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Thread: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Mac

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  1. #1
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    Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Mac

    ************
    Please see the addendum at the bottom of this post if you're having problems not achieving persistence with a recent version of Ubuntu.


    I have been spending a lot of time recently trying to make an Ubuntu Live USB with persistence that will boot on a Mac.
    Persistence is worthwhile having, at least in my case as my wifi does not work "out of the box" so without persistence any driver and firmware that I install once booted to the live desktop would become lost once the system is rebooted. I can obviously have things like Bookmarks for important sites retained too.

    I would make the USB with Unetbootin but at the end of the process it would report that this USB would not boot on a Mac. On trying to boot it it would always give either a "Boot error" message or "this is not a bootable disc..........." error.

    Most of the information I needed was already available (thanks to Christopher Friedt and others) but it just wouldn't quite work for me. It seemed I was missing a step or something. It seems I was.

    Apparently Unetbootin fails to write Syslinux to the MBR of the flash drive (or not correctly, if at all). This could possibly be a licensing kind of thing. It also seems to misread or misinterpret the boot flag or the active partition in some way. If Syslinux is not in the MBR there's nothing to point to where to go to boot anything.

    Anyway, I have just made a 2GB Ubuntu Live USB with persistence following the method below and not only does it boot on a Mac but the persistence actually works!

    What you'll need:-
    A Mac which is capable of booting from a USB flash drive
    A USB stick (2GB upwards in size if you want persistence)
    An Ubuntu .iso file - I had Ubuntu 13-04 amd64 for mac - **** if you want EFI boot on a Mac use a non-mac version of the Ubuntu iso
    Syslinux (a small downloaded file)
    Unetbootin for Mac

    OK, here we go:

    Plug your USB flash drive into your Mac.

    Open a terminal and run
    Code:
    diskutil list
    and in its output note carefully the drive designation of your USB (the size will probably be the giveaway) mine for instance was /dev/disk1 but yours may be something else depending on what else is plugged in to your Mac.

    Open Disk Utility and select your USB drive and delete any current partitions. That is click on any partitions in the left pane and in the right pane click erase.
    Then click on your USB drive in the left pane and the partition tab in the right pane and create one partition of MS-DOS FAT type naming it anything you want. It's probably wise to click on the options tab and make sure that MBR is ticked. Click on apply.
    Ok, once that's run we're finished with Disk Utility.

    In the terminal unmount the USB with
    Code:
    diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskX
    - changing the X to your drive's number

    Now we'll mark the partition as active (even though some programs will already think so, like gparted, for instance)

    Open a terminal and run
    Code:
    sudo fdisk -e /dev/rdiskX
    (yes, the extra r is advisable (quicker) and change the X to the number of your USB disc that diskutil gave you earlier)
    at this point your prompt will become an fdisk prompt and I got the following message
    Code:
    fdisk: could not open MBR file /usr/standalone/i386/boot0: No such file or directory
    Enter 'help' for information
    which I ignored.

    now enter these 3 commands
    Code:
    f 1
    write
    exit
    Please note that you should be able to see your desktop (the area where discs mount) and if at any time during the above the disk appears and stays there run the unmount command again.

    Ok, so far so good.
    Now download syslinux

    Now it can get a bit messy. In the terminal you need to cd to the folder which has the mbr.bin.

    In syslinux version 6.01 the mbr.bin is in the syslinux-6/bios/mbr folder so that's where you'd need to cd to.
    My (older) version was different (syslinux/mbr) and I've also seen it elsewhere too so you need to have a look where this file is first. If you've extracted the zip file you can have a look in these places for it in the Finder before cd'ing.

    Now we can write the much needed code to the MBR of the USB drive

    Code:
    sudo dd conv=notrunc bs=440 count=1 if=mbr.bin of=/dev/diskX
    - again change the X to your drive's number

    After a second or two it should report bytes written count which should be 440.

    If this gives an error about not getting access run the unmount command again for your USB (above)

    If it gives an error about no mbr.bin then you've cd'd to the wrong part of syslinux folder - possibly!

    It may report that the changes won't be made unless you reboot. If it does just type y and enter, then reboot.

    Ok now download and install Unetbootin for Macs and use it in the normal way to make the Live USB choosing if you wish to make the persistence file by entering a size in the appropriate field.
    It will give the usual guff about what it's doing and may even appear to hang for a while, even give the spinning coloured wheel - just leave it running. It could take about 20 minutes or so, maybe a touch more but leave it anyway.

