How to Play Minecraft from a Flash Drive for Block Building Fun Anywhere

By Jason Fitzpatrick on April 22nd, 2015

What’s more fun than the creative block-building in Minecraft? Building whenever and wherever you want with a portable Minecraft installation on a flash drive you can take with you. Read on as we detail how to configure a portable copy of Minecraft for build-anywhere fun.

Why Do I Want to Do This?

A standard Minecraft installation parks your Minecraft game data in a system directory and, until a very recent update to the Minecraft launcher that not all players have taken advantage of yet, relies on a local installation of Java.

Today we’re looking at two methods for turning your Minecraft experience into a portable one that allows you to not only park Minecraft and all your Minecraft data on a removable drive but, even if you’re not bent on taking it on the road with a flash drive, to easily back up and restore your entire Minecraft experience in one swoop as all the files are contained in one directory.

We run our installation of Minecraft as a portable installation for the latter reason; yes, it’s great that we can take it anywhere but the best part is we can back up everything by simply copying one directory.

To achieve this end of easily portability/back up we’ll walk you through two techniques. First we’ll look at how to take a vanilla copy of Minecraft and make it portable and then we’ll look at the more advanced MultiMC launcher that offers a more robust and flexible Minecraft management experience (and also lends itself very well to serving as a portable launcher).

We’d encourage you to read through the entire tutorial before following along with us so you can decide whether you want the vanilla Minecraft experience of the flexibility of the MultiMC launcher.

Note: the steps in this tutorial are Windows-centric but the general principles can easily be adapted to Mac and Linux machines; both Minecraft and MultiMC are cross platform.

Selecting and Preparing Your Flash Drive

You can follow this tutorial with any quality removable media (or even follow it just to make a portable Minecraft folder on your main hard drive), but we opted to turn one of the flash drives we had laying around into a dedicated Minecraft portable drive with a Minecraft themed icon, naturally.

As far as drive selection goes, this is not the time to recycle that 512MB USB 1.1 drive you have sitting in the bottom of a desk drawer. Given how inexpensive they are, a good USB 3.0 flash drive with a decent amount of storage (8GB minimum) is in order.

To give you a sense of perspective on how much space you need a vanilla Minecraft install with only a few small worlds will take up approximately 300-500MB but once you start building out/exploring large worlds, adding in mods, downloading elaborate maps, and so forth you can easily max out an 8GB drive. Our main Minecraft directory, packed with maps, mods, and useful Minecraft-related apps weighs in at around 14GB.

If you’re looking for a drive with plenty of room for Minecraft plus whatever other files you want to carry along with you there are tons of highly rated USB 3.0 drive to choose from on Amazon like this SandDisk Ultra Fit low-profile flash drive (available in 16/32/64GB sizes for $10/$16/$29, respectively).

With your flash drive selected, if you want to follow along in our purely cosmetic footsteps and add custom icon to your portable Minecraft flash drive the process is very straight forward. First, you need to locate an appropriate icon to use. Although you could fuss around with creating your own .ico file we just searched for “Minecraft” over at EasyIcon.net and downloaded an icon we liked in .ico format.

Once downloaded we copied it to our flash drive and renamed it minecraft.ico. With the icon on the drive you just need a little bit of code to prompt Windows to use the .ico file as the drive icon. Create a text document in the root of the flash drive and paste the following code into it.

[AutoRun]
icon=minecraft.ico

Save the file as autorun.inf. The next time you insert the flash drive it will load the specified icon as the drive icon and, as seen in the screenshot above, you’ll have a cool little Minecraft icon in place of the generic drive icon.

There is a small amount of additional prep work required but it is dependent on which version of the tutorial you follow (vanilla Minecraft or MultiMC) so we’ve separated the additional steps out into their respective subcategories.

