53

I've got a shining new x64 laptop running Windows 7 and I want to dual boot Debian stable.

I've installed Ubuntu on loads of laptops in the past using a USB drive, but I can't find decent instructions for installing Debian like the Ubuntu instructions.

I've installed Debian from CD a couple of times in the past too, but my new machine doesn't have an optical drive.

The questions are:

  1. Which files do I need from the Debian download page?

  2. How do I make the Debian files on a USB drive bootable?

  3. Does the Debian installer have a disk partitioner (like the Ubuntu one does)? Reading the installation guide it seems not to, which would be another hurdle. If this is the case, which partitioner can I use?

migrated from stackoverflow.com Apr 2 '11 at 13:33

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

40

Download UNetbootin, which allows one to create bootable USB installation media for almost any Linux and BSD distribution out of the box.

Just run it, select Debian, choose the usb drive and wait while it downloads the .iso and transfers it to your usb. After that it's bootable and the install works like from a CD.

  • Great answer so far. Do you know if, during installation, debian gives the option to partition the disk? – blokeley Apr 2 '11 at 13:41
  • 1
    Any linux distro that doesn't let you partition the disk is doomed to fail. Partitioning the disk is a basic part of any installation of Linux. So I'd say yes, it does. – Majenko Apr 2 '11 at 13:51
  • 1
    Fantastic answer. Worked first time, and that was after several hours of trying to get the instructions in the debian installation guide to work. – Recurse May 10 '12 at 3:56
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    I've had more luck with the Universal USB Installer, with UNetBootin bootmgr was missing – Raziel Oct 6 '13 at 12:11
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    In case anyone is interested, while attempting to install Debian 9.4.0 the installer detected that I created the install medium with UNetbootin. It warned that "UNetbooin is regularly linked with difficult or unreproducible problem reports from users..." Additionally, it stated that if there were any problems to try installing without UNetbooin. – James B. Nall Mar 11 '18 at 20:57
42

If you're on Linux, the easiest way is to simply do:

cat debian.iso > /dev/sdb; sync

This will wipe everything from your USB drive, so be careful!

Also make sure you've got the correct device by checking the output of dmesg right after connecting your USB device.

UPDATE:

For completeness, I should also mention Rufus for Windows.

  • 1
    Why the downvote? this method works and is by far the easiest way to create a bootable Debian USB drive. – Shahin Dohan Dec 10 '12 at 6:18
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    It didn't work for me. Just a blank screen showed up when I tried to install. Not sure if it is a problem with my usb drive or the image or the command mentioned above. – Sivaji Jan 17 '13 at 15:15
  • @Sivaji what do you mean "tried to install"? if you actually got to the menu then it's probably none of those. Try running the normal installer (not the graphical one) and see if that works. – Shahin Dohan Mar 21 '13 at 20:16
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    No idea why this isn't the accepted answer, it's simple, easy to remember, and works, and requires no other tools. Best usb iso suggestion I've ever seen. – Lizardx Feb 29 '16 at 1:12
  • Perfect, just work! – KcFnMi May 28 '16 at 20:54
21
  1. Open Debian Download page and download the right cd / dvd for your pc. Most likely, if you have a modern computer, you'll want amd64 version. I'd suggest to choose cd because today you'll probably have a broadband connection and you'll be able to download other needed packages later very quickly.
  2. If you use Linux terminal you can use dd to prepare your usb stick (iso filename in this command is just an example, you'll have to use your downloaded iso name and path:

    dd if=/your/path/debian-7.5.0-i386-netinst.iso of=/dev/sdX bs=4M
    sync

See Debian official instructions here.

Edit: added sync, to flush device writes before ejecting the usb device.

  1. Modern Debian versions include a partitioning tool and wizard, the process should be fairly easy, as pointed out in all the guides, here's one.
4

So far the easiest way I have found is

cp debian-7.2.0-i386-netinst.iso /dev/sdX
sync

Where X is the drive letter assigned to the devise (see dmesg right after inserting the USB)

As seen in the Debian instructions

  • Didn't work for me. – Dr Beco Aug 6 '16 at 20:02
3

You can try EasyBCD to boot from the iso file directly without creating a bootable usb

  • Thanks for the note, but this doesn't answer any of the 3 specific questions. – blokeley Apr 2 '11 at 13:58
3

4.3.3. Manually copying files to the USB stick — the flexible way (Debian Official Ref.)

After trying other options and some notebooks refusing to boot, I've tried this "flexible way" and it was the only one that worked for me.

