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Creating a Bootable Ubuntu USB Drive from Terminal

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Creating a bootable Ubuntu USB drive from the terminal can be a handy skill, especially if you’re working on a system without a graphical user interface (GUI) or you simply prefer the command line. In this article, we will guide you through the process of creating a bootable Ubuntu USB drive using different methods.

Quick Answer

Creating a bootable Ubuntu USB drive from the terminal is possible using the dd command, the cat command, or the mkusb tool. These methods allow you to copy the Ubuntu ISO file onto the USB drive, making it bootable and ready for installation.

Preparing Your System

Before getting started, you need to ensure that you have the following:

  1. A USB flash drive with at least 4GB of storage.
  2. An Ubuntu ISO file which you can download from the official Ubuntu website.
  3. Access to a terminal window.
  4. Administrative (sudo) privileges.

Note: Be sure to back up any important data on your USB drive, as this process will erase all existing data.

Identifying the USB Drive

First, you need to identify your USB drive. Plug in your USB drive and use the lsblk command:


This command will list all the block devices (hard drives, USB drives, etc.) on your system. Identify your USB drive based on its size and note down the device identifier (e.g., /dev/sdb).

Method 1: Using dd Command

The dd command is a powerful Unix utility, often used for converting and copying files.

First, unmount the USB drive with the following command:

sudo umount /dev/sdX

Replace sdX with your USB drive’s device identifier.

Next, use the dd command to create the bootable USB drive:

sudo dd if=/path/to/ubuntu.iso of=/dev/sdX bs=4M status=progress

Here’s what these parameters do:

  • if: Input file. Replace /path/to/ubuntu.iso with the path where the Ubuntu ISO file is located.
  • of: Output file. This is your USB drive.
  • bs: Block size. We’re setting it to 4M for faster data transfer.
  • status=progress: This option shows the progress of the copy operation.

Method 2: Using cat Command

The cat command is another simple and effective way to create a bootable USB drive. It concatenates and displays files.

First, unmount the USB drive:

sudo umount /dev/sdX

Then, use the cat command:

sudo cat /path/to/ubuntu.iso > /dev/sdX

The > operator redirects the output of the command on the left (the contents of the ISO file) to the file on the right (the USB drive).

Method 3: Using mkusb Tool

If you prefer a safer and more user-friendly method, consider using the mkusb tool. It’s a simple bash script that wraps around dd and other commands, providing safety features and progress display.

First, add the mkusb repository and install the tool:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mkusb/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install mkusb

After installing mkusb, you can launch it from the terminal:


Follow the on-screen instructions to create your bootable USB drive.


Creating a bootable Ubuntu USB drive from the terminal is straightforward, whether you’re using dd, cat, or mkusb. Remember to replace /path/to/ubuntu.iso and /dev/sdX with your actual file path and device identifier. Always double-check before executing these commands, as incorrect usage can lead to data loss. Happy Ubuntu installation!

How do I check the size of my USB drive?

To check the size of your USB drive, you can use the lsblk command in the terminal. Plug in your USB drive and run the command lsblk. This will display a list of block devices on your system, including your USB drive. Identify your USB drive based on its size and note down the device identifier.

Can I use a USB drive with less than 4GB of storage?

No, the minimum requirement for creating a bootable Ubuntu USB drive is 4GB of storage. The Ubuntu ISO file itself is around 2GB, and additional space is needed for the installation process and any files you may want to save on the USB drive. It is recommended to use a USB drive with more than 4GB of storage to ensure sufficient space.

Will creating a bootable USB drive erase all the data on it?

Yes, creating a bootable Ubuntu USB drive will erase all existing data on the USB drive. The process involves writing the Ubuntu ISO file directly to the USB drive, which overwrites any existing files or partitions. Therefore, it is important to back up any important data on the USB drive before proceeding with the bootable USB creation process.

Can I use the `dd` or `cat` commands to create a bootable USB drive for other Linux distributions?

Yes, the dd and cat commands can be used to create bootable USB drives for various Linux distributions, not just Ubuntu. The process is similar, but you would need the ISO file specific to the Linux distribution you want to create a bootable USB drive for. Replace /path/to/ubuntu.iso in the commands with the path to the ISO file of the desired Linux distribution.

Is the `mkusb` tool available for all Linux distributions?

The mkusb tool is primarily developed for Ubuntu and its derivatives. While it may be possible to install and use mkusb on other Linux distributions, it is recommended to check the official documentation or support channels of your specific distribution to determine if mkusb is available and supported.

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