Floppy disk

Updated: 10/30/2017 by Computer Hope
Clear 3.5" floppy diskette

Alternatively referred to as a floppy or floppy disk, a floppy diskette is a type of storage media, capable of storing electronic data, like a computer file. The floppy diskette was first created in 1967 by IBM as an alternative to buying hard drives, which were extremely expensive at the time.

The picture shown on this page is an example of a 3.5" floppy diskette, which was one of the most commonly used floppy diskettes, capable of storing 1.44 MB of data.

How were floppy disks used?

Early computers did not have CD-ROM drives or USB, and floppy disks were the only way to install a new program onto a computer or backup your information. If the program was small (less than 1.44 MB for the 3.5" floppy disk) the program could be installed from one floppy disk. However, since most programs were larger than 1.44 MB, most programs required multiple floppy diskettes. For example, the diskette version of Windows 95 came on 13 DMF diskettes and had to be installed one disk at a time.

Are floppy diskettes still used today?

There are still a few diehards who are still using floppy diskettes, some governments still even use 8" floppy diskettes. However, since the early 2000s computers began no longer shipping with floppy disk drives as users moved to CD-R and Zip drives to store their information. All the latest versions of Microsoft Windows also no longer have support for internal floppy drives.

How does a floppy disk store data?

A floppy disk is a magnetic media and stores and reads data on the floppy disk using a read head. When a 3.5" floppy diskette is inserted into the drive, the metal slide door is opened and exposes the magnetic disk in the floppy diskette. The read/write head uses a magnetic polarity of 0 or 1. Reading this as binary data, the computer can understand what the data is on the platter. For the computer to write information to the platter, the read/write head aligns the magnetic polarities, writing 0's and 1's that can be read later.

Magnetic media hard drive head

The history of the floppy disk and drive

Below is a brief history of each of three major floppy diskettes.

8" floppy disk

The first disk was introduced in 1971. The disk was 8" in diameter with a magnetic coating, enclosed in a cardboard case with the capacity of one megabyte. Conversely to hard drives, the heads touched the disk, like in a cassette or video player that wears the media down over time.

5.25" floppy disk

First started development in 1976 and later became a standard in 1978, these disks were first released with only 160 KB of disk space. These diskettes were commonly used in 1980s and began stop being used in the early 1990s. See our 5.25" floppy diskette definition for further information, pictures, and related links.

3.5" floppy disk

Created by IBM in 1984, these diskettes were first introduced with a total capacity of 720 KB. The 1.44 MB floppy diskettes were used widely in the 1990s and were seldom found or used by 2000. See our 3.5" floppy diskette definition for further information, pictures, and related links.

Floppy cable, Floppy disk drive, Floppy drive terms, Hardware terms