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Thread: Howto: Install Ubuntu without a CD

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2006
    Palo Alto, CA
    Ubuntu 12.04 Precise Pangolin

    Install Ubuntu without a CD using UNetbootin


    UNetbootin allows for installation of various Linux distributions to a real partition (so it's no different from a standard Ubuntu install), and uses a standard netboot installation, so internet access is needed. The main advantage of UNetbootin over Wubi and similar projects is that it creates a standard GNU/Linux install without needing a CD, and supports a variety of distributions.

    Note that if you have a USB drive handy, and your computer can boot from USB, this guide (which instead creates a liveUSB drive to boot and install from) will likely work better.

    Downloads at

    Note that this guide is now somewhat outdated; I am still updating it; please see the website at for more up-to-date instructions

    Supported Distributions and Versions

    UNetbootin allows for the installation of:

    Ubuntu (and official derivatives) 7.10, 7.04, 6.10, 6.06 LTS, and upcoming 8.04 LTS
    Fedora 8, 7, and Rawhide
    openSUSE 10.3, 10.2, and Factory
    PCLinuxOS 2008
    CentOS 5.1
    Debian Stable/Etch, Testing/Lenny, and Unstable/Sid
    ArchLinux 2007.08
    FreeBSD 7.0 and 6.3
    NetBSD 4.0
    Frugalware Linux Stable, Testing, and Current
    Foresight Linux 1.4.2
    Damn Small Linux 4.2.4
    VectorLinux 5.9
    Mandriva 2008.0 and 2007.1
    Slackware 12.0

    Post a request for any others that support installation over FTP, and supply links to the requested distribution's PXE/netboot initrd image, or FTP-install CD.


    This is meant for people who want to install Ubuntu but don't have a CD-R to burn, lack a CD writer, or they want to install on a computer that doesn't have a CD-ROM drive, like an ultra-portable laptop.

    What it does

    UNetbootin uses an Windows-based or Linux-based installer to install a small modification to the Windows or Linux bootloader (grldr and boot.ini for NT-based systems, grub.exe and config.sys for Win9x, or grub for Linux), uses the bootloader to boot the netboot initrd and kernel, then uses that to download and install the desired distro (Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, OpenSuse, Slackware, Debian, and Arch Linux) are currently supported) directly from the internet, no CD required. After Ubuntu is installed, the modification to the bootloader is then undone,


    Linux or Microsoft Windows 95-Vista
    A broadband internet connection (dial-up will take way too long to download)
    3GB or more of spare hard drive space to install Ubuntu in

    Installation Instructions

    Before installing, remember to back up all your data, in case you do something wrong in the partitioning stage of the installer.

    1. Download the appropriate file for the distro version you want to install; if using Windows, use the exe files, if using an Ubuntu or a Debian-based distro, use the deb files, if using Fedora or an RPM-based distro, use the rpm files, if using if using another Linux distribution, use the sh (self extracting) files:

    2. Run the file, and click "OK" to reboot

    3. Select "UNetbootin" from the menu list

    4. Answer the questions asked by the installer, and wait while it downloads and installs 650 MB of packages.

    IMPORTANT NOTE TO USERS INSTALLING UBUNTU: If you're installing *Ubuntu, make sure to mark one or more desktop environment (Ubuntu, Xubuntu, Kubuntu, etc) using the space button when asked by the installer, so that it's marked with an asterisk (*), or else you'll be left with a commandline-only environment.

    5. Reboot, and enjoy your new Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, Mandriva, Slackware, Arch Linux, or Debian system

    Removal Instructions

    1. To undo the changes to the Windows bootloader, simply boot Windows, and the uninstaller should begin. Press "OK", and it will undo the changes, or uninstall manually from "Add/Remove Applications". If you used Linux, and used the .deb/.rpm packages, uninstall the "unetbootin" package, or if you used the .sh version, use the command:
    sudo unetbootin-uninst
    2. To remove Ubuntu itself, see this guide:

    Running UNetbootin from a liveCD or using it to make a bootable USB net-install drive

    The .sh (shell script) version for GNU/Linux can operate in 3 different ways; installmode=tohost operates like the rpm/deb packages, chainloading off the existing grub install, installmode=nohost can be used off a liveCD/liveUSB when there is no existing OS installed, while installmode=usbdrive can be used to make a bootable net-install USB drive. Syntax and options are as follows:

