Casper, the Friendly (and Persistent) Ghost

Creating a live Linux USB stick isn't anything new. And, in fact, the ability to have persistence with a live CD/USB stick isn't terribly new. What many people might not be aware of, however, is just how easy it is to make a bootable USB stick that you can use like a regular Linux install. Using the "Startup Disk Creator" in any of the Ubuntu derivatives, creating a bootable USB drive with persistence is as simple as dragging a slider to determine how much space to reserve for persistence!

The concept of persistence has come a long way too. The casper filesystem basically overlays the live USB session, so you actually can install programs in your live session and have those programs remain installed the next time you boot. The same is true with files you might create and store in your home directory as well. If you've ever liked the concept of a live USB, but felt limited by the default set of applications, persistence is for you. In fact, with a sizable USB stick and a little more work, you can make a multiboot USB stick with persistence as well.


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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Why not using Dropbox? I am

Anonymous's picture

Why not using Dropbox?
I am using it and I can update data for how to get rid of whiteheads anywhere !

I am using Norton Ghost for

Anonymous's picture

I am using Norton Ghost for my PC
However, I saved data on my USB and I can use it anytime and anywhere even how to get rid of whiteheads


Sonderposten's picture

The portable Linux Live USB Creator tool you can easily create bootable USB stick with Linux.

As a source can be a finished image file (eg an ISO file) or a CD with a particular Linux distribution
The procedure is very simple: First you have to select the target, a USB stick. Then choose the source (image file, CD or download).
Reich mit Restposten
Now you can - if desired - a Persistent-defined area. The data are stored in this area are still present even after a reboot.

On the official site of Linux Live USB Creator to find some hints.

In the fourth step, in addition, a further special feature is activated, which then enables the distribution of Linux from Windows via a portable VirtualBox to start.

If you have enabled this, you will now after creating (click on the flash) on the USB flash drive with a file folder VirtualBox "Virtualize_This_Key.exe".
A click on this file and the Portable VirtualBox, including the machine on a USB flash drive is started.

As an alternative example, can also be used UNetbootin. [via]

Update: Meanwhile, I presented some additional tools with which one can not only bootable USB flash drives, but also about creating multiboot USB flash drives. So Ver-rail Dene Tools on a USB stick. To find some articles in the blog search.

Using a USB as installers is

Harv's picture

Using a USB as installers is one one of the most convenient way for anyone who often are on the move. You don't have to worry about bringing a whole bag of installers wherever you go. But it's just good because you've develop it on an open-source system. T Harv Ecker

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Anonymous's picture

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Anonymous's picture

have a look at YUMI on

Excelent prog.

Mandriva One works just as a regular install

Anonymous's picture

For several years now I have an 8G stick with Mandriva One on it and all drivers available to the live CD are available on the stick too. I install and update as need and I have a little /home partition on it too. On some machines, like Netbooks, is indeed slow, on others it is just great. I even develop and compile with it!

It seems old updated stuff don't get cleaned

meanpt's picture

I tried it using a sandisk cruzer pen with a capacity of 8GB and an ubuntu 11.04 live CD image, with persistency. After the third update I ran out of space. I believe there is a need for a live usb tool to clean the already updated old stuff. The same cruzer pen now runs with a full installation of Ubuntu 12.04 alfa 2, still has 3 GB available and have survived through all the updates made available.


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multiboot that works well for me

Anonymous's picture

Sadly, not a linux tool, per se, but it does the job well, and has the links to different iso-s included.

Lubuntu on a USB key

Bart W's picture

I tried it as well, and succeeded in running Lubuntu from a 4 GB USB key, including a complete update. I mainly used it so far for surfing, some picture editing and writing small documents, and so far so good, it is faster than the native system.

Just the keyboard settings are somehow not persistent.

Nice to have it with me when using an alien computer.

Multisystem is a good alternative if you use ubuntu or derivated

mitcoes's picture

I use Multisystem, you can add a lot of LiveCD/DVD isos, and add persistent modes.

The problem with persistent modes is that you can use them only at one computer config, but you can use the normal LiveCD/DVD instead if you are at another computer, and there are ubuntu based LiveCDs with multisystem installed, in order to make another persistent mode for the other computer.