    It will finish and report that the USB will not be bootable on a Mac. Bah, humbug!

    Reboot leaving your USB flash drive inserted and if you don't have rEFInd installed hold the Option (ALT) key after the chime until the appropriate menu choices appear.
    If you have rEFInd installed you'll see a nice penguin at the end - choose that
    If no rEFInd choose the one that wasn't there before (can't remember as I use rEFInd).

    You should be greeted by a Unetbootin menu with Default as the top option. You only have a few seconds to choose but my menu included an option to "try Ubuntu without installing" (3rd item down) and I chose that one. Others have reported no such menu item and have used Default, but that doesn't boot for me.

    Ubuntu should start loading. Enjoy!

    I loaded Ubuntu desktop and changed some wifi setting as my wifi doesn't work out of the box and installed one or two things in the sidebar.
    I then rebooted and those changes were still there! Wifi worked without any changes.
    ie persistence now works!! Something I have never got to work before.


    As stated above this is what worked for me. It is not guaranteed and if you break something it's on your head!
    For instance if you make a mistake entering any of these commands you WILL VERY POSSIBLY destroy data on another drive!!!!!!! Be very careful!!!

    This information has been gathered from many sources including the syslinux.wiki, Christopher Friedt's sites
    http://dropsafe.crypticide.com/article/8368
    and
    http://perpetual-notion.blogspot.co....-mac-os-x.html
    and much trawling through the Net.

    Having said all that if you come across any problems I will try to help - though I am no coder!

    ****** ADDENDUM********
    It seems in more recent versions of Ubuntu that the persistence can fail (particularly if booted in EFI).
    I've had a mooch around and thanks to others there may be a fix. At least it's currently working for me and one other

    I plugged the newly made USB in to my Mac and opened the drive then navigated to /boot/grub then opened grub.cfg with textedit
    In the newly opened file go to this menu entry
    Code:
    menuentry "Try Ubuntu without installing" {
    which is the first one in the file.
    Just further down the file is the line below to which I've added the word "persistent"
    Code:
    linux	/casper/vmlinuz.efi  file=/cdrom/preseed/ubuntu.seed boot=casper persistent quiet splash --
    Once added you can save the file and then boot from it and hopefully have persistence.

    Good luck!
    Last edited by Quackers; March 6th, 2014 at 11:23 PM.
    MacBook Pro 10,1 retina

  2. #2
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    By way of addition there is a recent innovation called Mac-Linux-USB-Loader which I have tried. It actually gets to booting the linux kernel but then fails as it doesn't seem to have support for Nvidia chips. It also uses EFI to boot.
    There is currently no persistence option but it is a possible future enhancement.
    MacBook Pro 10,1 retina

  3. #3
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    I just wanted to thank you for your detailed explanations, your efforts are highly appreciated. I followed your instructions, and for the first time, unetbottin created a USB stick that would boot both my MBA and my iMac. Given that more recent macs come without an optical drive, this is important knowledge. May I suggest you write them down somewhere which is less volatile and more visible than a forum post?

  4. #4
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    Threads in the Ubuntu Forums are persistent. And I have linked to this thread from an Ubuntu wiki page

    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/FromUSBStick#From_Mac_OSX

    Of course, more links are welcome
    Last edited by sudodus; September 16th, 2013 at 08:48 AM. Reason: post --> thread

  5. #5
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    pindar
    I'm glad it worked for you. and thanks for your comments.
    I'm looking for other places to post this information but would appreciate confirmation of the guide's validity first. ie different versions of Ubuntu and Syslinux etc.

    For my own information could you please give me the following details?
    The size and make of your USB stick
    Which exact version of Ubuntu/Linux iso file you used
    Which version of Syslinux you downloaded and which of its directories the mbr.bin was in
    Were there any problems for you or was there anything I have missed from the guide?

    Many thanks and enjoy your new Live USB
    MacBook Pro 10,1 retina

  6. #6
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    Quote Originally Posted by Quackers View Post
    pindar
    For my own information could you please give me the following details?
    The size and make of your USB stick
    Which exact version of Ubuntu/Linux iso file you used
    Which version of Syslinux you downloaded and which of its directories the mbr.bin was in
    Were there any problems for you or was there anything I have missed from the guide?

