Installing Ubuntu 8.10 On Your USB Flash Drive

Version 1.0
Author: Falko Timme

This guide shows how you can install Ubuntu 8.10 on a USB flash drive. Ubuntu 8.10 comes with a tool that lets you create a USB startup disk easily - this startup disk behaves like the Ubuntu 8.10 Live-CD. This is useful if you want to install Ubuntu on a computer that has no CD/DVD drive. When you create the USB startup disk, you can also specify that you want your USB system to be persistent between boots (i.e., it does not lose your settings, documents, etc.) - that way you get a fully usable OS that you can carry around in your pocket.

I do not issue any guarantee that this will work for you!


1 Creating The USB Startup Disk

Boot into your normal Ubuntu 8.10 system. After the desktop has started, plug in your USB flash drive and insert your Ubuntu 8.10 Live-CD into your CD drive (you can also create the startup disk from the Ubuntu 8.10 Live-CD .iso file - it's up to you which way you prefer). You should see their icons on the desktop. Then go to System > Administration > Create a USB startup disk...

... and type in your password:

The Make USB Startup Disk tool starts. It should make the right choices for the source CD and the target USB drive automatically (if you want to use the Ubuntu 8.10 .iso file, click on Other... and select it from your file system). If you just want to create a USB startup disk that you need for installing Ubuntu 8.10 on systems without a CD/DVD drive, select Discarded on shutdown, unless you save them elsewhere - the startup disk will then behave like the Live-CD, i.e., it will lose all settings and documents between reboots. If you want to have a "full" OS that saves your changes between reboots and that you can carry around in your pocket, select Stored in reserved extra space and specify how much space on your USB flash drive should be reserved for your documents and settings. Click on Make Startup Disk afterwards:

The USB startup disk is now being created. This can take a few minutes:

Click on Quit to finish the process:

That's it already!


2 Booting From The USB Flash Drive

You can now plug your USB flash drive into any other computer and start it. Make sure you enter its BIOS to check if booting from USB is enabled and that your USB device is the first device in the boot order.

When the system boots from the USB flash drive, it behaves exactly as if you would boot from the Ubuntu 8.10 Live-CD - first you have to select your language:

In the boot menu, select Try Ubuntu without any change to your computer (if you want to install Ubuntu on the system, you can also directly select Install Ubuntu):

This is how the desktop looks. If you want to install Ubuntu to the hard drive, click on the Install icon and follow the installation wizard. If you have chosen to make the startup disk persistent between reboots, you can now use the system like a normal desktop (i.e., it won't lose your documents and settings).


Falko Timme

About Falko Timme

Falko Timme is an experienced Linux administrator and founder of Timme Hosting, a leading nginx business hosting company in Germany. He is one of the most active authors on HowtoForge since 2005 and one of the core developers of ISPConfig since 2000. He has also contributed to the O'Reilly book "Linux System Administration".

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By: Anonymous

I have a 16 GB Patriot flash drive that I have installed the 64Bit  version of Ubuntu 8.10. I am using an XFS file system for the root partition. As a result I have to use lilo for the boot manager.The flash drive is the xporter XT. I have had some good luck with it, but you have to understand USB transfers data in parallel transfer mode, just like pata hard drives. Also you are limited to what ever your usb bus's limitations are. I have to wait for things to 'catch up' if I have too many applications running. I am running it on a Dell D630 Laptop with am Intel Core 2 Duo T7100 with 1GB of RAM, I love it!

By: xutre

Someone else posted such a comment on another site not too long ago, and the reply was that Ubuntu allowed you to see a USB flashdisk as a normal device (and therefore install to it as such) as long as you pre-partitioned it with Linux filesystems first eg ext2/3, linux-swap etc, and install grub. Whilst I haven't tried this procedure personally, I see an immediate issue with the stress that the swap partition would place on the USB drive (especially the cheaper ones). Possible ways to reduce such cyclic use of the swap partition, would be to use a non-journalling FS like ext2 and risk the loss of data if the power failed, or use a journalling FS like ext3 and mount the partitions with the "sync" option. In both cases and at first boot from the USB, I would also change the swappiness level from the default 60 to a figure closer to 1 (the final figure you opt for would depend on the amount of RAM you have).

By: Anonymous

Thanks for the info. I already tried this and everything went OK in the installation except, when I tried to boot from the USB it failed. I must have had bad GRUB configuration or something. May be I gave GRUB the wrong USB device name. I did not pursue it further since it wasn't a hot priority. I was hoping some one else did it to shed some insight on the details, which you covered some of them.

 Thanks again.

