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Thread: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

  1. #1
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    Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    I have a windows 7 PC with only windows 7 installed currently and I intend to install Ubuntu 13.10 to a ext4 partition on my hard drive and install grub2 to a USB flash drive. 7 things I want to know are

    1. Will this allow windows to boot normally when I turn it on as if ubuntu was never installed, and only make it possible to boot to ubuntu if I plug in my USB flash drive and boot to it using the bios boot menu?

    2. What files system does the Grub2 boot loade require and I would prefer it to be one that is compatible with windows?

    3. Will I be able to install the boot loader to USB and at the same time be able to use the USB to store files for on the go?

    4. If I ever upgrade ubuntu will it cause any damage to my USB flash drive or hard drive such as corruption?

    5. If there's an upgrade to grub and I want to install it, how would I do so without causing any damage to windows or ubuntu?

    6. Should I install 14.04 or 13.10 and what are the advantages of each?

    7. When upgrading to a new version of ubuntu should it be a clean install or from the pop up notification?
    Last edited by UbuntuPanda; April 24th, 2014 at 04:26 PM.

  2. #2
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    Hi there,

    welcome to the forums!

    what you are asking can definitely be done. What would be best is to not use a seperate boot partition (incidentally a boot partition should be ext2/3/4) but instead just install grub to the mbr of the usb stick. This leaves the rest of grub in ubuntu's boot partition and only uses the first 512 bytes of the usb stick. You can then add a single ntfs partition to the usb stick and use as is.

    there is no risk of data corruption during normal use. You will only encounter an issue if you accidentally manually move grub.

    Is is there a specific reason to use a usb? You could install grub to your hard drive as in a normal set up and set it to boot windows by default with a wait time of 0 - then to boot ubuntu you just press shift as it loads.

    if you do want to put a seperate /boot partition on your usb (not recommended) then grub still needs to be installed to the mbr of the stick and the /boot partition needs to go after your ntfs data partition otherwise windows will not see it. (You would also need to make sure the /etc/fstab was correctly configured. I'm genuinely not sure if the ubuntu installer would let you do it, but it doesn't offer any gains for quite a high risk of error.

    Jj
    Love Ubuntu? If you feel like donating to future development, and suggest how that donation is used by the community, it's all here!

  3. #3
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    Several have installed grub to a flash drive.
    Is your system BIOS or UEFI. Most Windows 7 systems are BIOS, but some newer hardware with Windows 7 is also UEFI. You need to install Ubuntu in same boot mode to easily dual boot. But you can boot from UEFI/BIOS in either case.

    If you set BIOS to boot from flash drive first, then you will get grub menu from /boot/grub in install on hard drive. If you happen to plug flash drive into another system and try to boot you will just get grub> as it is missing the files on the install.

    If flash drive is partitioned with MBR it will work to boot. If you have partitioned flash drive with gpt, you will also need a bios_grub partition. Very few have partitioned a flash drive with gpt partitioning and those are mostly for UEFI booting.

    You can also use flash drive for data or add a NTFS partition for data if desired.

    Flash drives do not have as long of a life as SSD or hard drives, but you are primarily reading. If you do any upgrades that cause a reinstall of grub to MBR, flash drive must be plugged in.

    Use 14.04 as it now is LTS or long term support.

    I like clean installs, but usually install new version to another / (root) partition to verify it works for me while still booting old version. Others have upgraded. Some have issues with upgrades if they use ppa or install proprietary software.
    For more info on UEFI boot install & repair - Regularly Updated :
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2147295
    Please use Thread Tools above first post to change to [Solved] when/if answered completely.

  4. #4
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    Thanks Oldfred for the response, I just want to know the following

    How do I partition with MBR Or gpt?

    How to check if my flash drive is MBR or gpt?

    Do I install the boot loader just by selecting the USB drive as the location when installing?

    Oh and if you're wondering why, I want to dual booth this way to keep guests who I know from accidentally booting into ubuntu and complaining that the computer is "broken" as they are usually tech illiterate to the point they don't know their computer runs windows though they see it when they turn on their pcs, so this dual booting method is to avoid even more problems with these guests.

    P.S I already have a portable full install of ubuntu 13.10 on another USB flash drive for when I'm bored and at a friend's place.
    Last edited by UbuntuPanda; April 24th, 2014 at 02:33 AM.

  5. #5
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    Post this to see if internal drive is gpt or MBR.

    sudo parted -l

    Windows only boots from gpt drives with UEFI.
    Windows & Ubuntu only boot from MBR(msdos) drives with BIOS.
    Ubuntu will boot from a gpt partitioned drive with either UEFI or BIOS.

    You create partition table type first. Gparted still defaults to MBR(msdos). I do not have Windows anymore so all new drives or any drive I totally reformat I convert to gpt.
    I used gparted and selected gpt under device, advanced & select gpt over msdos(MBR) default partitioning....

    My full install on a flash drive is gpt, my SSD is gpt and one of old 160GB original drives from this desktop build in 2006 is now gpt.


