How do I install an entire Ubuntu on a USB flash drive?

Among all Linux distributions, Ubuntu is one of the most famous and popular. Ubuntu is managed by Canonical and is a Debian-based distribution with many additional features. It’s a distro that can meet the needs of all types of workloads, be it casual or professional.

Linux is an operating system that can run on almost any hardware. Thanks to its lower hardware footprint (depending on the distribution, but still lower on average), you can run it on even the potiest computer you can find in your attic.

In this guide, I want to show you exactly that. Of course it’s not crazy, but it’s really fun.

Check out how to install an entire Ubuntu system on a USB flash drive.

Ubuntu on USB stick

Any Linux distribution takes up relatively little space to have a minimal installation. We’ll take advantage of that in this guide.

In general, a USB flash drive has a relatively smaller storage capacity than an SSD or HDD. For Ubuntu, the basic installation requires at least 10-15 GB of free space. With this in mind, you need at least a USB stick with 16 GB of storage capacity. However, it is recommended that you use a 32GB USB flash drive or greater for maximum flexibility.

Note that while it is a fun and interesting way to carry your own operating system in your back pocket, it is not a good solution for long-term use. USB sticks have a limited bandwidth for exchanging data with the rest of the hardware. In addition, the longer the USB sticks are used, the faster they deteriorate. The overall durability of such a setup is less than installing Ubuntu on an SSD / HDD.

One way around the problem could be to use an external HDD / SSD. While it still faces the bandwidth bottleneck due to the USB connection, it can be doable for less heavy workloads for a long time.

Install Ubuntu on a USB stick

With all caution, let’s jump right into this. Installing Ubuntu on a USB stick is pretty easy. All you have to do is select the USB stick as the destination during the installation.

Prepare bootable media

First, Get the latest version of Ubuntu ISO. I will be using Ubuntu 20.04.1 LTS.

Now we need to create a bootable Ubuntu installation media. Learn how to create a bootable USB flash drive. Note that this USB drive is different from the one we’re going to install Ubuntu on.

Connect and start the bootable USB flash drive.

Select “Try Ubuntu” This will start the Ubuntu Live session.

Install Ubuntu

Now plug in the USB flash drive that we are going to install Ubuntu on.

The system successfully recognizes the USB drive. Double-click the installation shortcut on the desktop to start the Ubuntu installation process.

Click on “Next” to start the installation process.

Select the appropriate keyboard layout.

At this stage you need to make a choice. The “normal installation” installs Ubuntu with all the standard software such as web browsers, office apps, media players and others. In the case of the “minimal installation”, it only contains a web browser and a few basic tools. Depending on the capacity of the USB flash drive, you may want to select “Minimal Installation”.

The installer may prompt you to unmount the USB flash drive. Click No as we are about to install to the drive.

Here comes the most important part. We need to decide where to install the operating system. Select “Something Else”, this gives us full control over the partitioning.

The installation program opens the partitioning tool. Here the USB drive is identified as / dev / sdb. It is recommended to delete all partitions under the USB stick.

Create a new partition with the ext4 file system. Select “/” as the mount point.

Click Install Now”.

The installer will warn you if you want to continue with the changes. Click on “Next” to confirm.

Select the time zone.

Enter the credentials. This is the system’s default administrator account.

Wait for the installation to finish. Since we are installing on a USB flash drive, the installation will take longer than installing on an HDD / SSD.

Once the installation is complete, you will see the following message. You can restart the computer or turn it off.

Voila! Ubuntu was successfully installed on the USB stick! To start using the system, all you need to do is connect the USB flash drive to a computer and select it as the bootable media during the boot process.

Final thoughts

Installing Ubuntu on a USB stick isn’t difficult. It’s fun to try it out. If you need to use the USB drive for something else, you can just delete the partitions and format them with GParted. Learn how to use GParted.

The installation process was successful. We can polish up the installation further to update it. Check out 40 things to do after installing Ubuntu

Have fun calculating!

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