Installing Arch Linux on a USB key

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Revision as of 09:50, 4 December 2013 by Pentago (Talk | contribs) (Installation: Added a link to a tutorial on disabling EXT4 journaling and fixed existing typo.)

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zh-CN:Installing Arch Linux on a USB key

This page explains how to perform a regular Arch installation onto a USB key (or "flash drive"). In contrast to having a LiveUSB as covered in USB Installation Media, the result will be a persistent installation identical to normal installation to HDD, but on a USB flash drive.


Note: At least 2 GiB of storage space is recommended. A modest set of packages will fit, leaving a little free space for storage.

There are various ways of installing Arch on a USB stick, the simplest being from within Arch itself:

  • If you are already running Arch, simply install arch-install-scripts and proceed with the Installation Guide just like you would from the iso, but you will not be using /dev/sda. Use $ lsblk to get the /dev/sd* name of your USB key prior to installation.
Warning: If you mistakingly format /dev/sda, you are likely to go about deleting everything on your hard drive.
  • An Arch Linux CD/USB can be used to install Arch onto the USB key, via booting the CD/USB and following the Installation Guide. If booting from a Live USB, the installation will have to be made on a different USB stick.
  • Or, if you have another Linux computer available (it need not be Arch), you can follow the instructions to install from existing Linux, and then skip to the configuration section.


Follow the Installation Guide as you normally would, with these exceptions:

  • If cfdisk fails with "Partition ends in the final partial cylinder" fatal error, the only way to proceed is to kill all partitions on the drive. Open another terminal (Alt+F2), type fdisk /dev/sdX (where sdX is your usb drive), print partition table (p), check that it's ok, delete it (d) and write changes (w). Now return to cfdisk.
  • It is highly recommended to review the Tips for Minimizing SSD Read/Writes on the SSD wiki article prior to selecting a filesystem. To sum up, ext4 without a journal should be fine. Recognize that flash has a limited number of writes, and a journaling file system will take some of these as the journal is updated. For this same reason, it is best to forgo a swap partition. Note that this does not affect installing onto a USB hard drive.
  • Before creating the initial RAM disk # mkinitcpio -p linux, in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf add the block hook to the hooks array right after udev. This is necessary for appropriate module loading in early userspace.
  • If you want to be able to continue to use the UFD device as a cross-platform removable drive, this can be accomplished by creating a partition housing an appropriate file system (most likely NTFS). Note that the data partition may need to be the first partition on the device, as Windows assumes that there can only be one partition on a removable device, and will happily automount an EFI system partition otherwise. Remember to install dosfstools and ntfs-3g. Some tools are available online that may allow you to flip the removable media bit on your UFD device this would trick operating systems into treating your UFD device as an external hard disk and allow you to use whichever partitioning scheme you choose.
Warning: It is not possible to flip the removable media bit on every UFD device and attempting to use software that is incompatible with your device may damage it. Attempting to flip the removable media bit is not recommended.


  • Make sure that /etc/fstab includes the correct partition information for /, and for any other partitions on the USB key. If the usb key is to be booted on several machines, it is quite likely that devices and number of available hard disks vary. So it is advised to use UUID or label:

To get the proper UUIDs for your partitions issue blkid

  • When GRUB is installed on the USB key, the key will always be hd0,0.
  • It seems that current versions of GRUB will automatically default to using uuid. The following directions are for GRUB legacy.

GRUB legacy

menu.lst, the GRUB legacy configuration file, should be edited to (loosely) match the following: With the static /dev/sdaX:

root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/sda1 ro
initrd /boot/initramfs-linux.img

When using label your menu.lst should look like this:

root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/disk/by-label/Arch ro
initrd /boot/initramfs-linux.img

And for UUID, it should be like this:

root (hd0,0)
kernel /boot/vmlinuz-linux root=/dev/disk/by-uuid/3a9f8929-627b-4667-9db4-388c4eaaf9fa ro
initrd /boot/initramfs-linux.img


With the static /dev/sdaX

        MENU LABEL Arch Linux
        LINUX ../vmlinuz-linux
        APPEND root=/dev/sdax ro
        INITRD ../initramfs-linux.img

Using your UUID:

        MENU LABEL Arch Linux
        LINUX ../vmlinuz-linux
        APPEND root=UUID=3a9f8929-627b-4667-9db4-388c4eaaf9fa ro
        INITRD ../initramfs-linux.img


Using your USB install on multiple machines


For the most versatile compatibility it is recommended that you install the i686 architecture because it will run on both 32 (IA-32) and 64 (amd64) bit architectures.

Additionally, due to the reduzed size of 32 bit binaries and the absence of (possible) multilib packages, an i686 installation typically consumes less space than an equivalent x86_64 one.

Input drivers

For laptop use (or use with a tactile screen) you will need the xf86-input-synaptics package for the touchpad/touchscreen to work.

For instructions on fine tuning or troubleshooting touchpad issues, see the Touchpad Synaptics article.

Video drivers

Note: The use of proprietary video drivers is not recommended for this type of installation.

The recommended video drivers are: xf86-video-vesa mesa xf86-video-ati xf86-video-intel xf86-video-nouveau xf86-video-nv.

For the most versatile compatibility install all of the open source video drivers include their multilib counterparts: lib32-ati-dri lib32-intel-dri lib32-nouveau-dri.

Persistent block device naming

It is recommended to use UUID in both fstab and bootloader configuration. See Persistent block device naming for details.

Alternatively, you may create udev rule to create custom symlink for your usb key. Then use this symlink in fstab and bootloader configuration. See udev#Setting static device names for details.

Kernel parameters

You may want to disable KMS for various reasons, such as getting a blank screen or a "no signal" error from the display, when using some Intel video cards, etc. To disable KMS, add nomodeset as a kernel parameter. See Kernel parameters for more info.

Warning: Some Xorg drivers will not work with KMS disabled. See the wiki page on your specific driver for details. Nouveau in particular needs KMS to determine the correct display resolution. If you add nomodeset as a kernel parameter as a preemptive measure you may have to adjust the display resolution manually when using machines with Nvidia video cards. See Xrandr for more info.


The fallback image should be used for maximum compatibility.

Optimizing for the lifespan of flash memory

See also