For the last six years, my main workstation has consisted of a pen drive running the Debian Live images with a persistent partition. The images were simple, brilliant and reliable, and the online web builder for images was perfect for my use.

Recently I was looking to update my core system and discovered that Debian Live has undergone an "abrupt end." Both that article and other mails mention alternatives; some imply that live.debian.net is still active, but it just redirects to the main Debian wiki, which in turn only refers to the official CD images. Another article mentions that vmdebootstrap is being updated to be the replacement for live-build and other Debian Live tools, but I can't find any useful documentation on that either. And no one seems to be running a web image builder any more.

Can someone point me to alternatives? In an ideal world, there would be some straightforward workflow to produce custom images similar to those that Debian Live used to make possible, and with the kernel options that it supported (some of which are very useful in a persistent USB situation). Is that possible in Debian any more? Can someone point me to a sequence of steps for that?

  • 1
    Have you tried Ubuntu? - I have operated for the last 2 months off of a live CD - in a way that sounds similar to how you used debian live. One reason I chose Ubuntu over debian live USB is that I could install packages on ubuntu live USB, but not on debian. May 13, 2016 at 3:30
  • I did try Ubuntu a long time ago, but it had glitches when running off my USB drive. Could try it again but would prefer to stick with Debian if possible. I'm not sure why you couldn't install packages - I can, and my system operates in a way that's almost identical to a normal desktop (even packages in the downloaded image can be updated by installing them in the persistent partition; only the kernel and some others can't be updated).
    – ShankarG
    May 13, 2016 at 5:22
  • Im not sure, but I suspect I couldn't install packages because I dont use persistance. I want everything to reset the next time I boot from live USB and I simply use dd to create my simple non-persistant live USB's. May 13, 2016 at 5:28
  • Ok, that's a very different use case than mine. I have persistence enabled and use my pen drive as if it is a normal system.
    – ShankarG
    May 13, 2016 at 6:11
  • 1
    I asked the same thing in Software Recommendations SE. Someone in the comments recommended Knoppix. See more here: softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/q/31325/21581
    – Fiksdal
    May 14, 2016 at 4:00

7 Answers 7


Alternatives to Debian Live for persistent Debian system on USB

You can create a debian Live USB with persistence using the mkusb tool :

How to install mkusb in Debian

These methods are tested in Debian Wheezy. It contains an instruction to install the ppa 'manually'. There is also an alternative to download the file(s) and check the download manually.

The mkusb is tested and work fine on debian jessie and debian Stretch. There is no dependencies problem.

To install mkusb , add the following line to your /etc/apt/sources.list

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/mkusb/ppa/ubuntu xenial main

Import the gpg key :

apt-key adv --keyserver keyserver.ubuntu.com --recv 54B8C8AC

Update and install mkusb:

apt-get update
apt-get install mkusb

The command line tool is mkusb-nox (txt mode) , the GUI is mkusb.

The are a few steps to create a Debian Live Persistent USB using the mkusb GUI :

Download the Debian Live ISO from the official website.

Run mkusb from the terminal. Choose d option then validate:

d:  dus , guidus, mkusb-dus    - New, easy to use
  1. Choose : Install (make a boot device)
  2. Choose p : 'Persistent live' only Debian and Ubuntu
  3. Select your debian.iso file and validate
  4. Select your USB device
  5. Select upefi : usb-pack-efi (default grub from ISO file) then validate
  6. Choose the percentage reserved to your persistent partition then validate
  7. Select GO and validate (Yes , i want to go ahead), your USB will be formatted and partitioned

The 5 partitions :

partition 1 - ntfs 'usbdata'
partition 2 - bios_grub
partition 3 - fat32 boot,efi
partition 4 - iso9660 - cloned system
partition 5 - ext4 - 'casper-rw'

You can reboot into your Persistent USB when you receive the following message :

 Done :-) 
 The target device is ready to use.

I have not tried that on a live session with persistence but it should not be any different than a regular install.

The live CDs are quite limited but you can add another flavor if you want. Removing one would be a bugger.

There is the "standard" live CD. This is not truly live. It installs the basic Debian desktop stuff and offers the usual DEs as tasksel options. You could pop it on a stick and then try finishing the install from there at tty console.

I have never tried that but see no reason why it wouldn't work. Sounds interesting enough that I may just have to do that.

  • How would I "add" another flavour? That's where the web custom image builder was so good...
    – ShankarG
    May 15, 2016 at 7:56
  • The problem I see with doing a normal install on a USB stick is that live-config does a lot of hardware auto detection. If I installed normally on a stick, wouldn't it only work on the computer where I set it up?
    – ShankarG
    May 15, 2016 at 7:57

I eventually used the live-build tools in Debian itself to build a custom image on a separate Debian system. I discovered that using the hdd option to build a binary that consists of separate files (as opposed to an ISO image), and then copying that to the pen drive and setting up Grub legacy on the pen drive, works perfectly. A separate kludge is necessary to boot on UEFI systems. That's what I'm using now.


You can use the current Debian LiveCD, the one with non-free, which I recommend so you have the firmware for what ever you plug into, or the regular one without.

Would recommend a 8G stick.

dd image to stick.

Add a partition after the image leaving a bit of breathing room for the image (a few MB).

Label that partition; persistence

In that persistence partition you need a; persistence.conf

file which has; / union

for minimum content.

I suggest adding /home

Only problem with this is that you will have to, each time you boot, edit the menu entry to include the word; persistence

in the instruction string. Hit enter and you should be all set.

There are ways to edit the ISO menu entries to avoid that menu entry edit but that is not within the scope of this question. Widget

  • Thanks. But the normal live CDs seem to be available in quite limited flavours. And will they accept the live-config kernel options?
    – ShankarG
    May 14, 2016 at 10:26

I have never had any problem doing anything in a live session with persistence that I could in an installed OS. Due to using the live stick for primarily data recovery however I have not done a lot besides adding some packages.

As far as the limited number of flavors goes us the "standard" ISO. This will actually install a system with no DE on your stick but it will boot and with persistence you can add what you want.

I also suppose that you could install it on your disk but I have found that at least on the usb2 sticks I use that a live session boots faster and runs faster than an OS installed on my stick.


Unofficial non-free images including firmware packages, found Here

And you might also be interested in various mods discussion on the Puppy Linux Discussion Forum. Check the Projects SubForum for discussion about XenialDog (Ubuntu 16.04 'Xenial Xerus' LTS, 32-bit), 64 bit DebianDog-Jessie, XenialDog 64-bit, Debian Frugal and others. This link will bring you to the top of the Projects SubForum


Also noticed that you need additional packages. I was using debian live USB to install to another persistance USB

sudo apt-get install grub
sudo apt-get install usb-pack-efi

After this I managed to install persistance to USB

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