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Background: I am a programmer that occasionally has access to other computers when on vacation or something. These are generally the machines of friends or family, so randomly installing Ubuntu on it wouldn't be terribly polite. I would like to completely avoid the hard drive of the target machine.

Not all of these machines can boot to USB either, so that simple solution is out.

What I want to be able to do is boot to an Ubuntu live CD, plug in a USB drive and then grab various updates and other applications, installing them to the USB drive.

Later, on another machine, put in the live CD, after boot, put in the USB drive and then magic, I have all of the updates/applications/data/etc that I've tossed onto the drive.

I suspect that it should be possible to mount /home, /var, /usr, and maybe a couple of other locations from the USB drive or something along those lines.

So is this possible and what do I need to do?

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It is absolutely possible.

The mechanism built into Ubuntu is available. Basically, use the usb-creator tool or LiveUSB Creator (available once you've booted the LiveCD) to create a LiveUSB system on the USB stick.

Here's an install-it-from-Windows tutorial.

There are lots of posts on the Ubuntu forums about persistence; you'll want to check there in your research. These posts seem particularly useful with 9.04:

  • installing on a 16gb

  • This post suggests (while using the LiveUSB Creator) just "created one without any persistence space, then manually created an EXT2 partition labelled 'casper-rw' and on boot-up I had a system with persistence"

If the system you're on can boot from USB, that's all you need. If not, then use the LiveCD or build yourself a boot floppy (ha! -- tho you can probably build a boot CD instead of a floppy...).

Hope that helps!

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this answer is incomplete, needs more detail on what to do for non-USB-booting systems. i suspect booting LiveCD with "persistent" boot option would work, but i'm not sure. will test and get back to ya. –  quack quixote Oct 4 '09 at 3:44
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