Configuring Vanilla Minecraft for Portability

There are two hurdles to successfully running vanilla Minecraft as a portable application. First, we need to tell Minecraft to look for its game data in a local directory and not in a system wide application data directory as it does with a default installation. Second, we need to force it to use a local copy of Java instead of the java system variable (if Java is even installed on the host system we’re later running it on). Let’s create the necessary folder structure and then look at how we can easily clear the aforementioned hurdles.

Creating the Directory Structure

Not only are tidy directory structures useful for knowing exactly where your stuff is they also make creating the shortcuts and batch files that make the portable Minecraft magic happen much easier.

In the root directory of your flash drive create a directory called “Minecraft Portable” and then within that folder create two subdirectories called “bin” and “data.”  The directories are mapped out below for visual reference.

Root

.  /Minecraft Portable/

. .  /bin/

. .  /data/

With the above directories in place it’s time to populate them with the necessary files. The “bin” folder will house our executable files and the “data” folder will house all our Minecraft data (world files, resource packs, and so on).

Populating the Directory Structure

The first stop is to either grab a fresh copy of the Minecraft.exe from the Minecraft website or grab the copy you’re currently using on your PC. We recommend getting a fresh copy from the official website as this tutorial relies on you using the updated launcher that supports localized Java.

Download the file but do not run it. Place the file, Minecraft.exe, in the folder /Minecraft Portable/bin/.

Next you can copy your existing Minecraft data folder from your computer or create a new directory for fresh installation. If you wish to use your existing Minecraft data copy the “.minecraft” folder (you can find the folder in your Windows application data folder, easily accessed by pressing WinKey+R to open the run dialogue box and then entering, sans quotation marks, “%appdata%” in the run box). If you wish to start fresh, simply create the directory “.minecraft” inside the “data” folder.

Note: Windows is very particular about creating folders and files starting with a “.”; in order to create your “.minecraft” folder without Windows yelling at you, append the end of the folder name with another “.” like “.minecraft.” and it will automatically remove the trailing mark and allow you to create the folder “.minecraft” without complaint.

Root

.  /Minecraft Portable/

. .  /bin/

. . .  Minecraft.exe

. .  /data/

. . .  .minecraft

At this point you should have a directory structure that looks like the map above with the Minecraft executable and game data directories nested in the appropriate subdirectories.

Creating the Batch File

The magic glue that holds together our little portability stunt here is a batch file. We need to both launch Minecraft and simultaneously create a temporary association wherein Minecraft can use the local data folder we created as an application data folder instead of defaulting back to the system wide application data folder.

To that end we need to create a launcher batch file that sets a temporary variable for the APPDATA value. Navigate to the /Minecraft Portable/ folder and create a new text document. Paste the following text into it.

set APPDATA=%CD%\data
“%CD%\bin\Minecraft.exe”

Save the document and rename it “portableminecraft.bat”.  If the Minecraft launcher doesn’t automatically launch, you may wish to add an additional line “PAUSE” to the batch file so keep the command window open so you can review any errors. Assuming you’ve used the exact directory structure we’ve specified and created your batch file correctly the launcher should run, automatically download the components you need, and prompt you to log in with your Minecraft account.

If you peek into the “bin” and “data” folders at this point you’ll notice several new subfolders. The “bin” folder now has folders for the launcher.jar,  runtimes, and a log file. The “data” folder now has a “java” folder and then, in the “.minecraft” folder the first directories created to house game data. (If you copied your existing “.minecraft” folder from your computer all those directories will be already populated.)

Go ahead and log into your Minecraft account as we need to access the launcher and profile data in the next step to confirm that it is using the local appdata and Java instances.

Checking Your Configuration

If you’ve done everything correctly up to this point you shouldn’t even need to check your configuration as all the default settings should be perfect. None the less we’re going to check it anyway just to ensure you’re using the local appdata and Java instances so you don’t end up taking your flash drive with you tomorrow and, once at a friend’s house, discover all your stuff is actually back on your computer at home.

Run the portableminecraft.bat (if you don’t already have it open from the last section) and wait for the profile screen to load (displayed after you log into your account). Look down at the bottom for the profile selection menu and the edit button, as seen in the screenshot below.

