Linux fdisk command

Updated: 11/30/2020 by Computer Hope
fdisk command

fdisk is a command-line partition table editor for Linux. It can create, destroy, and modify disk partitions.


fdisk is a menu-driven program for creation and manipulation of partition tables. It understands DOS-type partition tables and BSD-type or SUN-type disklabels.

fdisk does not understand GPTs (GUID partition tables) and it is not designed for large partitions. In these cases, use the more advanced GNU parted.

fdisk does not use DOS-compatible mode and cylinders as display units by default. The old deprecated DOS behavior can be enabled with the '-c=dos -u=cylinders' command-line options.

Hard disks can be divided into one or more logical disks called partitions. This division is recorded in the partition table, found in sector 0 of the disk. In the BSD world, one talks about 'disk slices' and a 'disklabel'.

Linux needs at least one partition, specifically for its root file system. It can use swap files and/or swap partitions, but the latter are more efficient. So, usually one wants a second Linux partition dedicated as swap partition. On Intel-compatible hardware, the BIOS that boots the system can often only access the first 1024 cylinders of the disk. For this reason, people with large disks often create a third partition, a few MB large, often mounted on /boot, to store the kernel image and a few auxiliary files needed at boot time, so as to make sure that this stuff is accessible to the BIOS. There may be reasons of security, ease of administration and backup, or testing, to use more than the minimum number of partitions.


fdisk [-uc] [-b sectorsize] [-C cyls] [-H heads] [-S sects] device
fdisk -l [-u] [device...]
fdisk -s partition...
fdisk -v
fdisk -h


-b sectorsize Specify the sector size of the disk. Valid values are 512, 1024, 2048 or 4096. Recent kernels know the sector size. Use this only on old kernels or to override the kernel's ideas. Since util-linux-2.17, fdisk differentiates between logical and physical sector size. This option changes both sector sizes to sectorsize.
-c[=mode] Specify the compatibility mode, 'dos' or 'nondos'. The default is non-DOS mode. For backward compatibility, it is possible to use the option without the mode argument; in that case, the default is used. Note that the optional mode argument cannot be separated from the -c option by a space; for example, the correct form is '-c=dos'.
-C cyls Specify the number of cylinders of the disk. This would be a very strange thing to want to do, but if so desired, this option gets it done.
-H heads Specify the number of heads of the disk. Not the physical number, but the number used for partition tables. Reasonable values are 255 and 16.
-S sects Specify the number of sectors per track of the disk. Not the physical number, but the number used for partition tables. A reasonable value is 63.
-h Print help and then exit.
-l List the partition tables for the specified devices and then exit. If no devices are given, those mentioned in /proc/partitions (if that exists) are used.
-u[=unit] When listing partition tables, show sizes in 'sectors' or in 'cylinders'. The default is to show sizes in sectors. For backward compatibility, the default is used if the units argument is omitted. Note that the optional unit argument cannot be separated from the -u option by a space; for example, the correct form is '-u=cylinders'.
-v Print version information, and exit.


The device is usually /dev/sda, /dev/sdb, etc. A device name refers to the entire disk. Old systems without libata (a library used inside the Linux kernel to support ATA host controllers and devices) make a difference between IDE and SCSI disks. In such cases, the device name is /dev/hd* (IDE) or /dev/sd* (SCSI).

The partition is a device name followed by a partition number. For example, /dev/sda1 is the first partition on the first hard disk in the system.

Disk labels

A BSD/SUN-type disklabel can describe 8 partitions, the third being a "whole disk" partition. Do not start a partition that actually uses its first sector (like a swap partition) at cylinder 0, as that destroys the disklabel.

An IRIX/SGI-type disklabel can describe 16 partitions, the eleventh of which should be an entire 'volume' partition, while the ninth should be labeled 'volume header'. The volume header also covers the partition table, i.e., it starts at block zero and extends by default over five cylinders. The remaining space in the volume header may be used by header directory entries. No partitions may overlap with the volume header. Do not change its type or make some filesystem on it, as you would lose the partition table. Use this type of label only when working with Linux on IRIX/SGI machines or IRIX/SGI disks under Linux.

A DOS-type partition table can describe an unlimited number of partitions. In sector 0, there is room for the description of 4 partitions (called "primary"). One of these may be an extended partition; this is a box holding logical partitions, with descriptors found in a linked list of sectors, each preceding the corresponding logical partitions. The four primary partitions, present or not, get numbers 1-4. Logical partitions start numbering from 5.

