April 18, 2018

The Easiest Way To Make A Bootable Linux USB Stick Is...

One of the questions often asked on any Linux forum is this: What is the best way to make a bootable USB stick with distro 'X'? What ensues is usually a dozen or so different answers around the question. All seem to work, to one degree or another, or with this distro or that distro. Some applications seem like they are not well maintained, while other solutions just flat-out do not work.

Based on forums discussions I've read over the years, as well as the fact that the question even gets asked in the first place, there must be reasons why it is not so simple. This hypothesis is also backed-up by my own experiences, as recently as yesterday!

Existing solutions include GUI tools, tools included or installable from within  a distributions app store, command line wizardry (namely use of the 'DD' command), and some other, occasionally off-the-wall answers to the question.  Fo example, I've seen people say to just "use Windows to install distribution X". This has a few drawbacks, such as assuming that the aforementioned use-case is the most common. Or the easiest. Usually, it's just a matter of being the simplest and, perhaps, safest, answer to give.

Other solutions, such as command line options, run the risk of a user accidentally formatting the wrong drive. Don't laugh. I've seen it happen.

But that way of thinking is not doing our (hopefully) future users any favors. I'm a big believer in the mantra "use the best tool for the job". And until now the 'best' tool hasn't been declared truly the 'best'. If it was, every distro would be using it. And people wouldn't be asking for something like it. And I wouldn't be writing this article.

Hopefully, Google is your friend and will lead you to this post before you end up pulling your hair out over something that should be seemingly so simple a child could do it.

I am here today to tell you that it does not have to be some kind of weird voodoo magic, some old command line copy tools, or something from a distribution that might have worked two releases ago, but does not seem to quite work now.

I am here to tell you all that the simplest way to make a bootable Linux USB stick is also the easiest to use. And best of all, it's open source. As many of you might have guessed by now, I am talking about...

Enter Etcher.io

Screenshot of Etcher.io's homepage
Etcher.io's main webpage

Why Etcher.io?

To quote the company's website:
"Here at resin.io we have thousands of users working through our getting started process and until recently we were embarrassed about the steps that involved flashing an SD card. There was a separate track for each Mac/Windows/Linux and several manual and error-prone steps along the way.

To our surprise there was nothing out there that fitted our needs. So we built Etcher, an SD card flasher app that is simple for end users, extensible for developers, and works on any platform."
Resin.io is the company behind Etcher.io, and they have released the fully open source application to the general public via a GitHub account.

What does Etcher.io bring to the table?

Features already include the following:
  • Drive verification
  • Automatic drive selection
  • Fully cross-platform
  • Open source (Made with JS, HTML, node.js and Electron)
  • Slick, simple interface


Using etcher.io


Etcher.io appliaction screenshot
Validating the image on a successful write

Using the application really could not be easier:

  1. Download the application
  2. Mark it as executable
  3. Launch
  4. Select your .iso image
  5. Verify your destination (nearly always correct by default)
  6. Press "Flash!"
  7. Wait a few minutes
  8. Profit!
Selecting the image to write to USB or SD card in Etcher.io
Select the image you'd like to flash
to your USB drive or SD card

One quick recommendation before using would be to check your settings and make sure you have checked to "validate write on success". The other settings are up to you.

Etcher.io settings screen
Etcher.io settings

Getting Etcher.io:

Like a digital homonym, the product's name is it's web address. Simply navigate to https://etcher.io/ and download.


Again, that really is all there is to it. Your removable storage drive is ready to use wherever you wish. Available for all major operating systems, it has become my go-to for any and all image flashing needs. For those who need a way to burn to DVDs instead, of course there is K3b for that.

You can follow the application's development from their roadmap.

What say you? Have you tried Etcher.io? To me, it is removable Linux media made easy. And that is fine by me, and the people that I helped bring to our wonderful world of Linux. After all

"if you can't boot it, you can't fall in love with it"


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