How to Create a Live Linux USB Stick

Live Linux USBIn this Linux guide you will learn how to setup and install Linux on a USB thumb drive. This how to will teach you to create a live Linux USB stick using Linux, Windows, and Mac. You will obviously need a USB stick to install the live Linux onto. I’d recommend using at least a 4GB USB drive. You can get USB sticks very cheap on amazon.com

If you are not wanting to save any data onto your live Linux drive then 2GB or  4GB will be plenty for your live Linux USB flash drive. If you are wanting to have persistent storage on your USB drive, meaning you can store information, files, data, install programs, etc. onto the USB flash drive and it still be there after a reboot, then you will want to get a larger USB stick.

There are many programs and methods that you can install and use to help you create a live Linux USB stick, but I’m going to only cover the few that I have used and like. These methods work very well and are rather simple to do.

First I will cover how to create a live Linux USB drive in Windows, as I’m sure most people reading this information will be running Windows. I know, not everyone will be running Windows as I’m sure some current Linux users that are running Linux on their computers may want to create a live Linux USB stick as well.

What are the Advantages of Using a Live Linux USB Stick

There are many reasons people prefer to use a live Linux USB stick instead of installing Linux internally on their computer’s hard drive. Some people may even have Linux installed on their internal hard drive, but maybe they go some places that have a computer that runs Windows that is not their computer, but yet they still want to run Linux on it. Say you’re at work and your work station runs Windows and you want to run Linux, you can pop in your live Linux USB stick and boot up Linux on your work computer and not effect the internal hard drive of the computer. Some people use live Linux USB drive for security. Have no persistent storage setup on your live Linux USB stick so that you can browse the internet, without any trace on your computer, because with no persistant storage nothing gets saved, you turn off your computer, everything you done is gone. Although your internet provider will still have record.

How to Setup a Live Linux USB Stick with Windows

There are a few things you will need to create a live Linux USB stick using Windows. You will need a USB thumb drive, some GUI software, and a Linux distribution of your choice. Now there are some Linux distributions that are not able to run easily on a USB drive, but I won’t go over that right now as most Linux distributions can and may just need some slight tweaking to work. Most major Linux distributions even have a live distribution iso file already to use on a Live USB stick.

Download the needed software for Windows to create a live Linux USB stick. I recommend using Linux Live USB Creator (LiLi) or UNetbootin. These both are very easy to use and can download from a list of Linux distributions from a pull down menu that will work out of the box. You also have the choice of downloading the Linux iso yourself and telling the program where you downloaded it at. Linux Live USB Creator is available only for Windows I believe, but UNetbootin can be downloaded for Linux, Windows, and Mac.

After you’ve downloaded Linux Live USB Creator (LiLi) or UNetbootin you will first need to have your USB flash drive formatted to FAT32 or FAT file system. If your USB stick drive is not formatted to FAT32 or FAT file system the program will warn you.

Insert your USB thumb drive into your computer.

  1. Open Linux Live USB Creator or UNetbootin.
  2. Select the drive you want to install your live Linux distribution on. Be sure to select the correct drive as you can accidentally select your internal drive and erase it’s contents.
  3. Select which live Linux distribution you want to install on your USB flash drive whether the live Linux distribution is on the list or whether you chose to download the live Linux distribution yourself
  4. Select how much persistence memory you want to have on your live USB stick
  5. Finally you can click to create your live Linux distribution.
  6. Now all the files needed for your live Linux distribution will be copied onto your USB thumb drive after this is complete you may remove your USB drive or leave it in and reboot.

 How to Create a Live Linux USB Drive Using Linux

Creating a live Linux USB thumb drive in Linux is very similar to the above steps on creating a live Linux USB stick using Windows. There are a few methods you can use to create a live Linux USB stick using Linux but I’m going to only cover using the UNetbootin GUI program. There are a few methods you can do in a command line in Linux to manually create a live Linux USB stick, but using this UNetbootin GUI is much easier.

