Easy methods to Create and Boot From a Linux USB Drive on Mac

Linux has long been synonymous with bootable flash drives, be it to fix a problem with your primary operating system or to try different distributions.

There are several ways to create a bootable Ubuntu USB drive (or other Linux USB drive) for Mac. You can choose the freeware route for an easy option, or you can spend a little time creating the drive using Terminal. Let's look at both methods.

First, prepare your USB drive

If you want to create a bootable Linux USB drive on a Mac, you first need to make sure that you have the correct USB drive for this job and that it is formatted correctly to avoid problems.

Some Linux variants may require larger volumes. Please note the requirements when downloading. In general, anything over 4 GB is enough. Others don't have strict requirements, but pre-formatting to FAT is still a good idea.

Warning: Everything on your drive will be erased if you do this!

  1. Plug your USB drive into your Mac and start it up Hard disk utility (under Applications> Utilitiesor search with Spotlight Cmd + Space).
  2. Select your USB device from the menu on the left and then click Clear.
  3. Give it a name and choose MS-DOS (FAT) under format and GUID partition mapping under To plan.
  4. Beat Clear to apply the changes. If this fails, try again. Sometimes the system does not unmount the volume in time and the process cannot be completed.

If you have persistent problems, try a different USB drive. Download a Linux distribution now to install it on your USB stick

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and you can get started.

Use Etcher to create a bootable Linux USB drive

balenaEtcher is a free, open source tool for burning disc images to USB and SD drives. This makes creating bootable devices extremely easy:

  1. Get the Linux image you want, download and install Etcher.
  2. Insert your USB stick and start Etcher.
  3. click choose picture and locate the downloaded Linux image – Etcher supports IMG, ISO and ZIP, among others.
  4. Make sure the correct USB device is selected – press change to display a list of connected devices.
  5. Complete the process by clicking lightning and wait for the process to finish.

Etcher bootable Linux USB drive

You will likely see an error message saying that your USB drive is not compatible with your Mac. It's normal – just eject and get started. Your bootable Linux USB drive is now ready. You can now jump Start your USB drive Section below.

Create a live USB with the terminal

If for some reason you don't want to use Etcher (you may be using an incompatible version of macOS), you can do this from the command line. You can use Terminal, your Mac's built-in command line interface.

While this method requires a little more thought and patience, it's actually fairly simple. You may even learn something new and feel smart afterwards. Assuming you have formatted your drive according to the previous instructions, it works as follows:

1. Convert your ISO

Start Terminal and make a note of where your Linux image is stored in the Finder. Convert your image (usually an ISO) to an IMG file using the hdiutil convert command:

hdiutil convert (/path/to/downloaded.iso) format UDRW -o (/ path / to / newimage)

Replace (/path/to/downloaded.iso) with the location of your own ISO (you can drag and drop it directly into the terminal window if you want) and (/ path / to / newimage) to the desired location for the new image file will be created.

convert iso to dmg

Note: Modern versions of macOS automatically create a DMG file. If your version doesn't, try appending IMG to the end of your new image file name, e.g. B. (/path/to/newimage.img).

2. Write the image to USB

Next, you need to find the location of your drive so that you can tell the Mac which drive to use. With the terminal open, use the following command to list all attached drives:

discussion list

Set up an external drive

You can probably identify the drive by its name, format, and size using an elimination process. Make a note of the listing below IDENTIFIER Column, then remove the drive with the following command:

discussion unmountDisk / dev / (diskX)

You must replace (diskX) with the corresponding number, e.g. B. disk3. If successful, Terminal reports that the hard drive has not been mounted. If you have trouble unmounting a drive, you can start Disk Utility, right-click a drive, and then select it Dismantling (However, do not eject the drive.)

Unmount the Mac drive

The last step is to write the image to your USB stick using the dd command:

sudo dd if = (/ path / to / newimage.dmg) from = / dev / (diskN) bs = 1m

Replace (/path/to/newimage.dmg) with the path to the file created in the first step (drag and drop works best) and (diskN) with the location you specified earlier. You must then authorize with your administrator password immediately after using the sudo command.

Install Linux on the Mac USB drive

You are now done and your drive is ready to boot.

Start your USB drive

Assuming everything went well, you now have a USB drive that you can use to start Linux. Connect it to the Mac you want to use it on and shut down the computer.

To access your Mac's Start menu, you must hold down the key Option (old) Key while it boots. The best way to do this is to shutdown, hold the possibility Button, restart your Mac and wait. If you've done it correctly, you'll see a few options, including your built-in hard drive and the previously created USB device titled EFI launch.

Mac choose the startup disk

To start Linux, select the USB device and click the arrow (or double-click it). Depending on what you're using, you may get a different menu that acts as a boot loader for your particular version of Linux.

Linux start menu

If you have problems or your USB drive does not appear, try again using one of the alternative methods described above, try a different USB stick or port, or consult the help documentation for your distribution.

The best way to test Linux on your Mac

Assuming everything went well, Linux is now running on your Mac and you can test it or install it straight away if you are tired of MacOS. You still have an Apple recovery partition that you can access by holding Cmd + R. while your machine starts. This can help you reinstall macOS (or apply other fixes) if you decide to return.

Ubuntu runs on a MacBook Air

There are other tools that claim to help you with this, but not all work, and some cost money. Unetbootin is still a popular choice for Linux and Windows users, but not as good as Etcher on a Mac (and has some issues with newer versions of macOS).

There is also our old favorite Mac Linux USB Loader, which is open source and is actively maintained. A pre-compiled binary costs $ 5, provided you don't want to download and compile Xcode yourself. This low entry fee helps keep the project going, but it's hard to justify paying for something when there are perfectly good free alternatives.

For more information, see Install macOS from a USB stick. If you'd rather install Linux on your internal drive, read our guide to dual-boot Linux on your Mac

How to install and dual boot Linux on your Mac
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