How to create a bootable Linux USB drive using EXTLINUX

This howto will show us how to manually create a bootable USB (flash) drive using the EXTLINUX bootloader.

Unlike SYSLINUX who installs on FAT formatted drives, EXTLINUX can be used for EXT2/3/4 and even btrfs formatted drives.

EXTLINUX is easier to use than GRUB.

Why use the EXT2 filesystem? It is recommended for flash drives as it is a non-journaled filesystem so the write operations are reduced compared to other journaled filesystems.

See for more info.

First operation : partitioning our drive (as root)

This will list the installed physical disk drives in your system :
# fdisk -l

On my particular setup, my USB drive is identified as /dev/sdc.

Adapt to your own case.

WARNING! The following will ERASE your USB drive! Be careful not to partition/format the wrong disk drive!

We create an EXT2 partition (whole disk), and mark it as bootable.

# fdisk /dev/sdc
then enter the following input :

<first cylinder, ENTER>
<last cylinder, ENTER>
83<ENTER>  <-- partition type : Linux

Partitioning done, next we have to create the filesystem on the drive, on the /dev/sdc1 partition we just created :

# mkfs -t ext2 /dev/sdc1 -L <label>

<label> is the volume name.

TIP: change a disk label
# tune2fs -L <newlabel> /dev/sdc1

Second part, the installation of EXTLINUX bootloader on the drive
First we need to mount the drive (as root)
# mkdir /mnt/usb
# mount /dev/sdc1 /mnt/usb

Download the latest SYSLINUX/EXTLINUX package (at the time of this writing it was 4.03)

# wget
# tar xvjf syslinux*.tar.bz2
# cd syslinux*

Install the MBR on the drive
# cd mbr
# cat mbr.bin >/dev/sdc

# cd ../extlinux
# ./extlinux --install /mnt/usb

But we need to create an extlinux.conf file which will contain our bootloader instructions :

# nano /mnt/usb/extlinux.conf

LABEL linux
SAY Now booting the kernel from SYSLINUX...
KERNEL bzImage
#  APPEND ro root=/dev/sdc1 initrd=initrd.img

(The APPEND line is commented out in this example.)

But we still need a Linux kernel file (named bzImage above) to copy to this drive!

Why not using your Buildroot-generated kernel? 🙂

See my other howto here.

All the necessary files have been copied to our USB drive, we can unmount it now.
# cd && umount /mnt/usb

Now you can plug your drive and boot your new system!


2 thoughts on “How to create a bootable Linux USB drive using EXTLINUX

  1. Pingback: How To Install dCore Linux in a virtual machine | Open-Source Routing and Network Simulation

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