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Create a Persistent, Bootable, and Virtualized Linux USB Drive with LiLi

Live Linux USB drives are often the go-to tool for virus removal and file recovery, but what if you want to install software on your drive without rebooting? Here’s how with the LinuxLive (LiLi) USB Creator.

We have shown you how to create a bootable Linux flash drive in the past, and even how to do it directly from an existing ISO. These methods still work great, but if you want added features like drive persistence and the ability to open your Linux OS under Windows with Virtualbox, LiLi is the easiest way to go.

Download and Install LiLi

To get started, download the latest version from the link below.

Go through the installer and change the installation location or language settings if you need to.

Once the installer finishes launch the application.

Install Linux to Your USB Drive

LiLi is broken up into steps for you to follow from top to bottom as you select options for your installation.

Step one is to choose your USB drive or portable hard drive for installation.

If you drive is currently formatted in NTFS you will get this popup. Just make sure you check the box to format the drive to FAT32 in step four.

In step two you can choose to use an existing ISO/IMG/Zip file, a Linux CD, or download an ISO file from a list of supported distributions.

LiLi will check your ISO file to make sure the file is good.

Step three will let you select how much space you want for your drive to be persistent.  This will take a significant amount of space on your USB drive, but if you want to be able to save installed programs or files between reboots, it is a necessarily trade off.

OS updates will use up your persistent space, so don’t update often unless you have a lot of available space.

Step four has an option to hide all of the files related to the live Linux distribution in Windows. This won’t affect the files in any way; you just won’t see them when you browse your drive under Windows so long as you have the “show system files” option turned off in explorer.

Enable launching LinuxLive in Window to download portable VirtualBox and allow you to install programs without needing to reboot.

Finally, step five lets you create your new USB drive. Click the lightning bolt to begin.

If your drive is going to be formatted you will be warned ahead of time.

You will be updated about the status of your USB creation in the step five window.

Once the drive is done being created, a browser will open showing you how to use your new USB drive and a finished notice will be shown in the LiLi program.

Virtualizing Your Linux Drive

Once everything is installed, open an explorer window and navigate to your USB drive. Double click VirtualBox\Virtualize_this_key.exe to launch portable Virtualbox running the OS installed on your drive.

If you chose to hide the files, you won’t see any files on your drive except for the ones you will need to.

Virtualbox will open and start your portable OS.

You can install software, updates, or create files from the virtual OS and the changes will stay even after rebooting. EDIT: Our wonderful readers pointed out that LiLi does not recommend using persistence with portable VirtualBox.

You can also boot from your USB drive just like normal.

If you get an error about VirtualBox not starting make sure the portable VirtualBox and installed VirtualBox versions are the same. Otherwise you may get conflicts about the modules not loading in Windows.

LinuxLive USB Creator

Justin is a Linux and HTPC enthusiast who loves to try new projects. He isn't scared of bricking a cell phone in the name of freedom.

  • Published 06/13/11

Comments (24)

  1. Hatryst

    Alternate method:
    (Ubuntu)
    Run Ubuntu from a live cd, open ‘Startup disk creator’, install Ubuntu, that’s it. Bootable USB thumb drive with Ubuntu
    Running it in a VM? Download PLoP ISO, mount it, run the VM, when PLoP is loaded, mount the Ubuntu USB thumb drive, select the USB option in PLoP, and voila !

  2. Mark

    From LiLi site.
    http://www.linuxliveusb.com/help/guide/using-lili

    “Be aware that persistence should NOT be used in VirtualBox.”

  3. bob

    lemon chicken tonight!

  4. withanamelikedave

    @Hatryst – The method described in the article carries the extra little bonus of carrying your virtualboxlet around with you. So, if you’re plugging your minty usb into a computer that doesn’t have a VM installed, you already have virtual box with you ready to go.

  5. cam2644

    A good way to try out other Linux distros.
    Congratulations on explaining the steps more clearly than others I’ve seen on the net.

  6. cbob

    how do you update Ubuntu and save it as live usb key? and keep updating and saving it? ty.

  7. withanamelikedave

    @cbob, the method described in the article achieves that. Also, you can do this with information at pendrivelinux.com and choose settings for ‘persistence’.

