Software Tip: Using Unetbootin


Downloading Unetbootin
Downloading Unetbootin

I realise by now practically everyone in the world has been using USB flash memory sticks for a long time but for some odd reason I’ve never actually bought one myself. Why is this you ask? Well, I suppose mainly because the places where I worked often supplied them to me as part of the job and I also carry my laptop around with me everywhere, so I already have all my data. I’m beginning to worry I’ll need expensive surgery to separate me from that computer when the time comes but that’s for another article. Last week I was asked to install Ubuntu on a netbook for a friend and the most obvious way seemed to be booting from a USB stick, netbooks don’t have optical drives you see so the CD was of little use to me. I bought myself a 4gb Freecom Databar for just a few quid and it was about this time I first tried the niftly little program I’d like to talk to you about today.

Setting The Permissions
Setting The Permissions

It’s called unetbootin and people have been telling me how great it is for quite some time, not being a USB stick owner myself – I’ve probably surrendered my last shred of geek cred with that confession – I hadn’t had much call to try it though. There are various ways to put a Linux distribution on a USB stick and making it bootable, I don’t even think it’s that hard a process but I wanted something quick, easy and effective. That’s just what I got with this tool. One click and you can download an install image for the distro of your choice, copy it to your USB stick and make it bootable. Bish bash bosh!! As I believe some Cockney types are prone to say. I tested this out on Ubuntu 8.10, my temporary home while I write my long overdue Debian review but this process should work with any Linux distro the same I think. Unetbootin even has a Windows version so you can free yourself of that old ball and chain with ease. You have to do a few quick things to setup the program and get started on Linux, so here comes the science bit:

  • Firstly head to and download the unetbootin.bin file, save it somewhere handy
  • Next you’ll need to make it executable by adding security permissions to the file, not as scary as it sounds
  • Right-click the .bin file you saved earlier in your file browser to bing up a menu
  • Go to “properties” at the bottom of the pop up menu
  • Head to the permissions tab and tick the box which says “allow executing file as a program”
  • Now you can just double click the file and it will run, you may also want to load your USB stick before doing that though as it doesn’t seem to detect it unless it’s plugged in when you start the program
  • You will be asked for your root password when first loading, it’s nothing to worry about
Using Unetbootin
Using Unetbootin

That’s it you can now use the program to load a plethora of Linux distributions and even some BSDs (heads up BSD fans) onto your USB stick and try them out. It’s easy. There are two drop down boxes at the top of the main window, just select your poison and click ok, it should have detected your USB drive already provided you plugged it in, if not just close the program and reopen, it’ll find it. That’s all there is too it. The speed of the download operation will obviously depend on your Internet connection but you can also load any ISO image you might already have on your machine to the stick in a matter of seconds. Once it’s completed you can use the stick to boot (and install if you choose) on any device capable of booting from USB, as most modern computers are.


Have a play around with the program and let me know how you get on in the comments if you like. I think it’s a lot of fun and one thing’s for sure, it’ll save an old distro hopper like me a fortune on blank CDs and DVDs. Take that Phillips! I can already hear the sound of their shares tumbling at the news, though aren’t everybody’s these days. I’ll be producing a quick screencast about this in the coming days so keep an eye out for that too.

Thanks for reading and enjoy 🙂



  1. Unetbootin is a great tool. I use it to install eeebuntu on my 901, and it’s great to have a linux distro on the keychain. No need for a system rescue cd in the bag when you can have a neat little usb drive on the keychain. 😀

    On a complete different matter, may I suggest you try out the Dingshow plugin at ? It’s much better than having a link. See my website for a demo. It’s written in norwegian, but it shows how neat the plugin is nonetheless. I tried google translate, but it sucks at Nynorsk (

    • @Egil – Unetbootin is very cool agreed 🙂 I’ll check out that plugin too thanks, I’ve considered getting an badge or something to put on the site but I don’t want to hog too much of the sidebar, thanks for the suggestion. Could be the answer I hope 🙂

  2. BTW… Unetbootin is in the Ubuntu repos as of Jaunty:

  3. @Fab – I saw that, good news I think. Though running the binary isn’t hard as I showed, I just wanted to show new users how to set the permissions and run it in case they’re put off.

  4. Good to see this getting a little more notice. It is a handy tool. I’m just glad that it was not available when I decided I needed to do a thumb drive, I would never have taken the time to learn how it works, the differences in the various boot loaders that can be used for the task, and a whole slew of other stuff.

    Doing it by hand as I found out, takes only a few minutes and an even dozen commands. Either way is fine, I just prefer the knowing of the how and why, which is why I probably prefer Gentoo as well.


    • @Jim – Yes there’s certainly a value in learning how to do these things by hand I agree. I need to do that myself but to get up and running quickly this tool is really handy. It’s helped a lot of people and doesn’t get the attention it deserves sometimes, so I wanted to try and direct some eyeballs towards it if possible 🙂

  5. I too use unetbootin (you did not mention the necessity of sys-linux- unetbootin works without it but I have found that using sys-linux results in more consistent boots over a wider range of hardware); sometimes a distro’s own USB installer does not set up the MBR of the USB correctly, whereas unetbootin using sys-linux can be used to do an initial install. You can then delete the distro, reformat the partition etc to change or update to another distro, and the USB boots fine. The pro to using unetbootin is that the install is a read only squash filesystem (like a CD) and is protected, whereas the con is that you cannot add software or update packages, and any manual configuring must be done at every boot. (Live)usb-creator gives you persistent boots where all changes, updates and additions are remembered at every subsequent boot. I suggest to people to split the USB into two partitions, and use the second partition to store personal stuff. I carry around a few bootable USB flashdisks, one with mipup-Puppy (loads everything into memory), one with Fedora, and one with Mint.

    • @xutre – Wise words, I didn’t know about the sys-linux thing but I’ll be sure to check it out. I can see what you mean about making writable USB sticks where you can save changes and run a distro live without losing everything. I’m just using this method to boot and install thought really. Thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

  6. Tell us how you go. I personally, have had problems with reliability and usability of many brands/models and have had to replace/upgrade them under warranty after only a few months or days. Some refuse to partition, or if they partition, fail to reliably boot from. If the flashdisk can be partitioned and booted from, quite often they work for 2-3 months, then fail whilst being written to; either the memory chip becomes unreadable, or the interface chip fails. Hehe- when I go back to the retailer, I get the usual runaround; they cannot be partitioned (it’s not possible under M$ therefore it’s not possible, period). It is possible that the cheap flashdisks are unable to withstand the rigours of Linux technology. I have yet to try the Kingston or Corsair brands- perhaps someone else can comment on their experiences!

    • @xutre – I just got the Freecom because it was cheap to be honest but it seems to work fine. It boots up ok at least, I’m not sure how long it will last though, fingers crossed. If anyone has experiences to share then go for it 🙂 Fine with me

  7. […] Lynch of Linux Outlaws fame wrote an article about UNetBootin that makes me want to try it out. UNetbootin allows you to create bootable live USB drives for a […]

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