Debian Live

These instructions relate to version 8.5.0 of the Debian Live Project.

Creating a bootable USB stick

Instructions for creating a bootable USB are in Section 4.3 of the Debian GNU/Linux Installation Guide. To summarise:

WARNING Make sure everything you care about on your machine is fully backed up. Mistakes in these commands can make it very difficult or impossible to recover data. Take great care when specifying the target device that you are certain it is the correct one.

  1. Download one of the hybrid Debian Live images from e.g.

  2. Ideally boot into a Debian system or boot from a Debian live CD/DVD.

  3. Clear the kernel message buffer to make it easier to identify messages.

    $ sudo dmesg -c
  4. Insert in the target USB key to be entirely overwritten with the Debian Live image.

  5. Examine the messages in the kernel buffer to see what device name has been assigned. It is likely to be something like /dev/sdb, /dev/sdc etc. Additionally each partition will be given a unique name such as /dev/sdb1, /dev/sdb2

    $ dmesg
  6. Additionally you can use the mount command before and after to see what device name is assigned.

    $ mount
  7. If the device has been automatically mounted, unmount it, using the relevant device name (replace X with the appropriate letter). When writing directly to a device it must be unmounted.

    $ sudo umount /dev/sdX
  8. Copy the ISO image directly to the device. The target will be the entire device, not just a partition. E.g. /dev/sdb not /dev/sdb1. WARNING make certain the target is the USB stick. The target device will be overwritten by the ISO image.

    $ sudo cp debian.iso /dev/sdX
    $ sync
  9. Physically remove and reinsert the USB stick to ensure the operating system recognises the new partitions.

  10. The ISO image will have structured the partition table of the USB stick to have one bootable hidden partition with the rest of the USB stick remaining free. Optionally create a new FAT32 partition using a utility such as cfdisk and format it using the mkfs.vfat command. mkfs.vfat is in the Debian dosfstools package. See man cfdisk and man mkfs.vfat for further information.

    For most uses, choose a partition type ID of 0xc in cfdisk. Format the partition with sudo mkfs.vfat -F 32 /dev/sdX2 replacing X2 with the relevant partion name.

    Again, run the sync command, eject and physically remove the USB stick to ensure that the new partition is recognised.

  11. Having created a second partition, it may be useful to have the 'non-free' firmware that is not included in the standard Debian installer. A set of non-free packages can be downloaded from or alternatively, the individual package(s) can be downloaded by searching the Debian packages. E.g. Place the extra firmware packages in a directory named firmware off the root of the partition. The installer should automatically find these packages and potentially install any that are required.

    $ cd /media/user/NO\ NAME
    $ sudo mkdir firmware
    $ cd firmware
    $ sudo tar -xf /path/to/firmware.tar.gz

You should now have a bootable Debian Live USB stick with which to use as an installer or for rescuing a non-bootable system.

Changing language settings

Having booted off the Debian Live USB stick, you may wish to change the language settings.


See ChangeLanguage for full information, but essentially:

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure locales

and select the locales you wish to enable, including choosing the system wide default locale. It takes quite a while to generate each locale, so only enabling those ones you require saves time. E.g. en_GB.UTF-8 should British English users.


The keyboard can be changed using the setxkbmap command in a terminal window. See Keyboard and X11KeyboardTips for more information. e.g. To change the keyboard mapping for the United Kingdom

$ setxkbmap gb

A more thorough and perhaps easier way to fully configure the keyboard setup is to use:

$ sudo dpkg-reconfigure keyboard-configuration
$ sudo systemctl restart keyboard-setup.service

-- Frank Dean - 2 Aug 2016

See Also

Another option is to use UNetbootin which distributes binaries for Linux, Mac OS X and Windows. The application can use an existing ISO or alternatively download one for you.

Related Topics: DebianLiveLenovoT500Wireless, DebianTips, KnoppixTips, X11KeyboardTips