you wanted someone to review and approve, onto the disk and passed it on. While it’s now possible to simply email files, some are too large or may be a security risk to send over the Web. With a flash drive, you can transfer files quickly and easily. Whether you simply load the files onto the flash drive and personally hand it to someone else or you mail it, the flash drive offers an additional benefit: You can delete its contents and reuse it over and over again, something that couldn’t be done when transferring files by most CDs. Using flash drives to transfer files can also lighten your load when traveling, saving room in that briefcase or computer bag for other necessities.

Space Saver

USB drives are space savers when you use them to hold files previously stored on your computer, but they also can declutter some of your desk space as well. Smaller and more compact than an external hard drive, USB drives got their “thumb drive” nickname because they take on the actual size of a thumb. You’ll be able to fit far more USB drives in a desk drawer than you would hard drives or other rewritable storage devices. Their portability also saves space when you’d like to go hands-free -- just slip one in your pocket and you’ll be ready to have access to your files at your fingertips.

Customization and Flair

The data you store on a USB drive may break down into its most basic form of zeros and ones, but the USB drive itself offers you a way to express yourself with a bit of flair and creativity. While generically cased USB drives exist, you can also choose from ones sporting designs of your favorite athletic team, cartoon character and celebrity. Limited-edition collectible USB drives exist, and custom-crafted ones are often handed out at trade shows and as giveaways for special events. Find a bling-encrusted or leopard-patterned USB drive that lets you tote your files in style.