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.
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 other method 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.
Most computers (e.g. just about all Dells) made today have a BIOS that supports the USBHDD method so it's expected that this will eventually become the standard way of booting a USB device. However, many motherboards will support BOTH methods, and many older motherboards have USBZIP 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.
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.
and mount the usb filesystems
mount -t usb-devfs none /proc/bus/usb
Partitioning the USB key
Partition the USB pendrive with fdisk or cfdisk (the USB key must not be mounted!).
Using fdisk: Press P to see the list of all partitions. Use D repeatedly to delete all partitions. Create a new partition pressing N, P, 1 and accept all defaults concerning the size (minimum partition size necessary will be around 60 MB). Set the bootable flag with A, press T, 6 to create a FAT16 partition and press W to store and exit from fdisk.
The resulting partition table will look something like this:
Device Boot Start End Blocks Id System /dev/sda1 * 1 3730 1014544 6 FAT16
Now enter mkdosfs /dev/sda1 at the prompt to create a FAT16 filesystem, because otherwise the installation steps described under 'Unburned using DSL' later on won't work.
Master Boot Record
Some USB keys don't boot. If this is the case, it may be possible to fix them by installing a new master boot record. (Most keys boot OK by default; some cannot be fixed even by doing this. However, it helps in some cases). Run the command:
lilo -M /dev/sda
There are two installation methods:
Burned: boot from a LiveCD and then use the 'Install to USB' utility. (NOTE: Which LiveCD in particular ... and is it going to install a Debian distro ? We're in the Debian wiki... so it's confusing I think -- OlivierBerger)
- Unburned: download the ISO file and copy its contents into the USB pendrive.
Unburned using DamnSmallLinux
mkdir dsl_temp mkdir dsl_usb mount -o loop dsl-*.iso dsl_temp cp -a dsl_temp/* dsl_usb cd dsl_usb mv boot/isolinux/* ./ rm -Rf boot mv isolinux.bin syslinux.bin mv isolinux.cfg syslinux.cfg cd .. mkdir usb_pen mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 usb_pen cp -a dsl_usb/* usb_pen umount usb_pen umount dsl_temp syslinux /dev/sda1
USB Debian distros
More additional links
Preparing Files for USB Memory Stick Booting : but use zcat boot.img > /dev/sda1 ; if the stick doesn't boot, cat mbr.bin} > /dev/sda
unetbootin package : "installer of Linux/BSD distributions to a partition or USB drive"