Click on “Edit Profile” to bring up the profile menu. Within the profile menu you need to check Profile Info -> Game Directory and Java Settings (Advanced) -> Executable.

Both of these locations should point to the \Minecraft Portable\ folder (into the \data\.minecraft\ and \bin\runtime\ folders respectively). If the game directory does not point to your flash drive then you need to return to the batch file creation section of this tutorial and ensure that your APPDATA variable points to the location of the “.minecraft” folder on your flash drive.

The Java executable entry should, by default because we’re using the new launcher, point to the location on your flash drive as Minecraft now localizes java. If it does not, check the box and manually look in the \bin\ folder for the subdirectory containing javaw.exe and set it as the executable.

Once everything checks out and both values above point to your removable media then it’s time to play! Click the play button on the main launcher pane and wait for the required game files and assets to download to your portable Minecraft directory.

Although we anticipated a performance hit for running the game off a flash drive, other than a few stutters when the map first loaded everything ran super smoothly. The consistent 75 FPS matches the the same performance we get when playing Minecraft from our main hard drive.

Configuring MultiMC for Portability

First off, if you’re not familiar with MultiMC at all then we’d strongly encourage you to read our guide to installing it here. By checking out the guide you’ll get a good sense of whether or not you want to use it and the guide covers the application in depth well beyond the scope of this tutorial.

In short, MultiMC is, as the name suggests, a tool for managing multiple instances of Minecraft. If you want to set up what amounts to super profiles with distinct game data folders for maps, mods, and more, then MultiMC is where it’s at.

Installing Portable Java

By its very nature MultiMC is portable as it stores all the Minecraft data in a central location. The only weakness in the current MultiMC release (0.4.5 as of this tutorial) is that it has not yet updated to handle the new local java feature Minecraft rolled out with the recent installer update. This means if your host computer doesn’t have Java installed, you’re out of luck (and even if it does you’ll need to fiddle with changing settings when you launch MultiMC on it).

There are two approaches you can take to fixing this problem. You could install a portable version of Java ala the jPortable installer found over at PortableApps.com, but we prefer to just use the portable version that Mojang is pushing out.

How you handle accessing the Mojang-packaged version that ships with Minecraft is a personal choice. One method is to simply dual install both vanilla Minecraft (as we did in the previous section) and MultiMC (as we’re doing in this section) and then point MultiMC at the Mojang supplied Java bundle. The other method would be to copy the /java/ directory off the Minecraft directory on your PC. The former technique is preferable as it allows you to update the Java bundle in place by simply running the vanilla Minecraft launcher.

Pointing MultMC at the Portable Java

Regardless of whether you install a separate copy (like jPortable), piggyback on the portable copy you installed in the previous section, or copy over the java directory from your main Minecraft installation on your computer, we need to show MultiMC where to find it.

Again, because we covered MultiMC in-depth in our full length tutorial we’re not going to dig into all the features here. We are, however, going to run through installing it and where you need to adjust the Java directory path. Download MultiMC here and extract it the contents of the zip file to the root directory of your flash drive.

Open the MultiMC folder and run it. You’ll be prompted to select which version of Java you want to use (if Java is installed on the system) or warned that it is not installed.

It doesn’t matter which version (or any) you select at this point so feel free to just select one and click “OK” to get the screen to go away. We’re about to change it anyway so whatever selection you make is irrelevant.

After you’re in the main MultiMC dashboard, select the Settings button from the toolbar (the computer icon, highlighted in the screenshot above.

Select “Java” in the left hand navigation panel. In the Java menu click on the “. . .” button next to the “Java path:” entry. Browse on your flash drive to the location of the javaw.exe file. If you’ve followed along with our tutorial in the previous section then you’ll have a nice fresh copy of Java courtesy of Mojang that you can find in the following directory.

