Installing to a USB Flash Drive

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It's cool to carry your whole OS in your pocket, so the kids install DSL to a USB Flash Drive for booting from a USB port.

A USB Flash Drive is not the same as a USB Hard Drive. Installing to an external USB Hard Drive does work, but some external enclosure hardware won't like being used as a boot source. Your mileage may vary.


If you're going to install to a USB drive, you'll need:

  • A USB drive of 128 MB or larger. 512 MB is preferable, 64 MB will work in a pinch.
  • A working operating system and an internet connection.
  • If you're going to boot the USB drive (not just run it from within another OS), then you need to make sure your BIOS can boot from USB. Check your BIOS setup screen, and pop in a USB stick at the next boot to try it out.

Finally, you're probably going to wipe your USB Drive, so BACK UP YOUR DATA. Enough said.


There are actually lots of how-tos/walkthroughs for installing DSL to a USB Flash Drive. All those tutorials are filed according to the source operating system. Basically, pick your current operating system. You'll probably want to do one of these:

If you have figured out another way of installing DSL to a stick, add your knowledge where you see fit.

Common Post-Install Questions

I installed everything, but my computer keeps booting from my hard drive!

  • Really old computer BIOSes may or may not support boot-from-USB (pre-2000 or so). Read the section on USB Booting, and read about Your BIOS and You. Also, check that your bootloader (GRUB or Syslinux) config files are set up right.

I just about finished installing, but then GRUB wouldn't install. @#%!

  • First, read the GRUB page. Some users have mentioned that grub-install whines about the --no-floppy argument. Try going without it, try going with it, try using sudo, try unplugging and replacing your USB stick. If your system auto-mounts the USB stick, try it with the stick both mounted and unmounted. You'll probably find a way to make it work.

Why is it that DSL installed to USB won't finish booting after conversion from .iso?

  • It appears that the KNOPPIX file is hard-wired to seek for CD-ROM and not USB drive. Use the embedded iso instead.

Why does the from-within-Linux method require FAT16, but the Windows method works with FAT32? Could I just leave and reuse an existing FAT32 USB partition using the Linux syslinux version?

  • This is because of Syslinux and what it can/can't do. Either method should work, but some users have found FAT16 works more reliably than FAT32. Although the current version of Syslinux (any version 3.00 or greater) should work with FAT32, that was not always the case. If you're using an old version of Syslinux, make sure it supports FAT32.

Why don't my keyboard and/or usb mouse work when I enter X windows?

  • Could be a BIOS problem. Try to enable 'USB device emulation' or 'legacy USB' in your BIOS setup.


This page (Installing to a USB Flash Drive) was written by a bunch of contributors over the years, and it got really big. The current version breaks up all that content, but the original page and its history can still be accessed here.

Pendrive Linux

Pendrive Linux - DSL specific instructions