Create a Bootable USB Debian Live Flash Drive

How to Create a Bootable USB Debian Live Flash Drive from Windows by using Etcher by Balena. The following tutorial covers the process of installing Debian Live to a USB Flash Drive from within Windows. Resulting in a Live bootable USB with optional persistence which you can also use to Install Debian from USB to a Hard Drive.

Debian Live is a continuing project originally headed by Daniel Baumann. USB-hdd Images based on Gnome, KDE, lxde, Xfce or Cinnamon graphical desktops were once offered. However, this is no longer the case. With hybrid ISO files now available, we can use those instead.

For those of you already up and running from a Linux environment, a custom Debian Live ISO or USB Image can easily be created using the Live-Helper scripts.

Note: This install method will create a partition on your flash drive that is the same size as the ISO you use. From Windows, your drive will appear to be missing space, because Windows does not detect the rest of the space which will be utilized for the persistence overlay feature. Flash Drive restoration methods are linked at the end of this tutorial.

Debian Live running from a Bootable USB

Bootable USB Debian Live Flash Drive

Etcher: Project Homepage

Debian Live: Official Website

Minimum Flash Drive Capacity: 4GB+

Persistence Overlay Feature: Yes

Creating a Bootable USB Debian Live Flash Drive

Warning: The contents on your Flash Drive will be wiped out. Backup everything you want to save before proceeding.

  1. Insert a 4GB or larger USB Flash Drive (for Debian Live with Persistence).
  2. Grab a Gnome, Xfce, KDE or lxde ISO and save it to your desktop.
  3. Download Etcher, run the installer to launch the program.
    Etcher Create a USB Bootable Debian Live
  4. (1) Browse to and select your Debian-Live .ISO file.
    (2) Select your USB flash drive.
    (3) Click Flash to burn the ISO to your USB.
  5. A progress bar will indicate the progress of the write. Once it has finished, simply reboot your PC and set your BIOS or Boot Menu to boot from the USB Flash Drive.

If all went well, you should now be booting from your Portable USB Debian Live Flash Drive. You can also use it to Install Debian from USB to a Hard Drive.

How to make Debian Live Persistent with a persistence overlay

You can perform the following tasks to create a persistent partition on your bootable USB Debian Live flash drive. This feature allows you to save and restore some of your changes on subsequent boots.

  1. At the boot screen, tap the E key to edit boot options. Then add the word toram to the end of the linux boot string, and press Ctrl + X to boot. USB Boot Debian toram
  2. Once you are up and running, Open a terminal window. I.E. ctrl+alt+x
  3. Type the following to create a persistent partition.
    sudo su (to gain root access)
    fdisk /dev/sda (assuming your flash drive is sda. Use fdisk -l to check)
    n(to create a new partition)
    p (for primary)
    enter (default to create a 3rd partition)
    enter (for default first sector as start point)
    +6G (for 6GB in size)
    w (to write the changes)
  4. Next, to format the partition as ext3 with a persistence volume label, type the following;
    mkfs.ext3 -L persistence /dev/sda3
  5. Finally, to create a persistence.conf file with / union so that Debian can detect and use your persistent overlay, type the following;
    mkdir /ptmp && mount /dev/sda3 /ptmp
    echo "/ union" > /ptmp/persistence.conf
    umount /dev/sda3
  6. Once the process has finished, reboot your Debian Live system.
  7. At the splash boot screen, tap the E key to edit the boot options.
  8. Add the word persistence to the Linux string and then Ctrl + X to boot.

If all goes well, you should now be booting into your Debian Live with persistence. In order to save and restore any changes you make, you need to perform steps 7 and 8 during each boot. Another option is to edit and add a permanent default persistent boot option to your existing boot menu by editing the grub configuration file.

If you would like to return your Flash Drive to its previous state, you can use this How to Restore your USB Flash Drive tutorial.