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I have a CD that's created from an ISO file which I use to install a custom version of Ubuntu via plop linux.

The cd works fine but I'd like to use a bootable USB drive instead. I used the command dd to try and create the bootable USB:

dd if=filename.iso of=/dev/sdb1 bs=4k

Now this does copy the files and make the USB bootable but I get the error "Missing operating system"

Any ideas?

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Do you only have access to the command line? There are interfaces like Unetbootin that work very well and run on linux.. – dashboard May 3 '13 at 21:38
@dashboard I would prefer command line because it is available on every linux machine. – xsdf May 6 '13 at 12:40
@dashboard - The GUI tools never seem to work well for me, and this has consistently been true over many years. I'm happy to know the command line method. I find it easier and more reliable. It is a lot less frustrating! – MountainX Sep 18 '15 at 20:36
up vote 36 down vote accepted

Ok after some research I've figured out a solution, and I'll go through it step by step. Problem was two-fold.

  1. Plug in the USB flash drive and determine the device it's mounted on with the command:

    sudo fdisk -l

    This time around it was /dev/sdc1 for me, so I'll use that as my example.

  2. Umount the device

    umount /dev/sdc1
  3. Not sure if necessary but I formatted the drive in FAT32, just in case

    sudo mkdosfs -n 'USB-Drive-Name' -I /dev/sdc -F 32
  4. Now my ISO was using isolinux not syslinux. I knew it worked with CDs so I figured out that I needed to call the isohybrid command, which allows for an ISO to be recognized by the BIOS from a hard drive.

     isohybrid filename.iso

    You can find out more about this command here, but this was the cause of the message "Missing Operating System" The first problem was fixed, but now it said "isolinux.bin was missing or corrupt"

  5. The next step is to copy the iso. My second problem lay here, where I was copying to the partition, sdc1, not the device, sdc.

    sudo dd if=filename.iso of=/dev/sdc bs=4k

    This seems to work just fine, but the forum where I got the last fix, it was recommended to do the following before unplugging the device:

    sudo eject /dev/sdc
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Here's a way to check for dd's progress: – Nikos Alexandris May 29 '14 at 7:00
Making an assumption here, I think the mkdosfs command may not be necessary, since the iso has a filesystem located on it already (probably including an MBR, not sure) that is copied over to the beginning of the block device. Man, isohybrid is a cool command, didn't know about it! – Ehtesh Choudhury Oct 9 '14 at 3:55
for windows 7 bootable install USB, also see… – cwd Oct 16 '14 at 0:34
Step #3 is unnecessary; the dd command in step #5 will obliterate the newly created filesystem with the contents of the ISO. – ewhac Feb 18 '15 at 23:53

This is a common issue with SanDisk USB sticks, or sticks not formatted in FAT32.

If not either of those it is most certainly an issue with your stick partition order or the syslinux.cfg file.

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USB flash drive is from Verbatim. I reformatted in FAT32 just to be sure and still got same error. – xsdf May 3 '13 at 20:37

isohybrid may not always work. For example, I had an .iso with FreeDOS and isohybrid was not able to find some important files there (I don't know whether they should had been put there by syslinux, which I used too, or anything else). I propose several alternatives here.

1) Install another bootloader there such as GRUB. It is explained here (link -1):

"Assume your USB stick's first partition is FAT32 and its partition is /dev/sdy1" (I had grub2 on my Fedora Core, so I changed the commands a bit):

# mkdir -p /mnt/usb ; mount /dev/sdy1 /mnt/usb
# grub2-install --target=i386-pc --recheck --debug --boot-directory=/mnt/usb/boot /dev/sdy
# grub2-mkconfig -o /mnt/usb/boot/grub2/grub.cfg

# optional, backup config files of grub.cfg
# mkdir -p /mnt/usb/etc/default
# cp /etc/default/grub /mnt/usb/etc/default
# cp -a /etc/grub.d /mnt/usb/etc

# sync; umount /mnt/usb

2) FreeDOS wiki offers a compound method with GRUB and syslinux here (link 0) (though I don't understand how they launched grub> - I couldn't boot from the usb up to that stage).

3) Here is a post which may be useful - it says 'As long as the, kernel.sys, syslinux.cfg, ldlinux.sys and fat32lba.bss files are in the root of the drive and the MBR and boot sector are not rewritten the drive should remain bootable.'

4) Here it is explained how to generate a bootable .iso file with a syslinux bootloader. They don't even use isohybrid. Unfortunately that didn't help me (maybe because of syslinux).

5*) Use a windows program via wine. I tried rufus, however that didn't work, it couldn't find the device.

I warn you that unfortunately I couldn't solve this problem, my device was unbootable, but I hope that this may be useful for other people (also those who want to install not a linux on the usb). The usb image generated by chtaube though worked for me, so I think these methods are correct.

UPD: The 3rd method really works (with a correction for a custom installation file).

Link -1: see wiki archlinux, GRUB#Install_to_external_USB_stick

Link 0: see freedos wiki USB#Linux_2

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2nd: You may add these links to the post if the system trusts you more than me. StackOverflow already knows me well, so why such a problem at superuser? Also I had problems posting this, it didn't show me that my answer was already posted. – Yaroslav Nikitenko Jan 20 at 13:46
It seems superuser counts links by their references, i.e. if I link twice to a same resource, it's counted. This seems to be a bug. A workaround in UPD came from – Yaroslav Nikitenko Jan 20 at 18:57

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