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I have a bootable USB drive w/Ubuntu 10.04. I use it to learn Ubuntu and to diagnose, repair, or recover other people's computers and files. The problem comes when I constantly have to keep re-downloading the tools I need. Is there a way to keep the tools I downloaded and keep Ubuntu they way I customized it (i.e. wallpaper, graphic options, icons on desktop, etc.) without installing it on the PC? I want to be able to keep everything on my USB drive.

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

If you use the USB Disk Creator (available from the Live CD I think, see here amongst many other places for more detail) you have the option of reserving space on the USB stick for holding updates. If you create a USB stick this way then changes, including updated and added software, should be preserved between boots.

Make sure you reserve plenty of space for such updates: you will no doubt need more than you think eventually as over time more and more packages need to be updated/added and any log files that are updated over time will get stored there to. If you only have a 1Gb USB stick, I suggest reserving all that is left after the system block is allocated for updates - I would recommend a 2Gb stick or larger though to allow more space.

It is possible to install a "proper" system to a USB drive too, though using the tool mentioned above is probably much simpler. The tool creates a live-CD like system plus a shadow file for updates, which is less efficient in some ways, but should work perfectly well for the use you describe.

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I used UNetbootin to install Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, not sure if it had the option to reserve space. Also have 8GB USB drive, so space is not a problem – A.Donahue Aug 10 '10 at 17:52
UNetBootin doesn't have that option. However, Startup Disk Creator does. You can install it into Ubuntu using sudo apt-get install usb-creator-gtk (or usb-creator-kde for KDE). You can find it under Administration-> Startup Disk Creator. – digitxp Aug 10 '10 at 18:34
@digitxp: aye, that is the tool I was referring to. Last time I made Ubuntu boot disks (for the netbook variant for my little netbook) it was available from the LiveCD without needing to install with apt-get /aptitude / GUI package manager. – David Spillett Aug 11 '10 at 15:49
I don't think anyone really answered this question properly. The question is, how can the changes made during a 'try ubuntu' session using the live-cd option be retained after reboot? Everything reverts back to the way it was before any changes were made. There must be a script or something that causes it to revert to this. Or Ubuntu sets up some kind of ramdrive that is lost when a reboot occurs. Please someone answer this question. – user69386 Feb 27 '11 at 11:12
@Joo: That is exactly what it is: the default LiveCD keeps all changes in RAM so they are lost on shutdown/reboot. There isn't a script that explicitly wipes the changes: they are simply lost as they a not written anywhere except RAM. Boot disks made using the Startup Disk Creator use the same union-filesystem trick to save changes but instead of going to RAM the changes go to a file on the USB disk. The default LiveCD images don't work this way by default as their natural environment (a CD-R) does not allow the changes to be written (and there wouldn't be much room anyway). – David Spillett Feb 27 '11 at 16:59

If you have Ubuntu installed on the USB drive, I don't see why you'd have to re-download/reinstall software. Please provide more details.

But, if you're just using the USB to store a live cd, I can see why you'd have this problem. If this is the case, I suggest you install ubuntu on the USB drive.

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I once tried installing Ubuntu to a USB drive. There are too many stability problems that way :-(. – digitxp Aug 10 '10 at 18:35
I have done it with the last 5 releases of ubuntu, no stability problems. – bryan Aug 11 '10 at 14:25

you can either do a full install of a distro onto a usb, in other words it now becomes a portable full installation that you can take anywhere with you, the downside to this is compatability issues from one machine to the next. the other option is to install a live version with data persistence so you can retain all your user settings updates etc, from one live session to the next, great for testing out a distro but the downside is slow boot. i have only just found this out so please dont ask me to elaborate, I am just about to dig deeper on how to set one up with this data persistence?! hope this has clarified things though so far? cheers

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Yes; Please elaborate otherwise this is more of a comment then an actual answer to the proposed question. – Ramhound Dec 22 '15 at 19:04

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