Skip to main content

The Importance of Unmounting in Linux: Understanding Buffering and Swap

Linux, and UNIX-like systems in general, provide a robust and complex system for handling storage devices. A critical aspect of this system is the practice of unmounting storage devices. This article delves deep into why unmounting is crucial, introduces the concept of buffering, and touches on the role of swap.

Unmounting is like ejecting a device from an operating system just like we see on Windows.

1. Why is Unmounting Essential?

When you're done using a storage device (like a USB drive or external hard disk), it's tempting to just pull it out. However, doing so can be dangerous and might result in data loss or corruption. Here's why:

  • Pending Write Operations: At any given moment, there might still be data waiting to be written to the device. Yanking it out means this data won't get written.

  • File System Integrity: Removing a device without unmounting can leave its file system in an inconsistent state, which could make some data inaccessible or, in the worst cases, render the entire device unreadable.

2. Buffering: A Brief Overview

Buffering is a technique where data is temporarily held in a 'buffer' (a region in RAM) before being written to the storage device.

Why Was Buffering Introduced in UNIX-like Systems?

  • Performance: Writing data to RAM is much faster than writing it to a disk. By using a buffer, the system can continue its operations without waiting for the slower disk write process to finish.

  • Efficiency: Small writes can be grouped together in the buffer and then written to the disk in a single, larger operation. This reduces the number of writes and increases the lifespan of storage devices, especially SSDs.

3. How Unmounting Helps with Buffering

Unmounting a device ensures that any data still in the buffer gets written to the device before it's disconnected. This process is sometimes referred to as ' flushing' the buffer. When you unmount a device, you're essentially telling the system: "Make sure all buffered data for this device is written out and that no more writes are pending."

4. The free Command: A Glimpse into Memory Usage

The free command in Linux provides information about the system's RAM usage, including physical memory, swap, and buffers.

Sample output:

              total        used        free      shared  buff/cache   available
Mem: 8046872 1465728 4082412 207360 2498732 6115132
Swap: 2097148 0 2097148
  • Mem: Refers to physical RAM.

    • total: Total RAM installed.
    • used: RAM currently in use.
    • free: RAM that's currently free.
    • shared: RAM shared by multiple processes.
    • buff/cache: Memory used by buffers (as discussed above) and cache.
    • available: Estimate of how much memory is available for starting new applications, without swapping.
  • Swap: A space on your storage device that acts as a 'backup' for RAM. When your RAM is full, the system can 'swap out' some data from RAM to this space, making room for new data in RAM.

    • total: Total swap space.
    • used: Swap space currently in use.
    • free: Free swap space.

5. Understanding Swap

Swap is essentially a reserved space on your hard drive or SSD that the system uses as an overflow for RAM. When physical memory (RAM) fills up, the system can "swap" less frequently accessed data to this disk space to make room for new data in RAM.

While swap is a helpful feature, especially for systems with limited RAM, it's slower than RAM. Relying heavily on swap can degrade system performance, as disk operations are much slower than memory operations. Hence, it's always a good idea to monitor swap usage and ensure the system isn't swapping excessively.


Unmounting storage devices is a crucial practice to ensure data integrity and longevity of the devices. Buffering, a feature inherent to UNIX-like systems, optimizes performance but also necessitates the importance of proper unmounting procedures. Furthermore, understanding memory usage, as presented by tools like free, and the concept of swap, aids users in optimizing and ensuring smooth system operation.

What Can You Do Next 🙏😊

If you liked the article, consider subscribing to Cloudaffle, my YouTube Channel, where I keep posting in-depth tutorials and all edutainment stuff for software developers.

YouTube @cloudaffle