How to create a bootable USB drive of Linux distros

This tutorial will walk you through creating a bootable Linux flash drive from Windows, macOS and Linux systems.

usb linux
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

If you've been wanting to try Linux, whether because you're  worried about privacy in Windows 10, don't like Microsoft's "ignore what users want" approach or want to stay out of Apple's walled garden, this tutorial is for you.

One of the biggest advantages of Linux is that, unlike macOS and Windows, you don’t have to wipe your hard drive to test it. You can test it right from a USB stick. You can also use this drive to rescue data from corrupt Windows systems.

Here's how to create a live USB stick of Linux distributions from Windows, macOS and Linux.

Create a bootable Linux USB from Windows

If you are running Windows, your best bet is to use rufus, a free and open source USB writing tool. Rufus is much faster than other such tools like UNetbootin and it can create bootable USB sticks of Linux as well as Windows.

Download rufus from the official site (I discourage downloading software from unofficial sources for security's sake). You don’t have to install the app; just run it and then select the target drive (USB stick), browse the ISO image of the operating system that you want to put on the USB flash drive, and rufus will take care of the rest.

Create a bootable Linux USB from macOS

Plug the USB drive into your Mac system and open the Terminal app (just search for Terminal in Spotlight). Then run the following command to find the name of the device:

$ diskutil list

Swapnil Bhartiya
mac command line Swapnil Bhartiya

As you can see from the output ‘/dev/disk3’ is the 2GB USB drive that we will use.. Now unmount this drive:

$ diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk3

And run the dd command as sudo using the following pattern:

$ sudo dd if=PATH_OF_LINUX.iso PATH_OF_USB bs=1m

In my case, I had downloaded openSUSE image to the Downloads folder and the mount point for the USB was /dev/disk3. So the command is:

sudo dd if=/Users/swapnil/Downloads/openSUSE-Leap-42.1-DVD-x86_64.iso/openSUSE-Leap-42.1-DVD-x86_64.iso of=/dev/disk3 bs=1m

It will ask for the password and you are all set.

Create a bootable USB stick from Linux

I was keeping the best for last. If you are running Linux, you can use the dd command (as in the instructions for macOS above) to create the bootable drive. Plug the drive into the system and then run the lsblk command to find the connected storage devices.

fedora Swapnil Bhartiya

Take note of the mount point, which in my case is /dev/sdb

Then unmount the device

$ umount /dev/sdb

And now run the dd command:

$ sudo dd if=/path_of_Linux.iso mount_point bs=1M

In my case it was:

$ sudo dd if=/home/swapnil/Downloads/openSUSE-Leap-42.1-DVD-x86_64.iso/openSUSE-Leap-42.1-DVD-x86_64.iso /dev/sdb bs=1M

Enter the password and it will create a bootable drive of Linux.

That’s it. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comment section below. 

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