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There’s so much you can do with an Ubuntu installation. But what if you could take that same Ubuntu installation and make it portable so you can have it with you wherever you are?

We’ve looked at several options where you can use Linux with your USB drive Running Linux from USB: Are You Doing It Right? Running Linux from USB: Are You Doing It Right? Did you know that can keep data persistent, or even do a full install for Linux, on a USB drive? Take computing totally mobile -- stick a Linux USB PC in your pocket! Read More , but now we’re going to take a look specifically at keeping a portable Ubuntu installation with you so that you have access to all your apps, settings, and files wherever you go.


All you need to have is a USB drive that’s as large as you need it to be. If you want everything with you, it wouldn’t hurt to buy a 128GB or even 256GB flash drive. In theory, you could also use an SD card, but SD card readers are a lot less common in computers than USB ports. Once you have a USB drive in your possession that’s sufficiently large, you have four different choices for your portable Ubuntu experience.

Live Media Only

Initially, you can simply create an installation media Linux Live USB Creator: Easily Boot Linux From Your Flash Drive Linux Live USB Creator: Easily Boot Linux From Your Flash Drive Read More with your USB drive and just boot off of the live environment. This method will allow you to have Ubuntu with you, along with the default apps, and peace of mind knowing that no traces of your activity are left behind on the USB drive or the computer that you’re using. That, by the way, does not mean that all of your Internet tracks disappear too — those are still kept by ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and anyone else that might be snooping.

Live Media with Persistent Storage

If you use utilities like Unetbootin How To Install Linux With Ease Using UNetbootin How To Install Linux With Ease Using UNetbootin We've already talked about Linux and why you should try it, but probably the hardest part of getting used to Linux is getting it in the first place. For Windows users, the simplest way is... Read More  to create your Ubuntu installation media, you can also set a certain amount of “persistent” storage space. This will allow you to install extra applications and save some files that will remain whenever you reboot the system or use a different computer.

The problem here is that you can’t easily upgrade your version of Ubuntu when a new one comes out. While it is possible, it gets super messy as the live environment will first want to load the regular packages but then the persistent storage kicks in to load all of the newer package versions.


If you use an LTS version Why Windows XP Users Should Switch To Ubuntu 14.04 LTS "Trusty Tahr" Why Windows XP Users Should Switch To Ubuntu 14.04 LTS "Trusty Tahr" If you're still trying to dump Windows XP but haven't found an alternative yet, Ubuntu 14.04 is a great choice. Read More and plan on keeping it, then it may be a path worth trying out, but otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it as a permanent portable solution.

A True Installation

Another option is to make your installation media on a different drive, and then install Ubuntu normally as you would on one of your computer’s hard drives. However, instead of choosing one of those hard drives, you choose your USB flash drive instead as the installation destination.

This provides full flexibility with your Ubuntu installation in terms of data and updates. The only downside to this is that Ubuntu will expect to find certain hardware every time you boot up the system, and if you plug your USB drive into different computers then it’ll encounter different hardware each time.

However, I’ve never personally had any issues with that — just be sure not to install any proprietary graphics drivers How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] How To Install Proprietary Graphics Drivers In Ubuntu, Fedora, & Mint [Linux] Most of the time, you'll be fine with open-source software on Linux. But if you want real gaming and graphical power, you'll need proprietary drivers. Here's how to get them. Read More . Otherwise they will load even on systems that don’t use AMD/NVIDIA and prevent you from seeing the desktop.

Portable Ubuntu Remix

Alternatively, if you need your Ubuntu apps but also the Windows system from the computer you’re using, you may want to try out Portable Ubuntu Remix. You can then load Ubuntu as a Windows application that works seamlessly with the rest of the operating system.

The only bad part about this solution is that it uses old versions of Ubuntu and the included apps. If you need to run newer versions of either or both, then this solution probably won’t work well for you.

