How to Install Ubuntu on USB Drive?


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In this tutorial, I will show you how to install Ubuntu on a USB drive. Unlike the live USB, this will be a fully updatable, portable and persistent Ubuntu system.

Running Ubuntu from a USB flash drive will not be similar to running it from an internal HDD. It will be much slower and is not a good long term solution as it would degrade the life of the USB drive.

So, if you want to have a portable Ubuntu system, I recommend you install it on an external SSD. The steps are identical to installing Ubuntu on a USB drive.

Pre-Requisites for Installing Ubuntu to USB

  • USB drive (recommended capacity – 8 GB) to prepare a bootable Ubuntu medium.
  • Another USB drive (recommended capacity 32 GB) to install Ubuntu on.
  • Internet connection to download Ubuntu ISO image.

Note: Make sure the USB drives you’re using have USB version 3.0 or above for a faster Ubuntu experience.

Steps to install Ubuntu to USB

1. Download Ubuntu ISO

The first step is to download the latest version of Ubuntu from its official website.

The downloading time will depend on your internet speed. Once, downloaded proceed to the next step.

2. Prepare a Bootable USB drive of Ubuntu

Now, prepare one of the USB drive (with the smaller storage capacity) as a bootable medium.

If you don’t know how to create one, then check out my complete guide on making a bootable Linux USB drive.

3. Plug both USB drives and Boot Ubuntu

Plug both USB drives and restart the system. Enter the Boot menu of your system.

The key to enter the boot menu varies from system to system. Check on your manufacturer website or Google for your particular system.

Once, you enter the boot menu, select the bootable USB drive you created in step 2 to boot Ubuntu from it.

4. Start the Installer

If your USB booted successfully, you’ll see the Ubuntu welcome screen. Select the “Install Ubuntu” option.

Select install Ubuntu
Click on the “Install Ubuntu” button

5. Select Keyboard Layout

Choose your preferred keyboard layout and click on continue.

select keyboard layout
Select the keyboard layout

6. Select Installation type

On this screen, select the installation type. If you don’t want the normal installation or you don’t have a larger capacity USB drive, then you can go with the minimal installation option.

You can also check the other options such as downloading updates and installing third-party drivers. After that, click on continue.

Installation type to install Ubuntu on USB
Configure Updates and other software settings.

7. Select the USB drive and create partitions

On this screen, click on “something else” to do the partitioning manually.

Select “something else”.

This is the most important step. Here, you have to choose the USB drive on which you want to install Ubuntu and create partitions on it.

In my case, the USB drive is “sdb” and there is one partition on it “sdb1”. I am going to delete the “sdb1” by right-clicking on it and select the “delete” option.

Free space after deleting previous partition.

Once, deleted you’ll see “free space”. Now, right-click on it again and select the “add” option to add a new partition.

Create a boot partition of 500 MB.

Size: 500 MB
Type for new partition: Primary
Location of new partition: Beginning of this space
Use as: Ext4 journaling file system
Mount point: /boot
Creating boot partition.

Click Ok, and you’ll see 500 MB for boot partition has been allocated.

Now, right-click on the free space again and add the root partition.

Size: allocate all the remaining space on the USB drive.
Type for new partition: Primary
Location of new partition: Beginning of this space
Use as: Ext4 journaling file system
Mount point: /

Click ok, and you’ll see the / partition is created.

Also, select the USB drive in the “Device for bootloader installation” dropdown.

Once, you have configured the partitions, click on the “install now” button. After that, you’ll be prompted with the “Write changes to disks?” dialog.

Check everything and click on continue to proceed. 

8. Select your preferred time zone

After partitioning, the next step is to set a time zone. So, select your preferred time zone and click on continue. 

select timezone
Select timezone

9. Setup user credentials

On this screen, fill in all the details such as name, password, computer name and username. If you want a password-less login, you can choose the “Log in automatically” option.

user info for Ubuntu on USB
Fill in the necessary information

When you click on continue, the installation process will begin. Wait patiently for the installation to complete. As I mentioned previously, you’re not installing Ubuntu on an external SSD, so it will take longer than your usual Ubuntu installation.

installing Ubuntu on USB
Installation in progress

10. Finish installation of Ubuntu on the USB drive

Once, the installation is finished, you’ll be prompted with an option to restart the system. Click on restart.

Finish installing Ubuntu on USB
Click the “restart now” button

You can now unplug both USB drives.

Boot the newly created USB drive of Ubuntu

To boot Ubuntu from USB, you can simply plug the USB drive (on which you installed Ubuntu) into any system and boot from it.

Conclusion

Congrats, you have successfully installed Ubuntu to a USB drive. If you faced any problems during the process, you can ask in the comments.

If you have done experimenting and want to use the USB drive for something else, use the Gparted tool (in Linux) or disk management (in Windows) to delete the partitions and format it with the NTFS file system.

That’s it, have fun with your portable Linux system. 🙂

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Rahul R Nair

Rahul is obsessed with technology and programming. He is also the founder of TechSphinx. Being a technophile, he is always busy doing some techy stuff or learning about the latest technologies. When not busy with his usual routine (staring at the computer screen) he likes to write and share his knowledge with the world.
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