Make a Persistent Ubuntu USB Drive on Ubuntu - - Windows Tips and Tricks with Geek

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Make a Persistent Ubuntu USB Drive on Ubuntu

 Ubuntu 18.04's GNOME desktop showing a file browser window.

Make a Persistent Ubuntu USB Drive on Ubuntu

You’ll need a computer already running Ubuntu to perform this process. You’ll also need a USB drive with enough storage capacity to set up persistence. We used a 16 GB drive, but an 8 GB drive would have worked as well. The bigger the drive, the more persistent storage you can have.

The grub, boot and Ubuntu partitions take up less than 2 GB. The remainder of the space on the USB drive will be used for the casper-rw and the usbdata partitions.

The casper-rw partition is used for persistent storage. For example, software you install and settings files will be stored here.

The usbdata partition will be formatted with the NTFS file system. It will be accessible to Linux, Windows, and macOS. This partition is also available from within the live Ubuntu on the USB drive. This means any files copied to the usbdata partition from another computer will be accessible to your live Ubuntu.

In other words, the usbdata partition acts as a “shared folder” between your live Ubuntu and any other computer you plug your USB drive into. That’s pretty cool.

The below screenshot shows how the resulting partitions looked on our 16 GB drive.

partition table on USB drive

Although a 16 GB USB drive was used for researching this article, an 8 GB drive would work just as well. It would simply have less storage.

First, you’ll have to download the Ubuntu ISO file you want to place on the USB drive.

Note: If you’re creating a live USB drive from a live disk, ensure Ubuntu’s Universe repository is enabled before you continue. You can do that by running the following command:

sudo add-apt-repository universe

Second, the tool you’re going to use is called mkusb. It is not part of the standard Ubuntu installation. You will need to install it. To do so, enter the following three commands. The first command adds the mkusb repository so that Ubuntu knows where to install mkusb from.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mkusb/ppa

The next command forces Ubuntu to refresh its package lists for the registered repositories.

sudo apt-get update


We can now proceed to install the mkusb package, with this command:

sudo apt install --install-recommends mkusb mkusb-nox usb-pack-efi

The mkusb program does a terrific job of identifying USB drives. That’s great, but there’s nothing like knowing for yourself. When mkusb tells you it is going to completely wipe a particular drive, you can be sure it’s the USB drive you are planning on using and not another device on your system.

In a terminal window, type the following command. The lsblk command lists the block devices on your computer. Each drive has a block device associated with it.


The output from lsblk will show the drives currently connected to your computer. There is one internal hard drive on this machine called sda and there is one partition on it called sda1.

Plug in your USB drive and use the lsblk command once more. The output from lsblk will have changed. The USB drive will now be listed in the output.

There is a new entry called sdb in the list. It has one partition called sdb1. That’s the USB drive.

If you have more than one drive in your computer already, the name of your USB drive will be different. Regardless of how it is named, the device that was not in the previous lsblk listing must be the USB drive.

Once you know which device your USB drive is, you can launch mkusb. Press the Super (Windows) key and type “mkusb”. The mkusb icon will appear. Click the icon or press Enter.

A dialog will ask you whether you wish to run the dus (Do USB Stuff) version of mkusb. Click the “Yes” button.

run mkusb as dus

A terminal window with a black background will appear and a dialog box will prompt you for your password. Enter your password and click the “OK” button.

dialog prompting for password

Warning: This process will wipe the contents of the USB drive!

Click “OK” in the warning dialog to acknowledge you understand this.

dialog warning of wiping of device

Click the “Install (make a boot device)” entry in the list and click the “OK” button.

Install (make a boot device) option

Select the “‘Persistent live’ – only Debian and Ubuntu” entry in the list and click the “OK” button.

Ubuntu and Debian only option

A file browser dialog will appear. Browse to the Ubuntu ISO file you downloaded, select it, and click the green “OK” button.

In the screenshot below, we’re selecting the Ubuntu 19.04 ISO image from the Downloads folder.

file section window

You’ll see a list of the USB drives connected to your computer. This allows you to select the appropriate USB drive.

There was only one USB drive connected to the test machine used for this article. As we confirmed above, it is called sdb. We’ve confirmed that’s the USB drive we want to use so we can proceed with confidence. Click the “OK” button.

USB drive confirmation dialog

When the dialog shown below appears, select the “usb-pack-efi (default grub from ISO file)” entry in the list and click the “OK” button.

usb-pack-efi option

You have one more option to choose. You can select what percentage of the storage space is for persistent storage in the casper-rw partition. The remainder will be used for the usbdata partition, which has the NTFS file system and can also be accessed from Windows PCs and Macs.

If you’re happy to have the available space on the USB drive shared equally between these two partitions, leave the slider at its default value and click the “OK” button.

persistent storage slider

Now, we just have to tell mkusb that we’re happy with all of our choices and that it should proceed.

To be clear, this is the last point at which you can back out. If you’re certain you wish to proceed, select the “Go” radio button and click the “Go” button.

mkusb final safety check

A progress bar shows you how close the creation process is to completion.

progress bar


The final stage of the creation is to flush the file system buffers to the USB drive. You are also advised to wait until you see the phrase “Work done”. That will indicate the process has completed.

progress bar final stages

When the process has completed you will see a dialog with the phrase “Work done” highlighted in green. Click the “OK” button. If any other dialogs appear, close them by clicking on the “Quit” button.

work done dialog

A few more lines of output will scroll through the terminal window. You will be prompted to press “Enter” when you are ready.

press enter to continue

When you press “Enter,” the terminal window will close. You can now either reboot your computer and boot from the USB drive or unplug the USB drive, take it to another computer, and boot it there.

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