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I'm trying to install Ubuntu to USB so I can use it like a fully functional, persistent OS on multiple computers if need be (also, I am planning on switching my HDD soon).

I've tried mounting the official Live/Installer Ubuntu distro to the USB with rufus, but once I booted it up, if I try installing Ubuntu, it will only recognize my HDD partitions, but not the USB drive.

Next, I've tried using Unetbootin, but after installing that one I once again got a live USB, not a full Ubuntu install.

Do you have any suggestions on how I could install it directly to the flashdrive from my PC without needing a spare DVD/USB?

Before marking it as a duplicate, please read the question you're marking this as a duplicate of and the answer. I specifically said those sollutions do not work, and presented another issue.

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If you need to install from USB, you won't be able to install to that same USB device (which makes sense as it's needed to make the install). You will then need 2 USB drives.

In order to make your USB drive bootable you will need to make partitions manually because you will need a fat32 boot partition in order for many bios to boot. You will also need to install a boot loader to the MBR of your USB device (installer does that for you).

I would suggest following this tutorial here as it should work pretty much the same with any Ubuntu version up to now with 17.04.

Install Ubuntu on a USB drive

Main steps:

  1. You will need 2 USB drives or an install disc and a USB drive. Your target drive must be of at least 16Gb.

  2. Boot off the USB or Disc with the target USB device plugged in as well.

  3. Choose your target USB device as the install drive during setup

  4. Setup advanced partitions on your target USB device (fat32 for /boot, ext4 for /, no swap to enhance lifespan of USB stick) when asked.

  5. Finish setup

  6. Reboot machine when prompted and voilà!

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