A live CD (or “live disc”) is a bootable CD, DVD, or USB drive with an operating system ready to run when the disk is inserted. While an operating system is most commonly found mounted on a hard disk drive, bootable media is pretty useful.
Whether for system recovery or merely a portable disk for guest devices, a live CD offers lots of functionality. Problems with boot records, lost passwords, and infections can be quite nasty. However, a live CD may be used to recover data, defrag drives, partition, and more.
For Linux, it’s pretty simple to create a DIY bootable live CD. From third-party tools to official Linux distribution live CDs, there’s an easy solution. Check out how to build your own bootable Linux live CD, from software to creating a disc and finding an ISO.
Linux Live CD Requirements
Let’s start with the prerequisites. While creating a Linux live CD isn’t terribly difficult, you’ll need a few items first. Namely, an ISO file, burnable media, and a means to mount the ISO. I used FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD, but there are loads of tools available. Although I’ve got a spindle of blank DVDs and CDs, I instead opted to use a flash drive for my bootable media. You’ve likely got plenty of USB drives lying around, and a major advantage is that you can reuse these over and over. Plus, it’s a great use for smaller drives, as most ISOs can be mounted on a 2 GB or smaller drive.
Choosing an ISO
There’s no shortage of available live CD software available for Linux. Here’s a list of top contenders:
Hiren’s Boot CD comes packed with goodies. There’s a MiniXp environment (a customized Windows XP), Linux environment for rescue, and lots of tools for defrag, partitioning, backup, and more. MBRCheck as the name implies checks the Master Boot Record (MBR), Tor Browser is a secure browser for surfing the internet, DRevitalize repairs bad hard drive sectors, there are removal tools from Norton and McAfee, and the list continues. Plus, it’s wrapped in a 592.5 MB ISO.
FalconFour’s Ultimate Boot CD isn’t just dubbed ultimate for nothing. As it’s based on Hiren’s Boot CD, FalconFour’s disk has a comprehensive starting point. For this reason, Ultimate Boot CD is my Linux Live CD of choice. Like Hiren’s Boot CD, there are options to boot into Linux or MiniXP environments as well as a bevy of tools. However, FalconFour’s maintains a miniscule footprint. Moreover, it comes pre-loaded with lots of tools including CCleaner (one of my go-to tools on my Windows PC).
Another excellent choice comes in the Trinity Rescue Kit. This Linux-based software can be used for recovery of Linux and Windows computers, and arrives stacked with a host of tools for data recovery and backup, antivirus scanning, password reset, and a slew of others functions.
SystemRescueCD boasts a hefty list of features. From rootkit and malware removal to data backup, partition repair, and lots of file system support, SystemRescueCD is a beefy live disk in a small package. It’s lightweight and versatile. For instance, you can boot into the command line, perfect for Linux, or into a GUI.
Need help troubleshooting? Ultimate Boot CD is a stellar pick. Comprised of diagnostic tools, it’s a solid pick for data recovery, testing peripherals such as RAM and CPU, managing BIOs, and system maintenance. The DOS-based UI may remind you of searching for books at the public library, but hey, Ultimate Boot CD is a well-rounded tool in a tiny 624 MB package.
If you’re merely looking to repair your boot, Boot-Repair-Disk is a solid choice. While it’s aimed at Linux distro boot repair, Boot-Repair-Disk is compatible with select Windows systems. There’s a nice one-click repair mechanism, GRUB reinstaller, file system repair, and other awesome features.
Dedicated Linux Distro CD
In addition a smattering of third-party tools, many Linux distros offer their own live CD ISOs. Ubuntu, Puppy Linux, and Knoppix all provide ready made live Linux CDs. While recovery and system administration is one purpose, these live disks are pretty useful. Another consideration is as a boot disk for a guest computer. These Linux distros usually include tools such as an office suite like Open Office or LibreOffice, web browser such as Mozilla, and other programs. Accordingly, you can merely boot into an operating system and use it as just that.
Essentially, whichever tool you choose comes down to your needs.
Mounting Your ISO
Once you’ve picked your ISO of choice, it’s time to mount it to media to create a bootable disk. I used a spare USB drive care of Basho Technologies, but you can use a blank CD or DVD so long as it’s got sufficient space to hold your ISO. When it comes to creating a live CD, you’ll need a program capable of burning an ISO. Since I’m running Ubuntu 16.04, I simply used Disk Image Writer, but UNetbootin is an excellent option with installers for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.
If you’re using Disk Image Writer, right-click your desired ISO, and navigate to Open With > Disk Image Writer.
Once open, select your media (USB drive, or blank DVD/CD). When you’ve picked the location to mount your ISO file for burning a live Linux CD, click Start Restoring…
Wait as the ISO mounts (usually only a few minutes). After this finishes, you should have a live CD!
Depending on your program, the process may vary, but the general steps are:
- Select a source (the ISO you want to burn.
- Select a destination (burnable media).
- Mount the ISO to a disc.
What to Do With a Linux Live CD
So long as you have your boot order in the correct sequence to boot from USB drives first, you should be able to launch your Linux live CD with ease. The process for this is rather easy, and just requires booting into your BIOS to edit the boot order. This varies by device, but on my Acer netbook, I just pressed F2 during the initial boot which loaded the BIOS. From there I tabbed over to the Boot option, and edited the device sequence.
You’ll have to check for your specific device how to load the BIOS.
Live CDs have plentiful options. I reserve at least one flash drive as a Linux live CD simply to carry around as a sort of portable guest account for when I’m borrowing a computer. However, they’re also awesome to have around when you need to troubleshoot, like when you lost a password or trying to recover data.
What live CDs do you have lying around, and what do you use them for the most? Tell us in the comments.