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I am trying to get qemu-kvm to boot from my live usb stick. Is this possible?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

qemu-kvm -hdb <device>, where <device> is the USB stick (e.g. /dev/sdb), should do it (tested with Ubuntu 12.04 on an USB stick and it works).

You will need write permission to the device (i.e. be root or change its permissions).

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Good answer. BTW if you need an easy interface to manage your VMs, give virt-manager a try. – wazoox May 2 '12 at 21:19
Nice! That made my day. Thanks! – mikewilliamson May 2 '12 at 21:22
Just as a hint: I tried VirtualBox instead of kvm to test my live usb stick, and it's A LOT faster. You have to use this command as root to create a vmdk file to be used in VirtualBox: VBoxManage internalcommands createrawvmdk -filename .VirtualBox/HardDisks/usbdisk.vmdk -rawdisk /dev/sdb – Marc MAURICE Mar 17 '13 at 8:37
Just a small note to self here - use the disk/device node in -hdb (e.g. /dev/sdb); NOT the partition (as in /dev/sdb4) – sdaau May 28 '13 at 14:10

I don't know why exactly, but Renan's answer didn't quite work for me. KVM said to me it couldn't find a bootable drive (despite the usb partition being marked as such).

However I've found another solution. Get the USB device VendorID:ProductID with lsusb. Example:

$ lsusb
Bus 002 Device 007: ID 0781:5406 SanDisk Corp. Cruzer Micro U3

Pass that to KVM, and ask for the boot menu:

sudo  kvm -m 512 -smp 1 -drive file=/path/to/hardisk/file.img -usb \ 
-usbdevice host:0781:5406 -boot menu=on

Press F12 for the menu, choose the usb device, it works. There's probably a way to command the usb boot without needing to call the boot menu, but I didn't find any in man kvm.

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qemu-kvm has disappeared. use the hint in start qemu by giving it a path to a linux root instead. this means

qemu-system-x86_64 -usb -usbdevice disk:/dev/sdb

where /dev/sdb is your raw device (not partition) of the usb stick that you want to boot.

(however, as of 12/2014, it's been flaky for me. booting ubuntu-gnome 14.10 results eventually in a kernel panic on a stick verified to boot just fine on the metal.)


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If you want to use an image of a liveusb, instead of a physical USB stick, you can do that with

$ kvm -usbdevice disk:/path/to/liveusb.img -boot menu=on ...

Without "-boot menu=on", kvm will always prefer the hard drive that you set with "-drive" or "-hd[a|b|c|d]".

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