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Install Ubuntu fromUSBstick


The recommended way to install Ubuntu from a USB flash drive is to use the usb-creator program, point it at a ISO image of a Ubuntu installation CD that you have downloaded, and let it create a bootable USB that you can use instead of the CD.
  1. Acquire the correct Ubuntu installation files ('the ISO') and tools
  2. Put Ubuntu onto your USB flash drive
  3. Configure your computer to boot from USB flash drive and boot from it
  4. Try Ubuntu or install to your hard drive.


This page gives instructions on how to run Ubuntu from a USB flash drive for installation or to try it out. This may be necessary for netbooks and other computers without CD drives and is handy for others because a USB flash drive is so convenient. Also, you can configure Ubuntu on the USB flash drive to save changes you make, unlike a read-only CD-ROM drive. Recent Ubuntu CD/DVD ISO images come with the necessary Windows and Linux utilities to get the system on a USB flash drive.
Booting from a USB flash drive created with this utility will behave just as if you had booted from the install CD. It will show the language selection and then the install menu, from which you can install Ubuntu onto the computer's hard drive or launch the LiveCD environment.
Best is to have wired internet access while booting from USB, as it is not certain that Ubuntu can recognise a WiFi-wireless card on the first attempt.
For custom, manual, older versions, and technical instructions and troubleshooting see USB Installation Media. There are also network installation options available. You can also see the instructions for USB flash drives from the official 10.10 Ubuntu Installation Guide.
Note: This article uses the term "USB flash drive" instead of: USB stick, USB drive, thumb drive and USB flash drive.

Known Issues

Natty Narwhal 11.04 is having issues with USB flash drives from SanDisk that have U3 Launchpad. You can either use another brand or use either u3-tool from Ubuntu Repositories or SanDisk's U3 Launchpad Removal Tool to remove U3.
10.04.3 is having issues. You might get a segmentation fault if used from command line. There are many launchpad bugs regarding segmentation fault (eg: 572611).
The 9.10 CDs and DVDs are missing the usb-creator.exe program used by the Windows installation processes discussed below. To install the i386 desktop version to a USB flash drive from a disk image on Windows, use the incredibly easy process described at . When you boot the resulting live persistent USB, you can install to your hard disk if you wish at any time, or not.
If you get "Incorrect CD-ROM detected" error on detection stage, reboot, press F6 and then ESC to go to manual boot line editing, and add the option 'cdrom-detect/try-usb=true'.
If the above doesn't solve your CD-ROM detection problem and you used the "Universal USB Installer" to prepare your USB flash drive, another solution might be trying UNetbootin. If you are encountering this problem with UNetbootin, press tab at the splash screen to access the boot line editor.
Some BIOS's (eg., the Eee PC netbook') have trouble recognizing that the USB is bootable. You may have to trick it into booting using the following method: At boot, enter the BIOS by pressing F2. Then, right as you exit the BIOS, hit the Esc key. For some systems, this will bring up the boot menu.
The error "Can not mount /dev/loop1 on /cow" is because usb-creator.exe is not creating a valid casper-rw file holding ext2/ext3 filesystem. Fix: 1) Use Unetbootin or 2) After running usb-creator.exe, recreate casper-rw using cygwin tools or (As of April 2010)
You need Mac OS X to create a USB flash drive that can boot on Macs. Even so, the process is less reliable than using a CD, as the USB flash drive is not always recognized on boot. Reversely, you can't create bootable USB flash drives for other platforms than Macs from withing Mac OS X. This is because Macs use a custom EFI bios with a custom boot-loader and need a special filesystem layout to boot correctly.


Source machine


Mac OS X


  • Administrator privileges on computer used to set up the USB flash drive
  • Install and run usb-creator or UNetbootin

USB flash drive

  • A Netbook installation requires a minimum 1 GB USB flash drive.
  • Desktop or server requires a 2 GB USB flash drive.
  • Check the USB flash drive for files and back them up if needed. Putting the Ubuntu system files on the USB flash drive and making it bootable will destroy all pre-existing files on the USB flash drive!
  • The Windows utility won't let you select the USB flash drive if the drive isn't properly formatted and mounted.
  • 11.04 Natty Narwhal installation does not work with SanDisk's USB flash drives with U3 Launchpad present. You need to remove it either with u3-tool from Ubuntu Repositories or SanDisk's tool to be able to use it. All other brands of USB flash drives work.

Target machine


  • 1GB USB flash drive with everything backed up elsewhere, because these commands will over write the partition table.
  • ISO image file
  • Optional, large capacity SD card for storing ISO and or backing up data

Desktop or Server

  • 2GB USB flash drive, or just do network install

Ubuntu CD or ISO

The Ubuntu system files that you will be putting on the USB flash drive are provided as a ISO file that is an image of an Ubuntu install CD-ROM. You need to download the appropriate .iso file.
Or you can get a physical Ubuntu CD-ROM disk from a friend, order one ... etc. Downloading from a torrent is usually fastest, especially shortly after a release.

