Installing Arch Linux on a USB key

From ArchWiki
Revision as of 13:46, 7 April 2019 by Nl6720 (talk | contribs) (flag page for moving to "Installing Arch Linux on a removable media")
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Tango-go-next.pngThis article or section is a candidate for moving to Installing Arch Linux on a removable media.Tango-go-next.png

Notes: There is no reason to limit this page to only a USB flash drive. (Discuss in Talk: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 flash 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, depending on the operating system you have available:

  • If you have another Linux computer available (it need not be Arch), you can follow the instructions at Install from existing Linux.
  • 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.
  • If you run Windows or OS X, download VirtualBox, install VirtualBox Extensions, add the USB drive to a virtual machine running Arch (for example running from an iso), point the installation into the USB drive while using the instructions at the Installation guide.

Installation tweaks

  • Before creating the initial RAM disk, in /etc/mkinitcpio.conf move the block and keyboard hooks before the autodetect hook. This is necessary to allow booting on multiple systems each requiring different modules in early userspace.
  • It is highly recommended to review the reduce disk reads/writes wiki article prior to selecting a filesystem. To sum up, ext4 without a journal should be fine, which can be created with mkfs.ext4 -O "^has_journal" /dev/sdXX. The obvious drawback of using a filesystem with journaling disabled is data loss as a result of an ungraceful dismount. 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 forget the swap partition. Note that this does not affect installing onto a USB hard drive.
  • If you want to be able to continue to use the USB mass storage device as a cross-platform removable drive, this can be accomplished by creating a partition housing an appropriate file system (most likely NTFS or exFAT). 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 (RMB) on your USB mass storage device. This would trick operating systems into treating your USB mass storage 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 (RMB) on every USB mass storage 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.

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

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


On GPT with UEFI installations, make sure you follow the instructions on GRUB#UEFI systems and include the --removable option as doing otherwise may break existing GRUB installations, as in the below command:

# grub-install --target=x86_64-efi --efi-directory=esp  --removable --recheck


Using your UUID:

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


Using your USB install on multiple machines

Input drivers

Tango-edit-cut.pngThis section is being considered for removal.Tango-edit-cut.png

Reason: xf86-input-synaptics is generally not used anymore, it has been replaced with xf86-input-libinput. Since xf86-input-libinput is a dependency of xorg-server, installing it explicit should rarely be needed. (Discuss in Talk:Installing Arch Linux on a USB key#)

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.

To support most common GPUs, install xf86-video-vesa, xf86-video-ati, xf86-video-intel, xf86-video-amdgpu, and xf86-video-nouveau.

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.

Booting from USB 3 media

See [1].


The fallback image should be used for maximum compatibility.

Minimizing disk access

  • You may want to configure systemd journal to store its journals in RAM, e.g. by creating a custom configuration file:
  • To disable fsync and related system calls in web browsers and other applications that do not write essential data, use the eatmydata command from libeatmydata to avoid such system calls:
$ eatmydata firefox

See also