What Prevents DVD+R Discs From Being Reformatted?

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While it is well known that DVD+R and CD+R discs are made to be recorded on only once, you may wonder why that is as opposed to the rewritable nature of “RW” discs. What stops “R” discs from being reformatted? Today’s SuperUser Q&A post has the answer to a curious reader’s question.

Today’s Question & Answer session comes to us courtesy of SuperUser—a subdivision of Stack Exchange, a community-driven grouping of Q&A web sites.

Photo courtesy of psc631798uk’s Trans-tography (Flickr).

The Question

SuperUser reader Ankush wants to know what prevents DVD+R discs from being reformatted:

It interests me how, no matter what computer I put a DVD+R disc in or the system installed on said computer, I am unable to format it (I know that DVD+R discs are made to be written to only once). I am guessing that it is a hardware thing, but even so, what stops a computer from ignoring the rules and formatting the disc anyway?

What does prevent DVD+R discs from being reformatted?

The Answer

SuperUser contributor Jonno has the answer for us:

Put in fairly simple terms and based on my understanding of it (I could be slightly wrong about the actual manufactured materials), I believe the process goes as follows:

  • Pre-recorded discs have small holes in the surface that will prevent the reading laser from being reflected, giving you a reading of a 0 or a 1.
  • Recordable discs have a dye that can be burned through by a disc drive’s writing laser. The gaps in the dye now work the same way as a pre-recorded disc would, representing a 0 or a 1 based on whether it is reflected back or not. Once this dye has been burned through, it cannot be physically recorded over again (although you could burn out the entire surface, but not make anything useful).
  • Rewritable discs use a type of metal surface (instead of a dye) that can be changed by the writing laser (depending on the power of the laser used on it). This makes the metal layer reflect differently where the laser has been, and can be “reset” by a differently powered laser.

As such, a writable disc is permanently “set” by a writing laser with no way to reset the damage it does to the dye (in order to write the data).

Further Reading: All about CD-R and CD-RW (Albeit Related to CD-R/RW Technology)


Have something to add to the explanation? Sound off in the comments. Want to read more answers from other tech-savvy Stack Exchange users? Check out the full discussion thread here.

Akemi Iwaya is a devoted Mozilla Firefox user who enjoys working with multiple browsers and occasionally dabbling with Linux. She also loves reading fantasy and sci-fi stories as well as playing "old school" role-playing games. You can visit her on Twitter and .