How To: Install Linux to a Thumb Drive

Install Linux to a Thumb Drive

Let's face it, CDs and DVDs are a thing of the past. We no longer use them as a storage medium because they are slow, prone to failure in burning, and non-reusable. The future is flash memory. Flash memory is cheap, fast, and efficient. Eventually, flash drives might even replace discs as the preferred prerecorded selling format for movies.

But this Null Byte is not about movies, it's about operating systems.

A great tool to have in your arsenal is the ability to have an OS on a thumb drive. This allows you to install an OS quickly on any system, lets you load a live OS fast, and provides the convenience of having your entire operating system—complete with all of your files—on hand at all times. It would almost be like a cloud and synchronizing OS (expect someone to steal that idea).

Here, we will install a Linux distribution onto a thumb drive as an example. Let's look at what we need:


  • Linux OS
  • Spare thumb drive
  • Computer capable of booting from a thumb drive
  • Linux ISO image

Step 1 Check Your Boot Capabilities

First, let's check out if our computer can actually boot from a thumb drive.

  1. Plug your thumb drive into a USB port.
  2. Restart your computer.
  3. Hit F12 during the POST before your OS starts to get into your boot menu.
  4. Look for a USB or thumb drive option. If it is there, congrats, you can boot from it!

Step 2 Install the Image to Your Drive

Follow along with me in this video so you can see how to use the unetbootin interface.


sudo pacman -S unetbootin

sudo unetbootin

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There are some other alternatives, one for windows is pen drive linux (, unetbootin for windows ( to name a few

This is one of the reasons I love null byte. Unfortunately, my old laptop is not capable of booting from USB.

Awh, get in IRC then, haha :D.

how much space does the thumb drive need?

It depends what OS you want to put on it. You will typically need a 4gb flash drive

Yeah, all depends on the OS. Damn Small Linux or Puppy Linux are both designed for this, and Damn Small is about 50 MB and takes just that much RAM.

I have a small version of LFS that I made a while ago, it's super awesome, it ended up being 4MB xD. Very limited in functionality though, haha.

hahha Woah xD :D Thank you all for response :D I only got my old 1 gb thumb drive xD :D

Want some serious OS hacking? Help me live boot a USB of mint or arch on my i5 10.6.8 Aluminum Unibody Macbook Pro :P

I had a live boot USB of BT4 for a while, but I lost it.. It was an 8gb too .

Awh, bummer. Why, though? Your Mac should boot them just fine D;. Incompatible hardware?

Pretty much, it 1) would not acknowledge it as bootable media (even though it was on Windows) and then 2) once I got it to accept it as bootable media it just crashed/didn't boot properly.

Might have been a bad iso? Could try it. Maybe try putting Arch on a thumb drive would help more since it's nice and small and will allow you to test quickly.

I'll need to get a new USB, I have lost both the USB's I had on hand recently. I believe I have a working Arch ISO lying around here somewhere, although the BT4 ISO worked just fine on every other computer I tried it. Also the BT4 worked on a VM on this laptop, although that's not exactly the same.

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