  1. Stick your new USB stick to the USB (a new one or one that you don't care to lose all data).

  2. unmount it, if it has mounted automatically

    • umount /dev/sdX1 (and sdX2, ...)
  3. partition it (i like old-fashion fdisk)

    • fdisk /dev/sdX
    • d to delete all partitions
    • n to create a new, using all space
    • t to change the partition type to ID c: W95 FAT32 (LBA)
    • a to make sure it is bootable
    • w to write the changes and exit
  4. Install an MBR with (I didn't need this step, so you may test. But its no harm to use it):

    • install-mbr /dev/sdX
  5. Create the filesystem

    • mkdosfs -F32 -n "Debian85" /dev/sdX1
  6. Keep it unmounted and generate the system in it:

    • syslinux /dev/sdX1
  7. Lets mount the USB stick:

    • mount /dev/sdX1 /mnt/d2/
  8. Copy some files (be certain you download them from hd-media):

    • cp vmlinuz /mnt/d2
    • cp initrd.gz /mnt/d2
  9. Edit the file syslinux.cfg, and add the following content to it:

    • vim /mnt/d2/syslinux.cfg

DEFAULT linux
LABEL linux
    SAY Boot Debian Jessie 8.5 CD-1 from SYSLINUX...
    KERNEL vmlinuz
    APPEND ro root=/dev/ram initrd=initrd.gz vga=788
    PROMPT 1

  1. Copy the ISO image to the USB stick:

    • cp /some/path/debian-live-8.5.0-amd64-kde-desktop.iso .
    • sync
  2. Unmount the stick and it is ready to boot some machines:

    • umount /mnt/d2

Notes:

  1. If at some point you become confused about what is mounted where, don't forget to run:

lsblk -fo +size

  1. A comment from my experience: if you copy the files on step 8 from your mounted ISO CD image instead of from the hd-media, then, after a successful boot, during the beginning of the installation (step "Detect and mount CD-ROM"), it will show you the message:

    "incorrect cdrom / cdrom detected cannot be used for installation".

Googling it may show you problems with unetbootin, but as you can see, this method gives the same error and doesn't use such program.

  1. Also, as this method keeps the USB stick available space after the process usable, it is a good idea to create a folder (use the name firmware so debian can find it during the install) and add to it all sorts of non-free firmware that may be needed during the installation. You can get them from this unofficial netinstall image.
1

To quote from the Very Verbose Debian Installation Walkthrough:

Step 3 � (cfdisk) You should now be at a black screen that says, "cfdisk 2.11n", at the top. This is where we will partition our hard drive to prepare it so we can install Debian. Probably one of the most "scary" tasks when installing Debian is partitioning the drive. Debian uses a command line tool called cfdisk, which is really quite simple to use, so don't be discouraged by its monochrome presentation.

1

Debian.org - 4.3. Preparing Files for USB Memory Stick Booting

4.3.1. Preparing a USB stick using a hybrid CD or DVD image

Debian CD and DVD images can now be written directly to a USB stick, which is a very easy way to make a bootable USB stick. Simply choose a CD or DVD image (such as the netinst, CD-1, DVD-1, or netboot) that will fit on your USB stick. See Section 4.1, “Official Debian GNU/Linux CD/DVD-ROM Sets” to get a CD or DVD image.

The CD or DVD image you choose should be written directly to the USB stick, overwriting its current contents. For example, when using an existing GNU/Linux system, the CD or DVD image file can be written to a USB stick as follows,

# cp debian.iso /dev/sdX
# sync

4.3.3. Manually copying files to the USB stick — the flexible way

If you like more flexibility or just want to know what's going on, you should use the following method to put the files on your stick. One advantage of using this method is that — if the capacity of your USB stick is large enough — you have the option of copying any ISO image, even a DVD image, to it.


Regarding the boot loader for MS FAT formatted file system.

0

This will hopefully be useful to others.

At present, the official FAQ about Debian install CDs - https://www.debian.org/CD/faq/#write-usb (alongside the usual Linuxy methods, which are nice until you're on a Windows-only machine) - also suggests Win32DiskImager, a simple GUI-based program to write bootable images (such as the Debian .iso) to USB: http://sourceforge.net/projects/win32diskimager/files/latest/download

I've used this method to install latest x86 and x64 Debian with no issues whatsoever.

  • Please describe the content of the sites you linked, otherwise when they'll be removed your answer will be useless. – Máté Juhász Sep 1 '15 at 19:47
  • What more description do you want than "the official FAQ about Debian install CDs" and "Win32DiskImager"? These both seem self-explanatory to me. I'm not being sarcastic, but if you want more info, specify what. – underscore_d Sep 1 '15 at 23:23

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