Unfortunately it only works well in ubuntu and derivates, even at debian does not work 100%, but it is a great tool.

Similar to MS WOS yumi one

Multiboot USB Creator

Anonymous's picture

This is a response to the post Multiboot by Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/01/2012 - 17:02

I believe I saw this discussed on one of the HAK5 shows on Revision 3.

The web page is in French, but google translate may help.

This one is for Windows.

Hak5 shows:

It doesn't work as well as a regular install, not by a long shot

cluracan's picture

I have tried using a USB linux live with "persistence". I wanted to convert a friend to linux, but he was reluctant to actually install it, so I thought I'd let him use it without installing for a while first. It doesn't work. It's a gimmic, a toy, but if you want to actually use it - it does work.

First thing, you can't install drivers on a linux-live USB. I mean propriatary drivers that you have to install to use your wi-fi or graphics card (on some systems).

It lets you install them, but after the obligatory restart, it crashes.

Actually, it crashes after a lot of things: try to install big libraries or complex programs, or update all your programs, and after a while the live-USB will stop working correctly. I can't tell you what specifically makes it crash, but I guess that some things you try and load at startup don't work well with the "persistent USB" feature.

Finally, it's limited to 4 GB. There are 64GB USBs out there, but you are limited to only 4GB. That's not enough for a "real" working environment. Install a few big programs, use up some space and it's gone.

It's too bad, because I could have really used a "working environment on a stick" that I can take with me anywhere and just plug in the nearest computer and work "just like home" (or a "secret environment" for my "naughty stuff" that I hide when I don't use :) )

I keep testing it once every few months to see if it's improved, but right now, it's useless for anything but a "preview to install"

working environment on a stick

Bosco Bearbank's picture

With a large USB flash drive, why not just to a normal install? Although I have not done it with Lubuntu, I have installed Fedora LXDE spin on a 4GB flash drive. Don't recall if I used grub or extlinux as the bootloader.

they are useful sometimes

Dave Keays's picture

Two things:

First of all the persistence that Cluracan spoke of should solve the issue of drivers.

Second of all it will not work for all situations- I have never seen a one-size-fits-all solution in Computers. Of course marketing departments claim otherwise but that is my experience. I use it to introduce people to Linux, dispel the idea that Linux is command-line (DOS prompt) only, and to rescue a computer that went bad. I've had old live Linux CD's rescue data from a HD that the machine's BIOS couldn't recognize.

Dave Keays, freelance webmaster

HD not detected in BIOS

jazzyjeph's picture

I'm intrigued how you can recover data from a drive if it is not recognised in the BIOS. If it's not available in the BIOS I don't see how it will be available inside an operating system. Please enlighten.

Casper, how does it work

barton's picture

I have been trying to find a how-to that explains how the boot process really works. So far I have not been able to find anything via google. If anyone has a good link that walks one through what looks like a pretty conveluted process please let me know:

link to tell linux boot process

Anonymous's picture has it and much more


Anonymous's picture

Shawn you have peaked my interest! I would love an explanation of a multiboot USB stick. I would love to reach into my pocket and pull out a small USB device and ask which OS the club would like reviewed. it would sure grab a lot of attention to the Linux OSs.

I've been unable to get a multiboot DVD to work thus far - so I guess its the Multiboot interface that I need to develop my skills on.

Thanks again for another great article.

Its a shame ..

Anonymous's picture

that it never actually works .. There are so many bugs in the program it isnt worth the effort.

It absolutely works

Anonymous's picture

I am by no stretch of the imagination a Linux guru. Actually I'm a rather thick skulled 75 year old that finds making a USB from the Startup disk program on Ubuntu derivatives as simple as telling it where the OS resides.

I have made about 25 USB sticks for our computer club - and none of them have failed over several months of use. I think you are comparing it to the Unetbootin program which can have some problems.

Speed issues

heltonbiker's picture

I have done so, but gave up, since the system speed gets worse and worse if you start to write a lot to casper, specially changing settings, etc.

A nice thing to do, I think, is to carefully think about what really needs to be changed, change once (install new programs, etc), and then don't change too much things later.

That might be just an impression, but whan I tried to REALLY use the persistent Live-USB as if it were a normal system, the speed kept going down and down the more I used...