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CategoryInstall CategoryHardware

Translation(s): English - Italiano - Русский

This page is about booting Linux via USB pendrives in any computer with or without USB-BIOS capability (in this last case, using a ?BootFloppy). You can install Linux in your USB pendrive or buy it preinstalled.

If you don't want to learn about the internals but just have Debian on a bootable USB stick, check out DebianLive

BIOS and USB standard mass storage interface

There are two common BIOS methods for direct USB booting:

  • One method is called the "USBHDD" method and it is used to support the booting of standard USB mass storage devices that are configured like a normal PC hard drive. The vast majority of machines work this way these days.
  • The other method (necessary on some older machines) is called the "USBZIP" method and it supports booting from a USB storage device that behaves like the original IOMEGA ZIP drive with USB support.

You need a USB device with a standard mass storage interface and with at least 128 MB storage capacity (the distros generally use between 50 and 64 MB) to work with Linux.

See StandardPendrive.


The following instructions refer to /dev/sda. However, if you have serial-ATA harddisks, then the pendrive will probably be /dev/sdc. Do NOT accidentally write to the wrong drive, or you will destroy your main operating system or data!

USB pendrive location and mount

Most USB pendrives are located at device node /dev/sda after they are plugged into the USB port.

However, you can verify this location by typing this command inside a terminal window:

dmesg | grep scsi -A 3

and it should tell you the device name for your USB (SCSI emulated) devices, along with the vendor name.

See: dmesg.

If you cannot find it, you have to load the USBStorage module. In a terminal, type:

modprobe usb_storage

and mount the usb filesystems

mount -t usb-devfs none /proc/bus/usb

Writing an image onto the USB key

The current released versions of Debian Install images and Debian Live images are built using isohybrid techniques, which means using them with a USB key is simple and easy, using "dd". See the Debian CD FAQ for more information.

Older Debian images were not so easy to use with USB keys and needed a lot of instructions. Those instructions are no longer helpful, so have been removed from this page.

?CategoryInstall CategoryHardware