Open Source

How to create a bootable USB drive with multiple Linux distributions

Choosing the right Linux distribution for a task is critical, and having numerous distributions on one USB drive makes this easy. Here's how you can achieve this, with Multiboot USB.

How many times have you been called to work a particular kind of magic, only to find you don't have the necessary tools with you? It happens more often than people want to admit. And when the particular tool needed is a version of Linux, you kick yourself, knowing how easy that tool is to carry around.

But which distribution do you cart around on your USB drive? Kali Linux? Puppy Linux? Ubuntu? Debian? The list goes on and on. What if I told you that you didn't have to choose just one, that you could create a single USB drive that would boot into your Linux distribution of choice? That's right, it's not only possible, it's quite easy. With the help of Multiboot USB, you can create a flash drive with whatever live Linux distributions you need. This tool is cross platform (you can install it on Linux or Windows) and can easily create your personal multi-distribution USB drive.

I'm going to walk you through that very process, demonstrating on my platform of choice, Elementary OS. Let's get to work.

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Installation

In order to install Multiboot USB, you first must download the installer that matches your platform. Once you have it downloaded, open up a terminal and issue the following command (from within the directory housing the downloaded file):

sudo dpkg -i python3-multibootusb_XXX_all.deb

Where XXX is the release number.

Chances are, that installation will error out. To fix it, issue the command:

sudo apt install -f

That's all there is to the installation. You're ready to create your first multiboot flash drive.

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Usage

Before you fire up Multiboot USB, make sure you have a USB drive large enough to hold however many Live Linux distributions you need (and that you've downloaded the ISO images of the distributions you want to install). A 16GB drive will hold a few small footprint distributions or three full Ubuntu-based Distributions. With that in hand, insert the drive, make sure it is mounted (which can be done from within your desktop file manager), and then open Multiboot USB (from your desktop menu).

Once the main window opens (Figure A), click on the Select USB disk drop-down and choose the flash drive to be used.

Figure A

Figure A

The Multiboot USB main window.

With the correct drive selected, (remember, that step is very important, else you overwrite the wrong drive), click on the Browse button and navigate to the first ISO image you want to install. Once you've added the first distribution, click the Install distro button and Multiboot USB will do it's thing. When prompted, click Yes to proceed.

Depending upon the distribution you are installing, the process can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to 10 minutes. One thing I've noticed is that sometimes the percentage timeline instantly jumps to 99% and then sits there for a long while—apparently, this is normal. Wait until the installation completes (you will be prompted to click OK when the installation finishes) and then go through the process again to install another live distribution.

When you have all of your distributions installed (Figure B), you can close out Multiboot USB, unmount your flash drive, and remove the device. You can now insert your Multiboot-empowered USB drive into your PC of choice and boot into one of your added live distributions.

Figure B

Figure B

Three live distributions ready to serve.

Multiboot made easy

That's all there is to it. Multiboot USB makes creating a single USB drive with multiple live Linux distributions. With just the right flavors of Linux, you can create one tool that can take on just about any administration task.

Give Multiboot USB a go and see if it doesn't help you create your new favorite go-to tool.

Also see

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Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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