Creating a bootable Ubuntu USB flash drive

To start Ubuntu from the USB flash drive, it needs the Ubuntu system files from the CD-ROM image, and it must be be configured to start up, or "boot", your computer. There are many guides for doing this on the web, but the easiest way to do the whole thing is to run the Ubuntu usb-creator program. Versions of this are available for Ubuntu and for Windows.

From Mac OSX

We would encourage Mac users to download Ubuntu Desktop Edition by burning a CD for the time being. But if you would prefer to use a USB, please follow the instructions below. Note: this procedure requires an .img file that you will be required to create from the .iso file you download. TIP: Drag and Drop a file from Finder to Terminal to 'paste' the full path without typing and risking type errors.
  • Download the desired file
  • Open the Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities/ or query Terminal in Spotlight)
  • Convert the .iso file to .img using the convert option of hdiutil (e.g., hdiutil convert -format UDRW -o ~/path/to/target.img ~/path/to/ubuntu.iso)
Note: OS X tends to put the .dmg ending on the output file automatically.
  • Run diskutil list to get the current list of devices
  • Insert your flash media
  • Run diskutil list again and determine the device node assigned to your flash media (e.g., /dev/disk2)
  • Run diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskN (replace N with the disk number from the last command; in the previous example, Nwould be 2)
  • Execute sudo dd if=/path/to/downloaded.img of=/dev/rdiskN bs=1m (replace /path/to/downloaded.img with the path where the image file is located; for example, ./ubuntu.img or ./ubuntu.dmg).
  • Using /dev/rdisk instead of /dev/disk may be faster.
  • If you see the error dd: Invalid number '1m', you are using GNU dd. Use the same command but replace bs=1m with bs=1M.
  • If you see the error dd: /dev/diskN: Resource busy, make sure the disk is not in use. Start the 'Disk' and unmount (don't eject) the drive.
  • Run diskutil eject /dev/diskN and remove your flash media when the command completes
  • Restart your Mac and press Alt while the Mac is restarting to choose the USB-Stick

From Ubuntu Linux

From 10.10 there is no longer a usb-creator package. Choose either usb-creator-kde on Kubuntu, or usb-creator-gtk
You can find usb-creator-{gtk,kde} in System-->Administration-->Create a USB startup disk (Ubuntu Desktop) or K-Menu-->Applications-->System-->Startup Disk Creator (Kubuntu). If it is not there then you can install it using the Synaptic Package Manager, or by entering the following command in the Terminal :
sudo apt-get install usb-creator-gtk or usb-creator-kde

Make sure the software-sources are activated if you are on a LiveCD (software sources or sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list). You may need to install the python-gnome2 package as well.
In order to guarantee that usb-creator will function correctly, you should:
  1. Mount the partition from which you would like to run liveCD
  2. Run usb-creator using the -i IMG or --iso=IMG option to point usb-creator at the ISO you would like to boot from (note this can be an ISO for any "liveCD" or other bootable OS image). For certain selected operating systems (e.g. Ubuntu since 9.10) usb-creator will allow you to automatically define a persistence file for your bootable install.
Start usb-creator. It looks like this
  • If you have the physical CD or DVD-ROM of the Ubuntu version you want to install on the USB flash drive, insert it in your CD-ROM drive. Otherwise, in its top pane, click "Other" and locate and select the .iso file that you downloaded.
  • It is no longer necessary to erase the USB flash drive, however it is advisable that you do so.
  • The bootable partition should be FAT16 or FAT32
  • The bootable partition is the first partition on the USB device
  • NEVER use one of your hard drive partitions in this process unless you really know what you are doing.
  • There may be bugs during the formatting which will show up as two partitions when booting from the USB flash drive. Try selecting each of them and one should work. If not, restart the computer and try booting from the USB flash drive again.
  • If you get a DBus error with usb-creator, this bug report may be helpful:
  • If you have problems with usb-creator, you can instead install and use UNetbootin to do the same thing. At the time of writing, UNetbootin will not configure a persistence file for you.

From Windows

The Oneiric ISO file no longer includes a file called usb-creator.exe in the CD image. You need to download Linux Live Usb Creator.
This process is described in detail in a video on this website.
Once you have usb-creator.exe, run it and follow the same steps as described for Linux (point it at your .iso file or your Ubuntu CD-ROM, point it at your USB flash drive, make sure you have the right device selected, then "Make Startup Disk").
  • Instead of usb-creator.exe you can use Unetbootin to create a bootable USB flash drive.
  • You won't be able to select the USB flash drive if it wasn't formatted in a way that Windows can see it. You may have to format it using Windows Explorer in order for it to show up in a creator tool.