    If you are running this script from a host, hard-drive Linux install, and want the GRUB bootloader installed in /boot to be used, enter:

    ./ installmode=tohost

    Otherwise, if you are running this script from a liveCD or other live, non-hard drive media, or the installmode=tohost option fails, or you want to specify your target partition (targetpartition=/dev/sda1) or (optionally) the bootloader (bootloader=grub or bootloader=lilo), enter, in addition to the targetpartition and formatpartition options:

    ./ installmode=nohost targetpartition=/dev/sda1 formatpartition=yes

    Otherwise, if you want to install to a USB drive, enter, in addition to the targetpartition and formatpartition options:

    ./ installmode=usbdrive targetpartition=/dev/sda1 formatpartition=yes
    Using UNetbootin If You Don't Have an OS Installed

    If you have a liveCD/liveUSB, boot it and use the UNetbootin .sh version as described above in the section for the "installmode=nohost" option, then reboot and the installer will start from the hard drive.

    Alternatively, if the machine can boot off a USB drive, and you have access to another machine that can run Linux from a liveCD or hard drive, then make a bootable net-install USB drive using the UNetbootin .sh version as described above in the section for the "installmode=usbdrive" option, then boot the install-USB drive on the target machine and the installer will start.

    If all else fails, or if you only have access to floppies, then first, download the Debian minimal-install floppies. Then, install Debian. Once installed, download the UNetbootin deb package using wget $unetbootin.deb, install it using dpkg -i $unetbootin.deb, then once done, reboot, and select UNetbootin in the GRUB menu.

    More Resources

    A Fedora and CentOS specific guide is available at and A Fedora and Ubuntu guide is also available at

    A Mandriva specific guide is available at and

    An OpenSuse specific guide is available at and

    An Arch Linux specific guide is available at and

    A Vector Linux specific guide is available at

    A Slackware specific guide is available at and

    Notes For Vista Users

    Vista has its own partition manager, which can be started with the command:

    It can be used to shrink the NTFS partition to make space for Ubuntu's partition, and may work better than Ubuntu's partitioner. Details on using the graphical tool are at and

    Should the graphical tool not work, you can also use diskpart, a commandline tool:

    Details at and

    Installing Other Distributions Using UNetbootin

    Since UNetbootin allows for the usage of unmodified netboot kernel and initrds, it is possible to install any distribution that provides one, such as in the form of a mini-FTP-install iso. If installing another distribution on a one-time usage basis (for packaging and mass distribution, see the section below), first install another distribution using UNetbootin, download the netboot version of the desired distribution (generally available on the FTP server), extract the initrd and kernel files, and replace (on Windows) C:\unetbootin\ubnkern and C:\unetbootin\ubuninit, or (on Linux) /boot/ubnkern and /boot/ubninit with the netboot kernel and initrd files, respectively, then reboot and the installer for the desired distribution should start.

    Packaging UNetbootin for Other Distributions

    Thanks to UNetbootin's portable architecture, it is easy to add support for other distributions. If you would like to create UNetbootin packages for other distributions, first make sure you have installed the "bzr", "alien", "fakeroot", and "wine" utilities, which are installable through your package manager, then check out the source with the command:

    bzr checkout
    Then add the name of the distribution, referred to here as {distroname}, into the file "targetdistros" in the checked-out source, add the netboot initrd and kernel, with the naming scheme "ubninit-{distroname}" and "ubnkern-{distroname}" into the "initkern" folder, then cd to the source directory, and run the command:

    Then, the "exe", "deb", "rpm", and "sh" packages for distribution will be created in the "dist" directory. More info is available in the readme file in the source folder.

    License/Source Code

    This is licensed under the GNU GPL. Source code is available at the launchpad page at


    This guide was written from scratch by me. The installer was created using NSIS the bootloader came from grub4dos and the netboot initrd/kernel came from Ubuntu.

    Known Issues

    If you encounter errors on reboot such as "Error 17" or "File not found" at the grub screen, try defragmenting your hard drive and running "chkdsk /r"

    If you encounter errors following the bootup and during the operation of the debian-installer, consult the netboot initrd, debian-installer, and ubuntu installation howtos and documentation

    If you encounter errors in Ubuntu, consult the general ubuntu documentation and the forums

    If you encounter errors in the Windows portion of the installer, post a question here

    Use this guide at your own risk.
    Last edited by tuxcantfly; May 29th, 2008 at 10:01 PM.

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