  1. Insert your USB flash drive into your Linux computer
  2. Make sure your USB thumb drive is formatted to FAT32 or FAT file system. If not UNetbootin will tell you to format it before you continue. If you need to format your USB flash drive you can use a GUI program such as gparted or you can use a CLI program like mkfs.vfat
  3. Open UNetbootin
  4. Select what live Linux distribution you want to install or select a live Linux iso file you’ve already downloaded
  5. Select your USB flash drive, this step is very important as you’re running UNetbootin as root user and it can destroy data on whatever drive you have selected, so be sure to select the correct USB flash drive.
  6. Select if you want to have a persistent live Linux, if you do also select how much storage space you would like to have on your live Linux USB flash drive.
  7. Click to continue, wait while your live Linux distribution is downloaded (if you selected one from the list), and copied onto your USB thumb drive.
  8. After the boot loader and all necessary files are transferred to your USB drive, you may either reboot your computer to test the USB drive or remove it from your Linux computer.

How to Create a Live Linux USB Stick Using Mac

I personally have not used a Mac computer to create a live Linux USB stick, but since Mac uses UNetbootin, I’m going to assume it would be the exact same steps as creating a live Linux USB stick using Linux.

  1. Insert your USB flash drive into your Mac computer
  2. Make sure your USB flash drive is formatted to FAT32 or FAT file system. If not UNetbootin will tell you to format it before you continue. I haven’t used Mac computers much at all so I’m sorry I can not guide you on how to format your USB flash drive to FAT32 or FAT file systems using your Mac. I would assume you would go into your applications and open disk utility. After your USB thumb drive is formatted FAT32 or FAT file system continue.
  3. Open UNetbootin
  4. Select what live Linux distribution you want to install or select a live Linux iso file you’ve already downloaded
  5. Select your USB flash stick, this step is very important because whatever drive you select will have it’s data erased, so select the correct USB disk drive you want to use for your live Linux USB stick.
  6. Select if you want to have a persistent live Linux, if you do also select how much storage space you would like to have on your live Linux USB flash drive.
  7. Click to continue, wait while your live Linux distribution is downloaded (if you selected one from the list), and copied onto your USB thumb drive.
  8. After the boot loader and all necessary files are transferred to your USB drive, you may either reboot your computer to test the USB drive or remove it from your Mac computer.

Where to Download Live Linux Distributions

There are many live Linux distributions out there for you download for free. You can search on distowatch.com to look for live Linux distributions or you can use one of the ones on my list below. Remember you don’t have to download a live Linux distribution manually as the live Linux USB Creator program and UNetbootin program will both download the live Linux distribution of your choice that is on it’s drop down menu. If the live Linux distribution you want to install on your USB stick is not on this list, you can download that distributions live iso on their website. Here are some of the more popular live Linux distributions that Linux users are using.

 

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2 Comments

  1. bronco
    Posted July 30, 2014 at 11:16 am | Linux tutorial comment

    I’m struggling. I have an old Acer Aspire One Netbook which runs Linpus. I want to replace this with Ubunto Easy Peasy. I need Unetbootin – I cannot get this to run – it is on a USB stick and I have a copy on the Netbook’s hard disc. The Easy Peasy iso is downloaded to a seperate USB stick.
    Linpus is a very unhelpful distro(is that the term?)I cannot update anything on the Netbook eg Firefox is at least 5 years out of date. Where can I get help on this, please? Please don’t say “tick the box to make Unetbootin run as a program” – Linpus doesn’t give that option under Filemanager/Properties/Permissions. Very frustrating.

  2. Posted August 22, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Linux tutorial comment

    Bronco,
    I’ve never ran Linus at all. What unetbootin did you download? Is it an executable, source tarball, some install package for Linpus? If you have an executable, open a terminal, navigate to the executable file using cd /home/user/path, then you will need to have root permissions, type su, then type ./unetbootin, or sudo ./unetbootin. That should run unetbootin if it is in executable. If you have a Linpus unetbootin package, you will need to install that first, I do not know what kind of packaging system Linpus uses. If you have a source tarball, you will need to extract the tarball first using a terminal tar xzvf filename-for-unetbootin.tar.gz and then follow the INSTALL file for directions, which will most likely be cd unetbootin-source && ./configure && make -j2 && make -j2 install, you will need to be root or have root permissions to run make -j2 install then you can type unetbootin in a terminal or find it in your Linpus application menu whichever that may be.

    I hope this helps you, if you need more help please let me know. Thanks for visiting and have a great day/night!

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