In a DOS-type partition table, the starting offset and the size of each partition is stored in two ways: as an absolute number of sectors (given in 32 bits), and as a Cylinders/Heads/Sectors triple (given in 10+8+6 bits). The former is OK; with 512-byte sectors, this works up to 2 TB. The latter has two problems. First, these C/H/S fields can be filled only when the number of heads and the number of sectors per track are known. And second, even if we know what these numbers should be, the 24 bits that are available do not suffice. DOS uses C/H/S only, Windows uses both, Linux never uses C/H/S.

If possible, fdisk obtains the disk geometry automatically. This is not necessarily the physical disk geometry (indeed, modern disks do not really have anything like a physical geometry, certainly not something that can be described in simplistic Cylinders/Heads/Sectors form), but it is the disk geometry that MS-DOS uses for the partition table.

Usually, all goes well by default, and there are no problems if Linux is the only system on the disk. However, if the disk has to be shared with other operating systems, it is often a good idea to let an fdisk from another operating system make at least one partition. When Linux boots it looks at the partition table, and tries to deduce what (fake) geometry is required for good cooperation with other systems.

Whenever a partition table is printed out, a consistency check is performed on the partition table entries. This check verifies that the physical and logical start and end points are identical, and that each partition starts and ends on a cylinder boundary (except for the first partition). Some versions of MS-DOS create a first partition which does not begin on a cylinder boundary, but on sector 2 of the first cylinder. Partitions beginning in cylinder 1 cannot begin on a cylinder boundary, but this is unlikely to cause difficulty unless you have OS/2 on your machine.

A sync() and an ioctl(BLKRRPART) (reread partition table from disk) are performed before exiting when the partition table is updated. Long ago it used to be necessary to reboot after the use of fdisk. This is no longer required; in fact one should note that both the kernel and the disk hardware may buffer data, so rebooting immediately after partitioning with fdisk may be inadvisable.

DOS 6.x warning

The DOS 6.x FORMAT command looks for some information in the first sector of the data area of the partition, and treats this information as more reliable than the information in the partition table. DOS FORMAT expects DOS FDISK to clear the first 512 bytes of the data area of a partition whenever a size change occurs. DOS FORMAT looks at this extra information even if the /U flag is given: this is considered to be a bug in DOS FORMAT and DOS FDISK.

The bottom line is that if you use cfdisk or fdisk to change the size of a DOS partition table entry, then you must also use dd to zero the first 512 bytes of that partition before using DOS FORMAT to format the partition. For example, if you were using cfdisk to make a DOS partition table entry for /dev/sda1, then (after exiting fdisk or cfdisk and rebooting Linux so that the partition table information is valid) you would use the command "dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sda1 bs=512 count=1" to zero the first 512 bytes of the partition.


BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL if you use the dd command. A small typo can make all the data on your disk useless.

For best results, always use an OS-specific partition table program. For example, make DOS partitions with the DOS FDISK program and Linux partitions with the Linux fdisk or Linux cfdisk program.



You must have root access for this command to work.

fdisk -l

List the partition information of the computer you're logged into. Below is an example of what this output may look like:

Disk /dev/sda: 250.0 GB, 250059350016 bytes 255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 30401 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Device     Boot  Start  End    Blocks      Id  System
/dev/sda1  *     1      191    1534176     83  Linux
/dev/sda2        192    2231   16386300    83  Linux
/dev/sda3        2232   3506   10241437+   83  Linux
/dev/sda4        3507   30401  216034087+  5   Extended
/dev/sda5        3507   3767   2096451     82  Linux swap / Solaris
/dev/sda6        3768   3832   522081      83  Linux
/dev/sda7        3833   30401  213415461   83  Linux Disk
/dev/sdb: 250.0 GB, 250059350016 bytes 255 heads, 63 sectors/track, 30401 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 16065 * 512 = 8225280 bytes
Device     Boot  Start  End    Blocks      Id  System
/dev/sdb1  *     1      30401  244196001   83  Linux

cfdisk — A more user-friendly version of fdisk.
dd — Copy and convert the encoding of files.
mkfs — Build a Linux file system, usually a hard disk partition.