    I’m hanging out here today.

  8. cbob

    @withanamelikedave – ty i’ll give it a shot later today.

  9. tehsnarf

    @withanamelikedave – Let’s say you use Ubuntu and the persistence method. When updates to the Ubuntu OS come down the line, and you use “apt-get update”, or whatever your preferred method is, to update those releases, are those updates applied to the persistent area of the USB, or to the OS installation area?

  10. Slikdata

    Question- In the past drive persistence could not be configured bigger than 4 gb (Pendrive method) formatting it as FAT32. Is there a way to do this with a 16 gb drive and use more than 4 gb for persistence?

  11. dave

    Can someone help me? http://i.imgur.com/fy8MM.png

  12. Screwtape

    Can this be done with multiple distros/ISO’s on a single USB drive?

    I know it’s possible to multiple boot, but I’d like to use Virtualbox with each one as well.

  13. Robert Lane

    If you already have a multiboot usb you can just add qemu to it and use it to boot your drive from windows. I like to do things the hard way (format, install syslinux/grub2, add boot entrys) but I love the option to do this automatically because it encourages less familiar people to try new things.

  14. DavidQ

    Shortly after I start Virtualize_this_key.exe I get the message, “VBoxTestOGL.exe has stopped working”. A VirtualBox window does come up, but shortly thereafter produces the message, “Oracle VM VirtualBox Manager has stopped working”. It leaves a zombie box on the screen that says “Exit Portable-VirtualBox” [newline] “Please do not unplug your key!” That remains until I kill the VBoxSVC.exe process.

    I tried twice generating the key, which it did with no errors. Unmounted the drive, then reinserted it.

    Any thoughts?

  15. Gonzalo Pereira

    @Hatryst
    Could be wrong, but last time I tried Plop on VBox, and a Live USB distro, it didn’t work.

  16. Dennis

    Everything worked as described with the exception of one problem I encountered…
    How do you logon to Ubuntu 11.04 after virtualization? I tried numerous times and it failed every time. What gives? How can I get passed the login screen? I know this sounds dumb, but “Other” appears pm the login screen and I tried using my name and regular password that I used on my dual boot system, to no avail. I also tried leavling it blank and still couldn’t get it. Oh, I should mention that I chose to “Try It” versus “Install” on the previous screen.
    Your help is most appreciated.
    Sincerely,
    Dennis

  17. Dennis

    I found out that entering “Ubuntu” (without quotes) on the user name and leaving the password field blank lets you in, but now I’m having another problem… There is a “Live Session User” logon screen and I am stuck there. Can anyone provide any help?
    Thank you,
    Dennis

  18. Dennis

    Hello everyone. So sorry to bother you with the last post. I closed the VM and then reopened it and viola it worked. I still can’t set up a user account while logging in as “Try It” versus “Install It”. Is that where my problem is? I wish these examples were easier to follow as I’m not a genius when it comes to computers, esp. Linux Distro’s.

    Again, I apologize for writing all this gibberish.

    Regards,

    Dennis

  19. Gaby

    To make an flash memory bootable – works!…
    But the trick (with/the virtualization) works under Windows XP SP2 or SP3?

  20. metude

    How can i increase persistant storage more than 4 Gb?

  21. Screwtape

    @metude: My guess is you can’t. It appears the persistent storage is a single file and 4GB is the max because of FAT32 limitations.

  22. Dennis

    Hello again,
    I am having trouble making a user account for myself, and running the Libre word processor with my installation. I guess I’ll have trouble saving a file too, since i can’t create my user account. Can anyone help me?
    Thank you,
    Dennis

  23. Bjarnovikus

    It needs administration rights to run (due to the virtualisation and drivers needed to connect the host and the guest). I really hoped it was possible to run a virtual machine on my computer.

  24. iRonTech

    I’ve tried create from usb-creator.exe by ubuntu, UltraISO (burn to CD no problem) or the Universal-USB-Installer-1.8.5.2, all same weird issue, just can’t boot up after finished on Sandisk 16GB Cruzer. (u3-tool removed)

    Until I found this wonderful LiLi weeks ago, solved my ubuntu Live CD can’t boot problem on Sandisk 16GB Cruzer.

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