How-to: Installing Ubuntu Linux on a usb pendrive

2 minute read

This tutorial will show how-to install Ubuntu on a usb stick. Even though this tutorial uses Ubuntu as its base distribution, you could virtually use any type of Linux liveCD distribution.

Being able to run Linux out of a usb bar is a great way to enjoy the live CD experience (being able to use Linux on any computer you might get by) and the big advantage of being easier to carry around than a CD.

1. Requirements

In order to reproduce this tutorial, you will need a few items such as:

  • a ubuntu liveCD
  • a usb bar of at least 1G
  • a running Linux operating system

Now that you have all this, it is time to prepare you USB bar do host the Ubuntu liveCD files.

2. Setting up the USB disk

2.1. Finding the device

In the first place, you need to plug your usb drive and check under which device it is associated. To find out the device, run:

sudo fdisk -l

On my system, the device appears as being /dev/sdb, I will therefore use /dev/sdb as a reference for this tutorial, please replace it accordingly to your system (might be sda, sdc …).

Once you found your device, you are going to create the partitions.

Using the wrong device name might destroy your system partition, please double check

2.2. Making the partitions

Make sure every of your already mounted partition are unmounted:

sudo umount /dev/sdb1

and then launch fdisk, a tool to edit partition under linux:

sudo fdisk /dev/sdb

We are going delete all the partition and then create 2 new partition: one fat partition of 750M which will host the files from the live CD iso, and the rest on another partition.

At fdisk prompt type d x where x is the partition number (you can simply type d if you only have one partition), then:

  • n to create a new partition
  • p to make it primary
  • 1 so it is the first primary partition
  • Accept the default or type 1 to start from the first cylinder
  • +750M to make it 750 Meg big
  • a to toggle the partition active for boot
  • 1 to choose the 1 partition
  • t to change the partition type
  • 6 to set it to FAT16

Now we have out first partition set up, let’s create the second one:

  • n to create yet again a new partition
  • p to make it primary
  • 2 to be the second partition
  • Accept the default by typing Enter
  • Accept the default to make your partition as big as possible
  • Finally, type w to write the change to your usb pendrive

Partitions are now created, let’s format them.

2.3. Formatting the partitions

The first partition is going to be formated as a FAT filesystem of size 16 and we are going to attribute it the label “liveusb”.

sudo mkfs.vfat -F 16 -n liveusb /dev/sdb1

The second partition is going to be of type ext2 with a blocksize of 4096 bytes and the label casper-rw. Mind that it has to be labeled as casper-rw otherwise the tutorial won’t work!.

sudo mkfs.ext2 -b 4096 -L casper-rw /dev/sdb2

At this stage, our usb pendrive is ready to host the liveCD image. Now, let’s copy the files to the usb bar.