Booting the Computer from USB

Remove all unneeded USB items, but keep the network cable attached.
Insert the bootable USB flash drive that you just created in your target computer and restart it. Most newer computers can boot from a USB flash drive. If your computer does not automatically do so, you might need to edit the BIOS settings.
Restart your computer, and watch for a message telling you which key to press to enter the BIOS setup. It will usually be one of F1, F2, DEL, ESC or F10. Press this key while your computer is booting to edit your BIOS settings. (On HP Mini Netbooks, they correct key is usually F9.)
Instead of editing BIOS settings, you can chose a boot device from the boot menu. Press the function key to enter the boot menu when your computer is booting. Typically, the boot screen displays which key you need to press. It maybe one of F12, F10. Note: with some motherboards you have to select 'hard disk/USB-HDD0' to choose the USB flash disk.
You need to edit the Boot Order. Depending on your computer, and how your USB key was formatted, you should see an entry for "removable drive" or "USB media". Move this to the top of the list to make the computer attempt to boot from the USB device before booting from the hard disk.

Alternative methods

PLoP Boot Manager

Some computers can see the USB flash drive and have the option to boot from USB but cannot actually do so. All hope is not lost.


Just follow the instructions on the PLop website.
Note: When you use this method, the files on the USB flash drive are changed during boot. To use this method more than once, you must delete all files from the USB flash drive and prepare the USB flash drive again as described below.
A detailed guide to make Plop Boot Manager work from GRUB by installing it on hard drive is available here -


This method is recommended if you are creating Linux installation to coexist with your existing Windows installation.
  • Find a usb-creator app and run it

Installing Ubuntu directly on a USB flash drive

In order to install a fully working Ubuntu operating system on your USB flash drive make sure that:
  • Your USB flash drive has more than 2GB of memory
  • Your USB flash drive is bootable
  • Your USB flash drive has a high read/write speed and is USB 2.0 enabled
The process is described in detail in an external source.

Create Bootable USB Manually

Here is a way to create a bootable USB flash drive manually. The advantage is you don't have to empty your USB flash drive as long as you have enough space for the files. It also allows multi boot, so you can, for example, have your USB flash drive holding both 32bit and 64bit versions of Ubuntu and other Boot CD tools at the same time.
In order to do so you need :
First you need to install grub onto the USB's MBR. Follow the link to the Grub4DOS Wiki: Simple example:
./bootlace /dev/sdx

Next, you open up the ISO file and extract the files in casper directory. The size (and possibly manifest) are needed if you want to install from the USB flash drive otherwise the install will fail.
total 701060
-rwxr-xr-x 1 adrian adrian     38784 2010-07-27 16:15 filesystem.manifest
-rwxr-xr-x 1 adrian adrian        10 2010-07-27 16:15 filesystem.size
-rwxrwxrwx 2 adrian adrian 704487424 2010-04-29 05:38 filesystem.squashfs*
-rwxrwxrwx 1 adrian adrian   9365872 2010-04-29 05:34 initrd.lz*
-rwxrwxrwx 1 adrian adrian   4029792 2010-04-16 06:01 vmlinuz*
/media/Fujitsu 60GB USB/bootimg/ubuntu.10.4.x86$

Copy grldr to the root of the drive.
drwx------ 1 adrian adrian   4096 2010-05-05 16:49 bootimg/
-rwxrwxrwx 1 adrian adrian 220049 2009-09-24 17:30 grldr*
-rwxrwxrwx 1 adrian adrian   2760 2010-05-04 23:08 menu.lst*
/media/Fujitsu 60GB USB$

Now create menu.lst at the root of USB. Example of menu.lst:
default /default
title Ubuntu 10.04 LiveCD
find --set-root /bootimg/ubuntu.10.4.x86/initrd.lz
kernel /bootimg/ubuntu.10.4.x86/vmlinuz boot=casper live-media-path=/bootimg/ubuntu.10.4.x86/ ignore_uuid
initrd /bootimg/ubuntu.10.4.x86/initrd.lz

Make sure the path match where the files you copy to.
Now, reboot.

Simpler way using the ISO file

Another way is just using the ISO file as it is on an already bootable USB flash drive that uses Grub (to create one, see above).
  • copy the iso file onto the USB flash drive in the root (top) directory
  • add these lines to the menu.lst file:
title Ubuntu 11.04 i386
find --set-root /ubuntu-11.04-desktop-i386.iso
map /ubuntu-11.04-desktop-i386.iso (0xff)
map --hook
root (0xff)
kernel /casper/vmlinuz file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/ubuntu-11.04-desktop-i386.iso splash quiet --
initrd /casper/initrd.lz

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