Ubuntu frugal multiboot installation without burning any CD/DVD

I have been able to boot ISO directly from the hard drives instead of from slow CD/DVD before; I was able to install any Linux without the need to burn any CD/DVD, onto either HD or USB before. But recently when I was dealing with the casper Ubuntu boot from Ubuntu 13.10, I found my old method doesn’t work any more and need to find a solution. However all recent articles I found from the Internet recommend GUI tools. So, let me write one for the DIY people who like simple commands more than the fancy GUI tools.

The Problem

First, the Disclaimer: This article is about frugal installing modern Ubuntu into HD or USB without burning any CD/DVD at first. It is not meant for beginners but power users who like command line more than GUI tools.

So what’s the problem with GUI tools for me?

  • The usb-creator-gtk has been very buggy recently. I need to jump over the hoops to get it installed and started, but it didn’t allow me to pick any disk/partition at all.
  • The usb-creator-kde was claimed to be working, but I gave it up when trying to install it because I need to pull in over 150 packages just for something that I was able to do with simple commands without any extra packages before.
  • I don’t like the usb-creator series after all because it needs to wipe out hd/usb as the first step. That’s too heavy-handed to me.
  • The Unetbootin was claimed to be working, but it is not in the official repo and you have to install an extra ppa for it.
  • There is also another solution, but under the hood, it dd the iso image to the hd/usb partition. I.e., turning a RW hd/usb into a RO partition. I don’t like the idea at all.

To recap, none of the solutions I found allows me to do a frugal installation into a hd/usb partition that already have some other multiboot options.

My old method

Comparing to all above fancy tools, Ubuntu frugal installation used to be extremely simple and straightforward. The following works for ubuntu-10.04 and ubuntu-10.10.

Repost from http://www.linuxquestions.org/questions/blog/sfxpt-393704/simple-ubuntu-10-04x-lts-installation-that-allows-multiboot-3118/


# Prepare source
sudo mount -o loop iso/ubuntu-10.04.1-desktop-amd64.iso /mnt/iso1/
# Prepare destination, HD/USB
mount /dev/sdb2 /mnt/usbpen/

Method 1, boot Ubuntu ISO directly from HD

Copy /casper/vmlinuz, /casper/initrd.lz and /preseed from CD into HD/USB

cd /mnt/iso1/
rsync -vuaR casper/vmlinuz casper/initrd.lz preseed /mnt/usbpen

Then add the following boot entry to your grub:

title Ubuntu 10.04x LTS ISO
  kernel /casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/iso/ubuntu-10.04.1-desktop-amd64.iso file=/preseed/ubuntu.seed quiet splash --
  initrd /casper/initrd.lz

Note, if you use grub2, then you don’t need to extract any file from CD. Just add the following boot entry to your grub2.cfg:

menuentry "Ubuntu 10.04x LTS" {
       loopback loop (hd0,3)/path/to/ISOs/ubuntu/lucid-desktop-i386.iso
       linux (loop)/casper/vmlinuz boot=casper iso-scan/filename=/path/to/ISOs/ubuntu/lucid-desktop-i386.iso file=(loop)/preseed/ubuntu.seed quiet splash bootkbd=sg --
       initrd (loop)/casper/initrd.lz

Method 2, boot without CD

To allow better multiboot, this time we put everything into a sub-folder,

mkdir /mnt/usbpen/ubuntu
cd /mnt/iso1/
rsync -vuaR casper preseed /mnt/usbpen/ubuntu

Then add the following boot entry to your grub:

title Ubuntu 10.04x LTS Live
  kernel /ubuntu/casper/vmlinuz file=/ubuntu/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper initrd=/ubuntu/casper/initrd.lz ignore_uuid live-media-path=/ubuntu/casper quiet splash --
  initrd /ubuntu/casper/initrd.lz


As you can see, with the above frugal installation methods, it is very easy to install several of your favourite Linux into a single USB key.

To recap:

  • You don’t need to get your existing multiboot partition wipe out by official USB installation.
  • You don’t need to download or install any scripts or executables to install yourself.
  • Just a few commands from command line allow you to install Ubuntu into your existing multiboot partition as another entry.

For recent Ubuntus

I don’t know starting from which Ubuntu version the old method stops working, but it’s not working for Ubuntu 13.10 for sure. Took me nearly a week of info-seeking and trial-and-error to get it working again. Long story short, here are what my goals are and the key steps of the solution.

What is the minimum set of files that need to copy from CD

It turns out the minimum set of files that need to copy from CD are, the .disk and casper, and optionally the preseed folder:

cd /mnt/iso1/
rsync -vuaR .disk casper preseed /mnt/usbpen

Here is the syslinux/extlinux menu configure file to boot such disks:

default menu.c32
prompt 0
menu title Lubuntu
timeout 100

label ubnentry1
 menu label ^Lubuntu Live
 kernel /casper/vmlinuz
 append initrd=/casper/initrd.lz file=/cdrom/preseed/lubuntu.seed boot=casper quiet splash --

That’s it. As long as you make your disk bootable with syslinux/extlinux or grub as shown above, you are all set.

How to make it multibootable

To multiboot, everything has to be in a sub-folder, instead all occupying the root folder. Let’s install Lubuntu 13.10 under boot/lub1310

cd /mnt/iso1/
rsync -vuaR .disk casper /mnt/usbpen/boot/lub1310
cd /mnt/usbpen
ln -s boot/lub1310/.disk .

I use ext2 for my USB partition (and extlinux to boot it). That’s why I can use ln to create symbol links. The last step of symbol linking is vital for the usb key to boot.

Here is the syslinux/extlinux menu configure file:

UI menu.c32
prompt 0

menu title Debian Usb Key Boot Menu
timeout 100
default lub1310

Label ub1310
  menu label ^Ubuntu Saucy
  kernel /boot/ub1310/casper/vmlinuz
  append initrd=/boot/ub1310/casper/initrd.lz boot=casper live-media-path=/boot/ub1310/casper noprompt showmounts --

Label lub1310
  menu label ^Lubuntu Live
  kernel /boot/lub1310/casper/vmlinuz
  append initrd=/boot/lub1310/casper/initrd.lz boot=casper live-media-path=/boot/lub1310/casper noprompt showmounts --

As you can see, the above frugal installation method allows each different distro resides in different sub-folders (under /boot). Thus it is very easy to put several of them into a single USB key.


3 thoughts on “Ubuntu frugal multiboot installation without burning any CD/DVD

  1. Pingback: Boot Ubuntu 14.10 directly from CD image | SF-Xpt's Blog

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