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This document is a WORK IN PROGRESS.
This is just a quick personal cheat sheet: treat its contents with caution!

Bootable media: how to get a live USB

Like a live CD or DVD, a bootable USB drive lets you run practically any Linux distribution without affecting your computer. You can also install a Linux distribution on your PC from it, no CD or DVD drive required. You can’t simply copy or extract the ISO file to the USB drive and expect it to work, however. While you don’t technically "burn" the ISO file to a USB drive, there’s a special process required to take a Linux ISO file and make a bootable USB drive with it.

Here is how.


Table of contents

Find an ISO image

You might want to boot on a live USB for multiple reasons. Probably the most common one is just to install the Linux distribution you want: here are ISO download links for some common distros:

Another reason might be to have a Linux system rescue toolkit available as a bootable medium for administrating or repairing your system and data after a bad crash. In this case you might be interested in the SystemRescueCD ISO:

Install an ISO image into an USB drive...


Installing an ISO image into an USB drive will wipe the content of the drive!


Installing an ISO image into any drive will wipe the content of the drive, so MAKE SURE your are installing the ISO image into the intended drive and not e.g. your system drive!

...on Windows with rufus

If you are running Windows on your computer, a well recommended installation program is rufus, as it is easy to use and supports both UEFI and Legacy BIOS booting methods.

  • Download rufus and install it on Windows.


    Make sure you downloaded rufus here: And NOT e.g. here:

  • Plug in your USB stick and wait a few seconds to allow enough time for the system to detect it.

  • Execute rufus and select the USB stick in the drop-down list.
  • Select the ISO image that you have downloaded.
  • Select MBR partition scheme as it will be compatible with both BIOS and UEFI.
  • Select BIOS or UEFI in target to get the best compatibility.
  • Select FAT32 file system as the UEFI boot process only works from FAT file systems.
  • Click on the start button and wait until the operation is complete.

...on Linux with usbimager (graphical user interface)

A well recommended graphical tool for installing an ISO image to a memory stick on Linux is usbimager as it does the job well, it is very compact, it comes with minimal dependencies and it can be executed without installation.

  • Download usbimager (e.g. v1.0.5), and run it:

    $ cd ~/downloads
    $ wget
    $ unzip
    $ sudo ./bin/usbimager

  • Select the ISO image you want to install in the first field (first row).

  • Select your USB device with the menu button of the third row.
  • Click on the "Write" button (second row).


Depending on your Linux distribution, there is a lot of other graphical tools available, like Startup Disk Creator, Media Writer, mkusb etc. Feel free to try them if you want.

...on Linux with dd (command line interface)

See how to install/clone an ISO image on a target drive with dd (here your target drive is your USB device).

Hybrid ISO

If the USB drive doesn't boot, try to hybrid the ISO:

# emerge --ask sys-boot/syslinux  
# pacman -S syslinux
# apt install syslinux-utils
# yum install syslinux
# dnf install syslinux
$ mv /path/to/image.iso /path/to/image-hybrid.iso
$ isohybrid /path/to/image-hybrid.iso

$ umount /media/usbdevice
$ lsblk -f # to identify the usb device (e.g. sdx)
# dd if=/path/to/image-hybrid.iso of=/dev/sdx bs=4M conv=fdatasync status=progress

Renaming the USB partitions

After installing an ISO image into your USB drive, you might want to rename it. See in order to do so.

Boot from USB

Finally, boot from the USB drive:

Most live images do not support Secure Boot! You will need to disable Secure Boot from the host computer before booting on the live image. Note that if you are using a live image to install a GNU/Linux distribution, then you can optionally set up Secure Boot after completing the installation.

Bonus: live Linux USB drive with persistent storage

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