Thursday, December 3, 2009

USB_Creator also in Hardy for USB Flash Ubuntu Install

=== How to install Crunchbang to a USB flash drive using USB-Creator ===

There has been some discussion here about ways to install Crunchbang on a USB flash drive. I haven't found any mention though of using the Ubuntu program "USB Creator" for that purpose. It's very easy to do, works well and makes a persistent install to the flash drive. USB-Creator works for many Ubuntu-derived distros.

Here's how to do it:

1. Prepare a USB flash drive with a capacity of 1 GB or more, i.e. format it with a FAT32 or FAT16 filesystem and put a boot sector with MBR on it. To do that, I generally use the "Quick Format to FAT32" option of the Hewlett-Packard USB Disk Storage Format Tool, running in Windows XP (regrettably, it doesn't work in Wine). Among the many ways of setting up a flash drive, this utility seems to be one of the most reliable tools for doing this job. You can download it from … ption.html

Perhaps you can skip step #1 and use your flash drive as is; it may already be set up properly. I believe USB Creator merely writes the syslinux bootloader code to an already existing MS-DOS-type MBR in the boot sector; it does not reformat your flash drive, anything that's already on it will be kept.

2. Download the Crunchbang ISO and put it somewhere on an easily accessible HDD or USB flashdrive, or pull out your Crunchbang live/install CD, if you have one.

3. Boot into a v.9.04 Crunchbang, Ubuntu, Mint or other Ubuntu-derived system (either into a HDD or USB install or a live CD/DVD), install the Ubuntu usb-creator package (with its two dependencies mtools and syslinux) from the Ubuntu Universe (?) repository.

If you're using Hardy LTS like me:

It is not in the Hardy repositories;

Here are the sources:

USB Creator for AMD64

USB Creator for i386

The packages were built for Intrepid but should install nicely in Hardy. Thanks to Scot's Newsletter for the tip. The forum also reports that the latest two versions, 0.1.9 and 0.1.10, have problems; I chose to install 0.1.8 instead.

Note: USB Creator relies on syslinux and mtools so make sure to install them before installing usb-creator. usb-creator is also a plain .deb file, so you have to install it via

sudo dpkg -i usb-creator_0.1.8_all.deb

and then open the program in that distro. It's a python program, so you have to have Python installed, too.

4. In the source disc image (CD/ISO) box put the location of the crunchbang ISO or CD, in the USB disk to use box put in the location of the flash drive and then set the reserved extra space slider (for the size of the persistent overlay) to some sensible value. Click on "Make Startup Disk". The install will take less than 10 min.

5. Boot into the flash drive (you may have to change the boot sequence in your BIOS to have your computer look for and boot into any attached bootable USB device ahead of booting into the internal HDD). Any changes you make in Crunchbang (customizing applications, creating files, installing additional software, etc) will be persistent, i.e. carried forward to the next boot.

Some computers with AMD hardware may stumble over a bug in the boot code of Ubuntu 9.04 and not allow you to boot to the Desktop (e.g. see The workaround for this is to pull out and reinsert the flash drive after the Crunchbang splash screen has appeared.

6. The unused space within the FAT32 filesystem of the USB flash drive is freely accessible from within any OS, including Linux, Windows and MacOSX, i.e. you can put ordinary files in that space. The reserved extra space (the so-called overlay) is in the file casper-rw in the root directory of the flash drive. It can be accessed from within any other Linux distro through the command

# mount -o loop casper-rw /mnt/xyz

where /mnt/xyz is any available directory that can be used as a mount point in the currently running Linux distro. For as long as the casper-rw loopback image is mounted in that distro, you can read and write to its filesystem by going to /mnt/xyz.


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