25 Sept 2012

Create Live USB with Linux like you have never done before!

I like to try and review different free open source operating systems. This is what this blog is about.

usb key linux 1
Image of Dariolynx
The majority of my reviews are for Live runs of the OS’s. Wherever possible, I try to use a Live USB, not Live CD or Live DVD run. The reason is obvious: the speed of a USB run is much higher than that of an optical drive. This makes an overall experience better and wastes less time.

Unfortunately, a Live USB run is not always possible for me. The reason is in my laptop’s BIOS, which does not work properly with hybrid ISO images.

Some time ago I wrote an article titled "Different methods to create Live USB", where 6 different methods were described. Obviously, the most widely used of them are the command dd and the tool Unetbootin.

Since hybrid images are not usable for me, the command dd is rarely good for me. Unetbootin is my most often used method.

Unfortunately, Unetbootin is not always satisfactory either. The most recent case was my experiment with OpenSuSE 12.1 Li-f-e. That time round, I had to revert to the Live DVD method.

That was a trigger to one of my readers to join the scene. The person under the nickname Cyberorg (his real name is Jigish Gohil, by the way) mentioned a new method, which I’ve never heard of before. It is his own tool, which creates a Live USB from ISO images with a method different from Unetbootin’s. Of course, I wanted to try it.

The tool

The tool is a script. Yes, this is not a binary file, but rather a bash script. This approach has its benefits and issues. The most obvious benefit is cross-platform compatibility. You can run the script on any operating system which has bash. Which one does not have? The issue, of course, is the absence of a graphical interface. If you are scared of the command line, then this is not your cup of tea.

The use of the script is very simple:
  • You need to be under root (not sudo);
  • You need to specify the path to the ISO image;
  • You need to specify the partition on your USB stick, which must be in FAT format;
  • You need to answer a couple of confirmation questions in the process.
The tool allows you to have multiple images on the same USB, on the same partition. It is clever enough to build its own multiboot menu.


I tried to use the script myself. Being in a Xubuntu 12.04 session, I tried to create a Live USB with OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE.

First of all, I ran sudo su to get root access. You may know that there is no root user per se in Ubuntu-based systems, so the simple command su will not work. The command sudo su is a workaround for this.

Then, I specified a location of my ISO image, and the USB stick partition. Here are some comments:

  1. Path to an ISO image should not have spaces in folder and file names, or you need to use quotation marks. That’s a generic rule for all the commands in bash.
  2. The USB stick partition should be unmounted, so I needed to run umount /dev/sdb1 first. If the partition is mounted, you get an error message.

Finally, the script created a Live USB stick for me, which carried a processed image of OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE on it. It was a time to see how my laptop would like it.

The outcome

The best way to try was to reboot my laptop and use the USB stick. That is what I did.

And… drums… drums… drums… tension increases…

It worked! First, I was able to see a boot menu, then the splash screen of OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE. And then, the whole OS booted!

That was a success! I now have another tool to use when I need a Live USB!

Limitations and perspectives

The only distributions supported by Cyberorg’s script for now are Ubuntu and OpenSuSE. This already gives you the wide range of available distributions to try, because of richness of Ubuntu-based derivatives.

Cats love linux
Image by Photohiro
Of course, there is a prospect for further development, and this is a benefit of Open Source. Developers, or fans, of other distributions (Mageia, Debian, PCLOS, Sabayon and so on) may add functionality necessary for their distributions, making the script even more versatile.

In terms of existing script, I think it would be beneficial to replace the error message about a mounted USB partition with a simple umount command. Why do you need to ask user to do this externally, if you already have a bash script running?

Have you tried the Cyberorg’s script? Or maybe you know other methods of Live USB creation, not mentioned in either of my articles?

Update: you can now read a review of OpenSuSE 12.2 KDE, which I used as a guinea pig in this case.


  1. i don't think live runs of an OS are good enough to write a review with, they need to be installed, even a Virtualbox install at the very least.

    1. Carl, I don't want to return to this topic again.

    2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    3. Actually, I go one step further than you, Darkduck. I think live distros occupy a niche and have a purpose -- and HD-installed ones are totally different beasts.

      It's just faster or more fair to test distros in the live version. IMHO, live versions are desired on many occasions, and contrary to what Carl says, IMHO testing an installed version won't be helpful.

      Live distros are important e.g. at work when your environment won't allow any OS installation, but you need to perform a grep on a 4GB file and Windows will die just opening the file.

      Another very important point for me, which I wrote about here the other day, is language support. Not everybody speaks English and Linux is a worldwide phenomenon. Although small CDs like Slitaz or Tiny Core might do just with English, from main distros one expect at least to be able to use a localized keyboard. I even find it fair if applications only are localized when installed on HD, but having to find which key generates a "|" (pipe) char is unbearable.

      And the worse is that, in certain times, installation is worse than running the live version. I can't recall right now, but I think one of the Ubuntus in recent years ran perfectly well as Live CD and "borked" when I tried to install it (which probably can be attributed to the live version using a generic driver like Vesa or something). I simply didn't understand.

      Also, I have the same wi-fi chip DD has -- which only works with Mageia 2 live CD (for the nonfree driver) and won't work at all with Mageia 2 DVD. OTOH, to do a recovery, as per instructions on the Mageia site, I had to "update" my HD installation (made with the nonfree i586 CD) using the i586 DVD. HD installations may be adjustable, but the expertise required might be outside what a newbie can do... hence another point for the live distros.

      To be somewhat on-topic, let me talk about a clumsy experience I did: installing Mageia 2 onto a usb drive just like it's done on an HD. Net result: I fried the usb drive, with I/O errors popping up on the /var directory and finally getting to kernel panics. I knew it would happen, but it only lasted one week, it was ruined much faster than I could envision.

      I now firmly believe in read-only live usb installlations, with infrequently written data persistence at most.

      Sorry for the long post.

      Walter Egon.

    4. Thanks Walter! What would you say if I suggest you to write "chronicles of fried USB"? I think it can be both amusing and useful information. I will happily publish this.

    5. Thanks... surely it would be amusing, if I can say it myself -- since I'll probably be the target of a reasonable amount of mockery... 8-)

      I intend to create a live USB in the next month, so I could take the opportunity to do a little investigative work of what I've read online back then which led me to such a mishap. In that case, I might jot down some words, why not? It would be some kind of "Here be monsters" narrative...

  2. I recommend you download Multisystem that's a brilliant USB multi boot system, easy to use GUI interface, I have been using it for a few months now, every update it gets better and better, and it fast too, it can be downloaded from the repositories or sourceforge

    1. I heard of this application, but still did not have a chance to try it. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. This might sound stupid, but how do I download that script off of github?

    1. Hi, the link in this article gives you an overview of files. On the right hand side you have a Download link, where you can download the script and ReadMe file as ZIP or TAR.GZ file.

  4. Hello! First of all I must say that I'm not used to scripts. In konsole, I start by typing sudo su, then my password. After that I go to the directory where I downloaded the script (cd /...) and, once there, I type live-fat-stick + the path of the iso + the usb stick partition. Konsole keeps saying "command not found." What do you think I'm doing wrong? :S Thank you in advance for your help.

    1. Yssa, try to call up script by ./live-fat-stick from the same location.

    2. thank you for your quick reply. It worked!

  5. Update: https://lizards.opensuse.org/2013/02/14/live-usb-gui/