    Many thanks and enjoy your new Live USB
    Sure, glad to be of help:

    USB stick: SanDisk Cruzer, 8GB

    I used linuxmint xfce edition, 64bit (but will happily try other ubuntu editions)

    syslinux: version 6.01

    mbr.bin was in syslinux-6.01/bios/mbr

    Problems: one small glitch was that your command
    Code:
    sudo dd conv=notrunc bs=440 count=1 if=mbr.bin of=/dev/rdiskX
    wouldn't work for me, I always got an error message dd: /dev/rdisk1: Invalid argument." When I replaced /dev/rdiskX with /dev/diskX, the command completed successfully.

  7. #7
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    Quote Originally Posted by Quackers View Post
    pindar
    I'm glad it worked for you. and thanks for your comments.
    I'm looking for other places to post this information but would appreciate confirmation of the guide's validity first. ie different versions of Ubuntu and Syslinux etc.

    For my own information could you please give me the following details?
    The size and make of your USB stick
    Which exact version of Ubuntu/Linux iso file you used
    Which version of Syslinux you downloaded and which of its directories the mbr.bin was in
    Were there any problems for you or was there anything I have missed from the guide?

    Many thanks and enjoy your new Live USB
    Thank you for your effort and your information, i followed your guide but i didn't manage to make a functional live-usb. This are my information:

    OS: Mac OS X 10.6.8
    Hardware: Mac Mini 3,1
    Ubuntu ISO version: ubuntu-13.04-desktop-amd64+mac
    syslinux version: 6.01
    usb pen drive: Corsair 8gb

    I tried the following:

    1. format and partition the flash drive with MBR (disk utility -> options) and use:
    1.1 /syslinux-6.01/bios/mbr/mbr.bin/
    1.2 /syslinux-6.01/efi32/mbr/mbr.bin/
    1.3 /syslinux-6.01/efi64/mbr/mbr.bin/

    2. with GUID:
    2.1 /syslinux-6.01/bios/mbr/mbr.bin/
    2.2 /syslinux-6.01/efi32/mbr/mbr.bin/
    2.3 /syslinux-6.01/efi64/mbr/mbr.bin/

    "Boot Error" was the result and of course after each of these 6 "experimentations" re-format the flash drive and follow step-by-step your instructions, always checking if the flash-drive was mounted.

    Also, the command:
    Code:
    diskutil unmount /dev/diskX
    never worked for me, instead i used:
    Code:
    diskutil unmountDisk /dev/diskX
    If you could provide me with any insights/suggestions/directions i'm happy to test them

    ps: I even replaced the rEFIt program i used with the rEFInd that you used, so i could reduce the possible errors/problems.

    ps2: all 3 mbr.bin files seems to contain the same (bytecode?) text, so i assume that it doesn't make any difference which one anyone choose.
    Last edited by sthrss; October 1st, 2013 at 08:09 PM.

  8. #8
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    Great, thanks for the details.
    I'll make another USB shortly and check that out - maybe the r is confusing things and it doesn't really need to be there as it isn't writing much anyway.

    Edit in fact I've removed it and will test shortly.
    Edit2 yep works fine without the r
    Last edited by Quackers; September 16th, 2013 at 02:45 PM.
    MacBook Pro 10,1 retina

  9. #9
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    Could this be a clue to why it is difficult to make USB flash drive that can boot on Macs? See this link

    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/In...k#Known_Issues

    You need Mac OS X to create a USB flash drive that can boot on Macs. Even so, the process is less reliable than using a CD, as the USB flash drive is not always recognized on boot. Reversely, you can't create bootable USB flash drives for other platforms than Macs from within Mac OS X. This is because Macs use a custom EFI bios with a custom boot-loader and need a special filesystem layout to boot correctly.

  10. #10
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    Re: Fix for making bootable Ubuntu Live USB with persistence using Unetbootin on a Ma

    Quote Originally Posted by sudodus View Post
    Could this be a clue to why it is difficult to make USB flash drive that can boot on Macs? See this link

    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/In...k#Known_Issues
    I don't have the knowledge for extensive testing, just some anecdotal evidence: I took the Sandisk Cruzer that I had prepared following Quackers' great tutorial, wiped the content and used unetbootin under linux to install a different linux system (xubuntu 13.04). The drive booted both my MacBook and a Lenovo Thinkpad. So the information might be not 100 % accurate.

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