By: xutre

I've been playing with bootable flashdisks for a few months ( Puppy, DSL, and now Ubuntu, Mint and Fedora) and have discovered a few truths, niggles and tips along the way. 

1. Not all flashdisks are partitionable and/or bootable, and some that are bootable on one computer may not be bootable on every computer (various problems show up during boot such as "cannot find dir/file" or hardware isn't found properly); there are even inconsistencies between two seemingly identical flashdisks when using the cheaper ones.  Sometimes the more expensive stablemates of the cheap versions, also exhibit similar faults.

2. If I find that the flashdisk partitions successfully, I set the boot flag on the partition I wish to boot from, then use "unetbootin" (make sure syslinux is pre-installed, and run unetbootin from a terminal window as root) to install a small distro like dsl, puppy, or macpup from its .iso imagefile. This method installs syslinux, and saves me trying alternative boots (syslinux always works for me). When I reboot, and if the boot is successful, it verifies for me that the flashdisk is fine; where I've been unsuccessful just using the pup install wizard to prepare the mbr, for me, this method works everytime. I then proceed to clear the flashdisk, set it up as I want, and install something like Fedora or Ubuntu using the (live)usb-creator application.

Now, if someone else has played with resurrecting a flashdisk that is currently unreadable (after the computer froze while reading from it), I'd appreciate some feedback before I delve more deeply into sg-utils and sd-parm.

By: skipity

as far as fixing the flash you can dd it in linux or osx but for windows you will need a low level formating tool they do make a dd.exe for windows so just google it.

By: Anonymous

Another option that might be very nice is to install Linux on a thumb drive from existing installation on a hard drive. This would be ideal since one can create a duplicate of a current desktop with all the updates and information. May be doable with dd!


By: Ubundude

I could not agree more. Unetbootin is much more easy to use. I tried several different distros on USB stick and it is really a pleasure to work with. Ubuntu should integrate Unetbootin in 9.04 or in 9.10 and/or add Unetbootin to the repo's. I now have iso from several different distro's on an external harddisk.

By: Anonymous

I much prefer Portable Linux from because it preserves the free remaining space for usage in other contexts.


This is awesome. I am still new to Ubuntu and did not know this. Thanks :)

By: admin

I don't understand what the problem is. Nobody forces you to buy a subscription. If you don't want to pay and are fine with the HTML version, then what?

But as you can imagine from the sheer amount of information on this site, this site cannot be run in our free time. It's a full time project, so people have to be paid. We love Linux and working on this site, but even we have to pay bills, you know... That's why we offer subscriptions to cover a part of our costs.

BTW, you can get a free subscription by contributing a tutorial. This also has the benefit of giving back to the community. :)

By: Jesper

When i push View as PDF or Print, im taken to a subscription page and the reason i pushed the button is nowhere to be found. Could you please put a (require subscription) parenthesis somewhere, this crap reminds me of pornsites trying to hustle memberships. I am new to linux and have bumped into this site a few times and found it very usefull. But im not ready to pay for anything yet. So maybe this site isnt for me, but this kind of crap is still not what i expected.

By: Anonymous

What is needed is a procedure to install K/Ubuntu on a thumb drive as a hard drive so updates/upgrade and every thing else are saved.

I know the Thumb Drives are not as durable, but heck I can live with that.



By: mouse

Hi i have had success at this after using several different methods i tried something different .

I used an older computer  that could reconise usb drives  i disconected all hard drives floppys etc  except for the c/d rom drive .plug in the  usb stick and boot computer from ubuntu live c/d  do a normal instilation after choosing the usb as the hard drive --- make a root partition a home partition   and a swap partition--  although ive been told  usbs dont like to be writen to all the time i havent had a problem as yet but my techi nephew  recomended not to install a swap partition and let it use ram as a swap---   i havent tried this yet .But  have had good succes just doing a normal install on to the usb drives .it will also boot up on most computers  although some times  you need to change screen resolution on some machines . you can also  clone the drive to another usb  just in case  it does crash  as they are so cheap  to buy  and just plug it in and up date the clone from time to time from your main usb -- I hope this helps

By: Anonymous

Thanks for sharing this. I just started using a tool called unetbootin. With this tool you can install virtually any Linux distro on your pen drive. It both work in Linux and Windows. Even better, you can also install a distro on your hard drive from your OS. This would have been great a few years ago when I had a laptop with a broken cd and floppy drive and only windows installed on it. Anyway, try out unetbootin too!

By: Peter

Sounds quite simple. Is it also possible to add new applications, create then the usb bootstick and use this applications over the live bootstick?