Install Ubuntu from USB

I’ve been banging my head against the wall for the past year, looking for a solution on how to get Ubuntu to install from a USB flash drive.

The underlying idea is to avoid CDs, thereby giving an option to machines lacking CDROM drives, or with defective drives. I’ve run into more than one laptop that needed an optical drive replacement that might have benefitted from the install CD on a USB stick.

It would also benefit multiple installations, and maybe open an option for customized installation setups.

That’s what it looks like on paper anyway. In reality, I’m in pretty deep. I managed to get the drive to boot, and managed to get the installer to run, but the installation sequence (and by that, I mean the alternate CD text-based installer) tries to detect the installation CD in a CD drive, and I don’t see a way around that.

If anyone can humor me with an idea here, I’m willing to listen. I’ve been using the syslinux method to boot the flash drive a la’s Knoppix tutorial, but that’s not necessarily the right way.


22 thoughts on “Install Ubuntu from USB

  1. JIcemanL

    I am no linux expert, so take these suggestions as just ideas.

    Is it possible to use the iso9660 module in grub2 to boot the .iso from the flash card? Don’t know exactly what the module does (may only provide read capabilities to the .iso file).

  2. K.Mandla Post author

    JIcemanL: Yes, I believe so. I know there is a howto on the forums for booting a machine from an ISO. I haven’t used it, but I want to try it sometime. Here it is …

    Lanzaa: That looks similar to what I had done, but I’m willing to try it again. The problem I was running into was that the actual installer program itself won’t seek the packages from anywhere but the CDROM drive. So even though the packages were sitting and waiting on the USB stick, and I could mount the directory that held them and actually access each package, the installer was hard-wired to look only to the CDROM and nowhere else. It was a little frustrating.

    I’ll look at that method and try it again. I’m in the mood for some experimentation. πŸ˜‰

  3. W MacFadzen

    for what it’s worth

    slackware linux 10.1 will install from usb CD (ISO) but I have a problem installing to a 4G CF disk , 2G cards work fine.

    Kernal is 2.4

    tried Ubuntu for the latest Kernal for 4G support. your right it doesnt load from USB CD but a look at the slackware distrib might help you work through it. I have not done that yet

  4. Anon

    I’ve been using the guide Lanzaa talks about for more than two years. It works like a charm, you’re able to use the method with iso and the method without (using an internet connection). Sadly the link is dead today, but debian still hosts it.

  5. Pascal Cretain

    With my DVD Drive Dead, I spent several sleepless nights trying to install Ubuntu from USB and finally managed to do it as follows.: First, follow the instructions from
    You might have to improvise a bit if one or the other step doesn’t work (for instance i encountered a problem when trying to format a USB partition under ext2 – error message was ‘bad revision’) but ultimately the guide works and includes all you need to do to boot Ubuntu from USB. Next, with Ubuntu running from USB, just follow the Ubiquity Install guide to get it to sit on your HDD but keep in mind that when trying to partition the HDD a strange problem that’s somehow related to the Swap Space comes up, preventing the installer from continuing. If you partition your drive manually withouth the Linux-Swap partition and just click through the warnings it will work for you – you can then add the swap space later on. Hope this helps.


  6. K.Mandla Post author

    Thanks, I had seen that a long time ago and I think I tried to get it working. But I don’t have a machine that will true-boot from USB now, so I’m more or less out of the loop for USB boots. If anything else works for anyone, please let us know.

  7. shankargopal

    the method that I’ve used to install Elive, PCLinuxOS and other distros (though not Ubuntu yet) is in outline as follows:

    1. Get SLAX or another LiveCD / small distro (I personally rely on Puppy as my main desktop) that has QEMU; SLAX Kill Bill comes with it pre-installed. Boot into that either from USB drive, or if that doesn’t work, using WinGRUB or GRUB4DOS from your HDD partition to boot files from your USB.

    2. Unmount all your hard drive partitions – you must do this or QEMU could corrupt your file system. Keep your pen drive mounted.

    3. Start QEMU from within the distro, setting it to boot up by treating the Ubuntu ISO image file as a CD drive and asking it to treat the real hard drive as the virtual hard drive (see QEMU documentation to see how to do this). Also, make sure you give QEMU a command line option to limit the amount of memory it uses.

    4. Run the installer, etc. It will be slow but it should be ok. Probably best to partition your hard drive beforehand using some other tool. Of course, don’t let it install GRUB or LILO.

    5. Adjust GRUB’s menu file to include Ubuntu’s partition and reboot.

    6. You should have everything running fine. However you will probably have to tweak the video settings, since they would be based on the QEMU virtual machine’s video card rather than your actual one.

    HOpe this would work!

  8. JVB

    It works like a charm with Ubuntu 8.04.

    Im gonna try it out with Kubuntu 8.04 aswell, since i prefere KDE.

    =D hope it will help

  9. dmizer

    If you don’t have a bootable usb option, this is going to be extremely difficult (if not impossible) for you.

    In this situation, I would suggest a PXE network install as outlined here:

    You have to get the machine to boot somehow. CD, USB, floppy, network or HDD.

    Barring that, I usually just yank the drive, put it in a laptop with bootable media, install ubuntu, and return the drive to the laptop without bootable media. Reconfigure the X server, and you’re good to go. This usually proves to be the least painful option.

  10. TheDesigner

    Your best bet is to get a CD that cost 25 cents and burn the image onto that CD.

    I don’t get what the hell the point is in installing from the USB drive, unless you don’t have a CD-ROM and you do have access to a USB drive then there is little intelligence behind doing it from a USB stick.

    CD-ROMS are not obsolete yet people, they will be soon but…not yet! πŸ™‚

  11. Mike

    >> Your best bet is to get a CD that cost 25 cents and burn the image onto that CD.

    Did you even bother reading the intro paragraph? If you had, you would have seen that he established his reason for this by sentence #3.

  12. Pingback: Install Ubuntu from USB: Any news? « Motho ke motho ka botho

  13. Reddox

    The 8.10 edition of Ubuntu has the feature built in. You can plug in a pen drive and copy a CUSTOM ubuntu installation onto it. The aim was portability. You can use this as a live USB or as a setup disk.

  14. Anthony Thyssen

    USB flash — my laptop harddisk broke down.. so what did I do. I ran it from a External USB harddrive! Worked perfectally for the time it took for me to get a replacement internal disk!

    Of course today they are starting to sell solid state replacement drives. These are FAST, especially on ‘random’ access such as you get when multi-taking a lot of data transfers. But still too expensive to be useful replacements just yet. that should change though. No more power hunger disk motors!

  15. Fred

    Excellent Reddox, thank you much for reminding that there is a “Create a USB sartup disk” tool (I just happen to use Xubuntu 8.10, great news for me!).
    I am planning to install Ubuntu Remix on an old Thinkpad X32 that has no integrated CD drive, this will save me loads of time and take one CD out of the garbage heap!
    Thank a lot and all the best


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