/Minecraft Portable/bin/runtime/jre-x64/1.8.0_25/bin/javaw.exe

Now, and this is the critical step, you need to strip away the drive letter designation from the front of thepath now found in the “Java path:” box in order to create a pseudo relative path such that as your flash drive’s letter assignment changes MultiMC is not thrown off looking for the Java executable in the wrong location.

After you’ve browsed to the Java executable the path in the “Java path:” box will look like:

K:/Minecraft Portable/bin/runtime/jre-x64/1.8.0_25/bin/javaw.exe

Where K: could be F, H, or whatever letter Windows has assigned to your flash drive. Simply remove the drive letter and colon so that the entry in the box and MultiMC will look for the files relative to the drive it is located on:

/Minecraft Portable/bin/runtime/jre-x64/1.8.0_25/bin/javaw.exe

When you’re done press the “Test” button and confirm that the version of Java it reports matches the version of Java in the box (in the screenshot above and in our test it read 1.8.0_25.

The real test, of course, is to actually run Minecraft through MultiMC with the portable version of Java. Click “Save” at the bottom of the settings menu, return to the main MultiMC dashboard, right click to “Create instance” and create a copy of Minecraft (again, for a detailed walkthrough see this tutorial).

Run the instance by double clicking on it and take it for a spin.

Same version of Minecraft as the previous section, same version of Java, running on the same machine, loaded up in a new map and with the whole thing managed by MultiMC: exact same smooth 75FPS performance. Success!

Portable Minecraft Tips and Tricks

Whether you’ve opted to go with the standard Minecraft launcher installation or the MultiMC installation launcher there are a few tips and tricks we think you’ll find enhance your portable Minecraft experience.

Use a high-quality flash drive: As we’ve already emphasized, make sure you’re using a high-quality flash drive and, when possible, plug it into a USB 3.0 port. Although during most play you shouldn’t have a problem with a slower flash drive on a USB 2.0 port if you do a lot of exploring (especially in creative mode where you can fly and quickly cover ground) you’ll want the best connection possible as the chunk generation that occurs when you rapidly explore the map can be quite taxing on a slow connection.

Don’t be afraid to copy the files, temporarily, to the host’s HDD: If you’re planning on using the host computer for more than a single short play session (and you have permission from the computer’s owner to do so) it makes a lot of sense to copy over the files from the flash drive to get a right-off-the-HDD speed boost. Remember how we talked about the ease in which you can backup your Minecraft files when the whole install is portable? Just copy the relevant Minecraft directories right from your flash drive to the host computer and then, when you’re done, return them before going home.

If you have the space, keep fresh copies of the work you’ve just done: There’s a very good chance that when your Minecraft-loving friends and family hear about your portable Minecraft install they’re going to want a copy themselves. Sure you can direct them to this article so they understand how it works, but it’s also easy to just dump a fresh copy right onto their desktops or flash drives. Before you go wild customizing your portable Minecraft installation with all your own personal worlds and such, if you have the space on your flash drive to do so make a directory like “Original Backup” or “Fresh Copy” and dump a copy of everything you’ve created, sans your login information, into the folder. It’ll make sharing a simple copy and paste affair.

Keep your maps, resource packs, and mods, tidy and organized: One of the benefits of playing with a portable Minecraft copy is that you’ll often find yourself at a friend’s house with it. That same friend is probably going to be pretty interested in the cool maps, resource packs, and mods you’ve accumulated. A well organized directory structure (see the subsection in this article, “Practicing Good Mod Organization” for ideas) makes it super easy to find what you need and share it.

Don’t forget to update Java: Sure the security risks from a stand-alone version of Java that is only used for Minecraft are practically nonexistent, but if you don’t at least check in once a month or so to see if Mojang has pushed out a new portable Java install then you’ll miss out on potential performance boosts and bug fixes.


Armed with a well stocked flash drive, a Swiss Army knife-like launcher like MultiMC, and the tips and tricks we’ve outlined in this tutorial and you’ll always have Minecraft in your pocket and ready to play on PCs near and far.

 

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 04/22/15
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