Software & Apps Windows Volume Serial Numbers How volume serial numbers are generated and how to change them by Tim Fisher General Manager, VP, Lifewire.com Tim Fisher has 30+ years' professional technology support experience. He writes troubleshooting content and is the General Manager of Lifewire. our editorial process Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Tim Fisher Updated on June 25, 2020 Windows The Ultimate Laptop Buying Guide Tweet Share Email A volume serial number, sometimes seen as VSN, is a unique hexadecimal number assigned to a drive during the creation of the file system during the format process. The volume serial number is stored in the disk parameter block part of the volume boot record. Microsoft and IBM added the volume serial number to the format process in 1987 when they were working together to develop the OS/2 operating system. Simon / E+ / Getty Images A drive's volume serial number is not the same as the serial number of the hard drive, floppy disc, flash drive, etc. assigned by the manufacturer. How Is the Volume Serial Number Generated? A volume serial number is created based on a fairly complex combination of the year, hour, month, second, and hundredth of a second that the drive was formatted. Because the volume serial number is generated during the format, it will change each time the drive is formatted. How to View a Drive's Volume Serial Number One of the easiest ways to view a drive's volume serial number is through Command Prompt, using the vol command. Just execute it without any options and you'll see both the volume serial number and the volume label. Duplicate Volume Serial Numbers Since volume serial numbers are not generated at random and without knowledge of the volume serial numbers on other drives in the computer, there's a chance that two drives on the same computer could end up having the same volume serial number. While the probability of two drives in a single computer getting the same volume serial number is technically possible, the chance is infinitesimally small and isn't usually a concern. The only somewhat common reason why you might run into two drives in the same computer with identical volume serial numbers is when you've cloned one drive to another and are using them both at the same time. Are Duplicate Volume Serial Numbers a Problem? Duplicate volume serial numbers are not a problem for Windows or other operating systems. Windows will not be confused as to which drive is which if two drives have the same volume serial numbers. In fact, the volume serial number is used by some software licensing schemes to make sure that an installed copy of the software is being used on the correct computer. When cloning a drive, and the volume serial number remains, it helps ensure that the software you run on the new drive works as you'd expect. Another piece of data called the disk signature, part of the master boot record, is the truly unique identifier for a hard drive in a computer system. Changing a Drive's Volume Serial Number While there's no built-in ability in Windows to change a drive's volume serial number, some free vendor tools will do the trick. Your best choice is probably Volume Serial Number Changer, a free, open-source program that shows you some basic information about your hard drive, plus a small field to enter the new volume serial number you want to set. Another option is Volume Serial Number Editor. This program is similar but it isn't free. Advanced Reading on Volume Serial Numbers If you're interested in finding out more about how volume serial numbers are generated, or how you might be able to tell something about a formatted drive by deciphering the number, we recommend checking out this Digital Detective's whitepaper: Volume Serial Numbers and Format Date/Time Verification. There's more in that paper about the history of the volume serial number, as well as how to view it directly from the boot sector.