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Old 04-02-2004, 04:01 PM   #1
Registered: Apr 2004
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Question Installing Linux on a Portable USB Drive

I have a desknote that can boot from a USB device so I would like to install a Linux distribution on a USB Hard drive.

I need some kind of boot disk or CD that can see the USB drive at install time.

What would be the best way to go about doing this?

I've tried knoppix and does in fact see the USB drive but I can't get fdisk to work on it. Under knoppix, I opened up a shell and tried

fdisk -l

but I get some kind of error message that can't entirely remember.

maybe something like

unable to read hda
unable to read sda ( I presume the USB drive is seen as scsi)

I suspect it's by design to keep someone clueless from hosing up there hard drive partitions.

Does anyone know another approach?
Old 04-02-2004, 05:15 PM   #2
Andrew Benton
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dmesg. Type in dmesg and look for likely stuff about USB block devices. For me they always seem to show up as /dev/sda1 but your system may be different.
Old 04-02-2004, 08:58 PM   #3
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Look at for distros that can be run from a USB device.
Old 04-03-2004, 06:32 PM   #4
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where at on that site?

I don't see where the list is on the DistroWatch site. Where is it?
Old 04-04-2004, 05:59 AM   #5
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Location: Sweden
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An USB device is more like a floppy than a HD. You don't do "fdisk" on it as far as I
know, but I can be misstaken.

Anyway the way I know works is to keep the "vfat" fs usually installed on these
devices and install the "syslinux" boot-loader, get it at
You probably need a ram-disk (I have not tried to use the vfat fs as /). To get going
quickly, grab a ram-disk image from some "floppy" distribution e.g "floppyfw" or

It might be possible to install GRUB on the USB device, but I have not tried it.
It IS however possible to reformat it with "ext2" fs.

Lars Ekman
Old 04-04-2004, 08:07 PM   #6
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Actually, FDisk in Knoppix wouldn't let access the internal (IDE) Drive either. Again, like I said, the knoppix developers probably did that on purpose (don't think you actually have root privileges by default).

Anyways, form Windows, I used the Disk Management utility from Computer Management and repartitioned the USB Drive, formatting the second partition as FAT32.

Then, I found some EXT2 utilities for win32 here,, and used them to format the 1st partition as EXT2.

Now, what I think I actually want to do is put an uncompressed version of the knoppix CD on that partition but have it still do it's hard detection script so that it creates the appropriate files under /dev and /mnt.

So I will probably end my discussion here and look around on the knoppix threads or the knoppix site itself for more clues.

Last edited by Burgin; 04-04-2004 at 08:08 PM.


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