How to install a complete Ubuntu on a USB Flash Drive

The advantage of installing a full Ubuntu on a flash drive when compared to a live environment is the ability to have a portable and personalized Ubuntu with your choice of applications, login ID, and fully updatable system.

In this tutorial, we are going to perform a complete installation of Ubuntu on a USB Flash drive. Note that this is not about just creating a bootable Ubuntu Live USB drive. Instead, we are going to help you install a full-fledged Ubuntu on a USB drive. It’s like having a portable Ubuntu system!

Complete Ubuntu on a USB Flash Drive

The advantage of installing a full Ubuntu on a flash drive when compared to a live environment is the ability to have a portable and personalized Ubuntu with your choice of applications, login ID, and updatable system.

Prerequisites

  1. Ubuntu Live USB drive or a CD: If you don’t have one, you can create one using our guide here.
  2. Empty USB flash drive of at least 16GB capacity where we will be installing the full Ubuntu

Installing Ubuntu on a USB flash drive

The entire process can be classified into two broad phases. First, we format and create partitions on the USB flash drive, and in the next phase, we will install Ubuntu in it.

Phase 1 – Partitioning the USB Flash Drive

Step 1. Insert the Ubuntu live USB drive or CD and boot your PC into it.

Step 2. Choose “Try Ubuntu” option.

Boot From CD and Try Ubuntu
Boot From CD or Live USB drive and Try Ubuntu

Step 3. The system will boot into the Ubuntu live desktop environment. From the left dock panel, open applications button, which is located at the bottom. Search for GParted and open it.

Open GParted
Open GParted

The GParted interface should look like the below screenshot.

GParted Interface
GParted Interface

Step 4. Insert your USB Flash Drive.

Step 5. This is the most critical step. Pay attention to the drives and make sure you are selecting the flash drive (sdb) with the correct capacity. Choosing a wrong device could destroy the data on your PC. At the right of the GParted window, select your USB from the drop-down menu.

Choose USB Drive
Choose USB Drive

Step 6. Clear partitions on the USB drive by right-clicking on your USB, choose Format then select the cleared option.

Clear Partitions On USB
Clear Partitions On USB

Step 7. Click the apply button that is the green colored right mark located on the top panel.

Apply Changes
Apply Changes

An alert message will appear warning you about losing data when formatting the USB.  Click Apply on the alert message.

Apply Changes
Apply Changes

Step 8. After the operation completes successfully, click close to continue.

Formatting Operation Completed Successfully
Formatting Operation Completed Successfully

Step 9. The USB should be like the below screenshot.

USB After Formatting
USB After Formatting

Now you can close the GParted application. You have successfully partitioned your USB drive to be able to install Ubuntu. Let’s start the phase 2 installation process.

Phase 2 – Installing Ubuntu

Step 1. From the desktop, click on the install Ubuntu icon.

Install Ubuntu
Install Ubuntu

Step 2. After a moment the installation will begin with the welcome screen. Click the Continue button.

Ubuntu Welcome Screen
Ubuntu Welcome Screen

Step 3. Choose the keyboard layout then click Continue.

Choose Keyboard Layout
Choose Keyboard Layout

Step 4. Select “Normal installation” and then click Continue.

Normal Installation
Normal Installation

Step 5. In the installation type screen choose “something else” option then press Continue.

Installation Type
Installation Type

Step 6. Now choose the USB and next we will start creating partitions.

Select USB
Select USB

Step 7. Choose the new partition table button. Then press the plus sign to add the next 3 partitions.

Add New Partitions
Add New Partitions

  1. FAT32 partition
    • Set the size.
    • Set the mount point to /any_name.
  2. EXT4 partition
    • Set size not less than 4 GB.
    • Set the mount point to /.
  3. Swap partition
    • You can skip this partition if you have enough RAM and you do not need the hibernation feature.

Swap Partition
Swap Partition

Step 8. From the “Device for boot loader installation”, choose the USB Flash Drive.

The partition structure should look something like the below screenshot.

USB After Creating Partitions
USB After Creating Partitions

Step 9. Press Install now to start the installation.

Installation Progress
Installation Progress

Step 10. After the installation completes successfully, click Restart Now.

After Installation Completes On USB
After Installation Completes On USB

Congratulations! You have now installed full Ubuntu on the USB Flash Drive. You can boot from it and enjoy a portable Ubuntu system in your pocket!

Finally, I hope you enjoyed this tutorial. Feel free to comment below if you have any questions or feedback.

Hend Adel
Hi! I'm Hend Adel, a freelancer technical geek with successful experience in Database, Linux and many other IT fields. I help to build solutions to suit business needs and creating streamlined processes. I love Linux and I'm here to share my skills via FOSS Linux! Thanks for reading my article.

6 COMMENTS

  1. Hi

    If Linux is installed on a USB flash drive (attached to Windows 10 laptop) following these instructions, will the Windows 10 bootloader be affected, possibly making it not possible to boot into Windows 10?

    Thanks.

    • Been wondering about that myself.

      I’ve installed Linux on my old laptop this way.

      Seems to work so far. Unplugged the USB and windows still boots!

      Hopefully, this works for my desktop.

    • hi Max,

      Maybe You should do this installation on an vm better,
      and set the vm contain no hdd.

      I have installed an ubuntu on a windows 10 laptop, and it will affect the hdd’s boot loader!
      my steps are:
      1.use usbA as a ubuntu installtion CD
      2.insert usbB as a target where ubuntu to be installed
      3.then click install
      4.finally, usbB was not bootable 🙁

  2. Worked fine on the computer that I used to install to usb . Is it supposed to work on other PC’s too? I have old Dell Latitude with no hard drive that boots up fine with a Rufus bootable of trial Ubuntu but this usb just brings up an Intel matrix storage manager and just blinks. It doesn’t say there is no bootable device but it just hangs. Do I nedd the other the Rufus usb to start it firs?

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