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How to create and boot a Linux USB drive on a Mac

Linux has long been synonymous with bootable flash drives, whether it’s fixing some sort of problem in the primary operating system or experimenting with various distros.

There are a few ways to create an Ubuntu (or other Linux) bootable USB drive for your Mac. You can go to the easy route option to reach an easy option or allow a little time to create a station using the terminal itself. Let’s look at both methods.

First: Prepare the USB drive

To create a bootable Linux USB drive on a Mac, the first step is to make sure you have the right USB drive for the job and that it is formatted correctly to avoid problems.

Some Linux variants may require larger disks, so pay attention to the requirements when downloading. In general, anyone over 4GB will do the job. Others don’t have any strict requirements, but FAT formatting in advance is a good idea regardless.

Warning: All your status will be removed when you do this!

  1. Insert the USB drive into your Mac and turn it on Disk Utility (below Applications> Utilities, or search for it using Spotlight Cmd + Space).
  2. Select a USB device from the menu on the left, then click Erase.
  3. Give it a name and select MS-DOS (FAT) below Form and GUID partition map below program.
  4. Hit Erase apply the changes. If that fails, try again – sometimes the system does not turn off the volume in time and the process is unable to complete the decision.

Mac Disk Utility format

If you have persistent problems, try another USB drive. Download now Linux distro for installation on a USB stick

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, and you’re ready to get started.

Use Etcher to create a bootable Linux USB drive

balenaEtcher is a free open source tool for burning disk images to USB and SD drives. It makes creating bootable devices completely non-volatile:

  1. Grab the desired Linux image, then download Etcher and install it.
  2. Insert a USB stick and then start Etcher.
  3. click on Select an image and find the Linux image you downloaded – Etcher supports IMG, ISO and ZIP files, among others.
  4. Make sure the correct USB device is selected – press Change to see a list of connected devices.
  5. Click to complete the process flash and wait for the process to complete.

finder bootable linux usb drive

You will probably see an error message stating that the USB drive is not compatible with your Mac. That’s normal – simply leave and go. The bootable Linux USB drive is now ready; you can now move on to Booting the USB drive part below.

Use the terminal to create a direct USB connection

If for some reason you don’t want to use Etcher (maybe you’re in an incompatible version of MacOS), you can perform this task from the command line. This is possible using Mac’s built-in command line interface Terminal.

While this method requires a little more thinking and patience, it is actually quite straightforward. You may even learn something new, and then feel smart. Assuming you’ve formatted the drive according to the previous instructions, it works as follows:

1. Convert ISO

Start the terminal and remember where your Linux disk image is stored in the Finder. Use an IMG file to convert the image (usually an ISO) hdiutil convert command:

hdiutil convert [/path/to/downloaded.iso] -format UDRW -o [/path/to/newimage]

Replace [/path/to/downloaded.iso] with your own ISO location (you can drag and drop directly into the terminal window if you wish) and [/path/to/newimage] where you want when a new image file is created.

convert big to dmg

entry: Modern versions of MacOS automatically create a .DMG file. If your version doesn’t do this, try adding an IMG to the end of the new image file name, such as [/path/to/newimage.img]

2. Write the image to USB

Next, you need to identify the installed location of the drive so you can tell your Mac which drive to use. When the terminal is open, use the following command to list all connected drives:

diskutil list

set the external drive

You can probably identify the drive by its name, format, and size through the removal process. Make notes from the list below IDENTIFIER remove the drive using the following command:

diskutil unmountDisk /dev/[diskX]

You have to change[[[[diskX]with the corresponding number, such as disk3—If successful, the Terminal will indicate that the disk is installed. If you have trouble removing the drive, you can start Disk Utility, right-click the drive, and then select removal (however, do not remove the disc drive).

remove drive from mac

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

sudo dd if=[/path/to/newimage.dmg] of=/dev/[diskN] bs=1m

Replace [/path/to/newimage.dmg] where is the path to the file created in the first step (dragging and dropping again works best), and[[[[diskN] with a previously identified location. You must authorize with an administrator password immediately after you access sudo command.

install linux on usb drive mac

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

Booting the USB drive

If all goes well, you now have a USB drive that will allow you to boot into Linux. Connect it to the Mac where you want to use it, and then shut down the computer.

You must press and hold to access the Mac boot menu Option (Alt) key when it arrives. The best way to do this is to turn it off and on Option , turn on your Mac and wait. If you did it right, you’ll see a few options, including a built-in hard drive and a previously created USB device called EFI Boot.

The Mac selects the boot disk

To boot into Linux, select the USB device and click the arrow (or double-click it). Depending on your usage, you may get another menu that acts as a boot loader for your Linux at your own pace.

Linux boot menu

If you have problems or the USB drive does not appear, try the process again, using the alternative method above, run another USB stick or port, or see the instructions for the corresponding disc.

The best way to try Linux on your Mac

If all goes well, you now have Linux running on your Mac and can test it or install it directly if you’re tired of macOS. You still have Apple Recovery Partition which can be accessed by holding Cmd + R when your plane arrives. This can will help you reinstall macOS (or use other fixes) if you decide to go back.

Ubuntu running on MacBook Air

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

There’s also our old favorite Mac Linux USB Loader, which is open source and actively maintained. It costs $ 5 for a pre-assembled binary, assuming you don’t want to download Xcode and assemble it yourself. This low participation fee helps keep the project going, but it’s hard to justify some payment when there are absolutely good free options.

Watch more how to install MacOS from a USB flash drive. And if you want to install Linux on an internal drive, our guide How to Dual Boot Linux on a Mac |

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is necessary for the next reading.

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