Take Ubuntu With You Everywhere

Honestly, all of these options are pretty quick and easy to set up, so if you’ve always thought about having your personal portable Ubuntu installation with you, there’s no excuse not to try it out. Best of all, remember that this is only possible because Linux is open source and doesn’t have to deal with licensing Getting a New Computer or Reinstalling Windows? Make a List Of Your License Keys Getting a New Computer or Reinstalling Windows? Make a List Of Your License Keys Imagine you re-installed Windows and discovered halfway through that you're missing the license keys to some of your programs. Save yourself a headache and keep a list of your product keys for emergencies. Read More that makes doing the same with Windows much more difficult.

What uses would you have for a portable installation of Ubuntu? Let us know in the comments!

Image Credits: Jeans pocket Via Shutterstock

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  1. InTheNameOf
    July 13, 2016 at 8:52 am

    For the paranoids among us:

    " traces of your activity are left behind on ... the computer that you’re using."

    I doubt that. If there is a swap partition available on the computers storage it might be used by a live OS and that will keep the swapped data of your live OS session until its overridden. So possibly even sensitive data like passwords may be affected.

    It might be the case that on shutdown of the live OS or on boot of the installed OS the swap space will be cleaned, but I am not sure about that. It might depend on the OS and it's configuration. If someone knows more details, please share.

    • Joshua
      September 23, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      If you have GParted on your live installation, you can go to it and find the swap partitions and swap them off and then on again. This should clear the swap space.

  2. sdk
    March 7, 2016 at 6:19 am

    how do i connect wired internet to portable Ubuntu os from base windows 7 system

  3. freedom
    February 17, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Install Puppy Slacko on your USB device.
    I've been doing it for years, it really can't be beat.

  4. jpw1116
    February 17, 2015 at 2:18 pm

    Portable VirtualBox and an LTS on an SD card seems to work nice and robustly for my needs, whenever I'm back in the Thinkpad world. Most often, though, it's a crouton instance right on the SSD of a Chromebook. Nice and fast.

  5. james
    February 14, 2015 at 4:37 pm

    Trying to run ubuntu long term on a usb drive will kill a usb drive. I have experimented with this and even the nicer usb 3.0 drives just can't take it stress.

    • Godel
      February 16, 2015 at 11:49 pm

      These days you can get some SSDs designed for use in a USB port, but with the aid of a small connecting cord. A quick search shows them to be about credit card size in area and about 8 mm thick, typically 120 or 240GB in size..

      No doubt you pay extra for the privilege.

  6. Karl the second
    February 14, 2015 at 12:24 pm

    A good use of a linux-on-a-stick is recovering data from a computer that has crashed in a manner where the original OS does not launch (Blue Screen of Death). Used it a few times for that.

  7. Karl
    February 13, 2015 at 7:14 pm

    Last year, I made a similar mistake. Somehow, GRUB installed in such a way that the USB had to be inserted to boot Windows. Taking it out showed I had no Windows MBR intact. Fortunately, my flash drive gave me full access to my Windows files on my hdd and I was able to copy to an external, reinstall Windows, and copy back over. At least my 16gb flash drive with Kubuntu 14.04 LTS still works great to this day!

    • Doc
      February 15, 2015 at 9:51 pm

      An easier way to fix your Windows installation would have been to boot from the Windows DVD and use that to repair your installation. Windows Vista and up have some very robust repair tools. (If you're still using XP, shame on you - without up-to-date patches, XP is quickly becoming a malware magnet).

    • Doc
      February 15, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      There are dozens of other things I'd rather put on a USB drive - Hiren's Boot CD, Techiez' Tookit, CloneZilla, or just about any other Linux distro, like Mint. (Can't stand Unity).

  8. Jean-Francois Messier
    February 13, 2015 at 5:12 pm

    I did a mistake in the past that was very much time-consuming for me, and that mistake should now be avoided automatically, but it's good to double-check. When writing the boot record (GRUB2) make sure that it writes the one on the USB device, not the main hard disk (/dev/sda) as it may cause problems, and although you will have a Ubuntu installed on your USB key, it will not boot, as the boot record is on the local hard disk, not the USB key.

    • Albin
      February 16, 2015 at 10:30 pm


      Not only will Ubuntu not boot from that USB key, but GRUB will replace the Windows boot loader and forever interfere with booting Windows. (Same applies to "dual boot" installation.) Linux install software ought to default to locating GRUB on the same drive as the operating system or at least warn users in big red print.