    In a GPT partition map, the 31 kiB area after Master Boot Record where GRUB is usually embedded to, does not exist. When GRUB can't be embedded, its only option is to use blocklists, which are unreliable and discouraged. Thus, you must make a separate "BIOS boot partition" to hold core.img. BIOS Boot Partition only needs to be about 32 KiB in size, although in most cases make it 1 MiB because of partition alignment issues. It can be anywhere on drive and has no format.


    GPT Advantages (older but still valid) see post#2 by srs5694:
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=1457901
    https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php...antages_of_GPT

    During install with Something else you can select any MBR for any available drive. All other install options default to install grub to sda.

    Only the boot loader in the MBR and the core.img in the sectors after the MBR (or in the bios_grub if gpt) will be on the flash drive. All the rest of grub including menu, configuration files, scripts, os-prober etc are in the Ubuntu install.

    You could also add a boot stanza on you current full install in your flash drive to also boot a new install on your hard drive. I regularly do that as a backup way to boot.

    How to: Create a Customized GRUB2 Screen that is Maintenance Free.- Cavsfan
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/Ma...tomGrub2Screen


    I add entries like this. Drive & partition can be any drive. But do note that when booting from one drive, BIOS reports the boot drive as first and grub sees it as hd0. I boot sdd and it is hd0 and then all other drives are in SATA port order with my BIOS.

    gksudo gedit /etc/grub.d/40_custom
    Code:
    menuentry "Daily on sda13 with device selection" {
        set root=(hd0,13)
            linux /vmlinuz root=/dev/sda13 ro quiet splash
            initrd /initrd.img
    }
    menuentry "Boot from USB Drive with UUID" {
        set root=UUID=XXXX-YYYY
        linux /vmlinuz root=UUID=XXXX-YYYY ro quiet splash
        initrd /initrd.img
    }
    Attached Images Attached Images
    Last edited by oldfred; April 24th, 2014 at 04:50 AM.
    For more info on UEFI boot install & repair - Regularly Updated :
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2147295
    Please use Thread Tools above first post to change to [Solved] when/if answered completely.

  6. #6
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    I understand and thank you for your help Oldfred, but one more thing I want to know is if it matters how many partitions the usb flash drive has and does it matter what file system I use on the flash drive (i.e NTFS, fat32, ext2/3/4)?
    Last edited by UbuntuPanda; April 24th, 2014 at 04:25 PM.

  7. #7
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    I have installed grub as stand alone boot loader to every format. I even installed grub to a Windows repair flash drive to make it directly boot Linux ISOs as well as the Windows repair to have one flash drive as a mulitple repair tool.
    But if you want to use data on drive with Windows you need to use FAT32 or NTFS. NTFS is normally better as it has a journal, but for small devices FAT32 is good but cannot store a file over 4GB if device is larger. With a flash drive a journal may be a disadvantage as that is more writing.

    If you use ext4 you can also turn journal off and that is considered now as better than ext2. Some internal advantage of ext4, but do not know details.
    But with ext4 it is only compatible with Linux and your have to set ownership & permissions which can be an advantage in limiting use by others or a disadvantage if that other is you on another computer. If you need real protection you can also encrypt it.

    This is my 32GB flsah drive.
    When I get my UEFI system I hope to do this an make it boot both UEFI & BIOS.
    Flash drive to boot in UEFI or BIOS - sudodus
    https://help.ubuntu.com/community/In.../UEFI-and-BIOS


    Code:
    fred@fred-Precise:~$ sudo parted /dev/sde unit s print
    [sudo] password for fred: 
    Model:   (scsi)
    Disk /dev/sde: 60532992s
    Sector size (logical/physical): 512B/512B
    Partition Table: gpt
    
    Number  Start      End        Size       File system  Name        Flags
     1      40s        976895s    976856s    fat32        EFI System  boot
     2      976896s    978943s    2048s                               bios_grub
     3      978944s    29650943s  28672000s  ext4         sys
     4      29650944s  60532735s  30881792s  ext4         sys
    For more info on UEFI boot install & repair - Regularly Updated :
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2147295
    Please use Thread Tools above first post to change to [Solved] when/if answered completely.

  8. #8
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    Anyway about the USB flash drive with the full install, what can I do to optimize the longevity of the flash drive?
    Last edited by UbuntuPanda; April 25th, 2014 at 01:58 PM.

  9. #9
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    If it is a hard drive, it should not really matter. Even SSDs now have lives comparable to hard drives but not forever.

    On my small flash drive I use ext4 with journal off. But then recovery is more difficult, but it is a small drive. Any larger drive needs the journal.
    You normally want journal to speed up system recovery if you have to do repairs or run fsck. But if partition is small then it does not take long to fsck anyway and without journal writing is reduced.
    For more info on UEFI boot install & repair - Regularly Updated :
    http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=2147295
    Please use Thread Tools above first post to change to [Solved] when/if answered completely.

  10. #10
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    Re: Install Grub2 to USB flash drive

    I still need to resize my windows partition as I currently have 3 partitions as it came with. My tech friend said I should use windows disk management to resize because it doesn't leave files corrupted so is this true? Do I need to run chkdsk after resize? Is 100 GB a good size for a Ubuntu partition because my windows partition is 2tb roughly and I only used 100 GB of it ?
    Last edited by UbuntuPanda; April 25th, 2014 at 02:00 PM.

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