USB Linux Booting via Jump Drive: Install Linux to a Jump Drive

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Creating a Linux System on a Jump Drive

There are a variety of reasons you might want to be able to boot Linux from a jump drive. Some are the same as those for using a live CD, such as repairing a file system or accessing a computer which won’t boot to its installed operating system. You might want to install your favorite Linux distribution on a netbook or other PC without an optical drive. Or you may want to be able to use your personalized desktop environment on multiple machines without touching the hard drive. For installing to a hard drive or repairing a system, tools like Unetbootin or other scripts to create live USB sticks are optimal, but for a full working Linux-on-a-stick system, you’ll want to perform an actual install.

This how-to covers the last option, a full bootable Linux installation on a jump drive, one you can install applications to and personalize to your heart’s content.


  • A computer that can be booted from USB devices. (Nearly every system built since 2002 can do this.)

  • An empty, fast jump drive, at least 4 GB in size.

  • An installable Linux live CD.

Getting Started:

  • Back up your hard drive.
  • Test that the jump drive works: copy files both ways between the jump drive and the hard drive.
  • Boot the computer from the live CD.
  • Insert the jump drive.

Partitioning the Jump Drive:

  • Start a partition editor; GParted is a good one.

  • Select your jump drive.

  • Shrink or delete the existing Fat32 partition depending on whether or not you want to be able to use the jump drive for file storage under other operating systems. (If you want to be able to use the jump drive normally under Windows as well as for running Linux, the Fat 32 partition needs to be first on the drive.)

  • Create a new Ext2 partition in the free space, sized to the maximum available.

  • Apply the changes.


  • Launch the installer, most live CDs have either a menu item or a desktop icon for this.

  • Select the option that gives you full control over the install, probably called “manual”, “expert” or something similar.

  • Set the mount point to “/” and the filesystem type to Ext2.

  • Set it to install the bootloader to the jump drive’s MBR.

  • Follow the instructions given by the installer from this point. If possible use a lightweight desktop environment as a jump drive is both slower and smaller than most hard drives. Use KDE or Gnome if you need to, but expect performance to be somewhat sluggish if you do.

  • Reboot the computer, removing the live CD.

  • Set the BIOS to boot from your jump drive.

  • The computer should now boot from the jump drive into a normal Linux environment.

Once booted into the system, you’ll want to update it with any security fixes available, and customize it to suit your needs. Voila, your own Linux configuration you can put in your pocket and use on almost any PC.