I have a bootable USB disk:

# dd if=/path/to/os_image.iso of=/dev/sdb
(...everything OK...)

# sudo dumpe2fs /dev/sdb
dumpe2fs 1.42.9 (4-Feb-2014)
dumpe2fs: Bad magic number in super-block while trying to open /dev/sdb
Couldn't find valid filesystem superblock.

GParted doesn't recognize any partitions (screenshot), the GUI file manager reports filesystem as isofs. The system boots and everything works fine.

The problem is, I want to use the USB disk for a live OS and as a storage with PCs and TVs which only recognize FAT32 and NTFS.

I have tried creating two partitions, doing dd on sdb1 and making sdb1 the only bootable partition, but the system didn't boot.

So my question is: how to put both FAT32/NTFS and (any) bootable ISO image on an MBR-partitioned disk without using an external bootable-usb-creator program? I would like to simply use dd, as I do now.

Presumably this could be solved using the right bootloader with the right configuration, I just don't know which bootloader and what configuration.


Bootable usb thumb drive with 2 partitions.

Windows and others may only see the first partition on a usb device even when there are multiple partitions. Therefore make your first primary partition the fat32 or NTFS partition so windows can see and use it.

partition 1 - ntfs or vfat

partition 2 - ext4

The second partition is where you will store the bootable iso. Use grub to load and select what live OS you want to use.


1: zero out partition table

sudo dd if=/dev/zero of=/dev/sdx bs=512 count=4

2: Create partitions (use cli “fdisk” or gui “gparted”)

create partition table "msdos"

create 2 partitions

p1 = ntfs

p2 = ext4 -- tag as bootable.

format partitions.

3: Install grub bootloader to usb device

sudo grub-install --boot-directory /mnt/usbp2/boot /dev/sdx

Verify: If these exist all is well so far...

  • /mnt/usbp2/boot/grub/fonts -- minimum unicode.pf2
  • /mnt/usbp2/boot/grub/i386-pc -- *.mod modules to load in you grub.cfg
  • /mnt/usbp2/boot/grub/local -- languages
  • /mnt/usbp2/boot/grub/grubenv -- environment variable storage

4: Create a grub.cfg file for the OS's on this pc

sudo grub-mkconfig --output=/mnt/usbp2/boot/grub/grub.cfg

Test by booting to usb

5: Copy support files to the usb

  • iso files
  • memdisk binary -- get from syslinux
  • grub.cfg -- custom for your usb stick. Overwrite grub.cfg created by grub-mkconfig

Note: each live iso may require different grub information.

Note: If you only get a grub command line, your grub.cfg probably contains errors. Go minimal to start.

6: Create your custom usb boot installer.

Copy the MBR and Partition Table

dd if=/dev/sdx of=/custom_boot/cb_mbr.img bs=512 count=1

Copy the bootable partition

dd if=/dev/sdx2 of=/custom_boot/cb_ext4.img bs=512

7: Create new bootable usb device

  • Delete all existing partitions and clean MBR

    fdisk or gparted (delete partitions)

    dd if=dev/zero of=/dev/sdx bs=512 count=1

  • restore MBR and Partition Table

    dd if=/custom_boot/cb_mbr.img of=/dev/sdx bs=512

  • Restore bootable partition

    dd if=/custom_boot/cb_ext4.img of=/dev/sdx2 bs=512

  • Fix the first partition and reformat (fat32 or ntfs)

    fdisk or gparted

My grub.cfg

My Notes

  • here is my grub.cfg I live boot gparted, "Super grub disk", Acronis" and others. – jc__ Jul 6 '16 at 15:26
  • grub-install was giving error "Attempting to install GRUB to a disk with multiple partition labels", probably because I set the label for both partitions when formatting them. Then, in GParted, I created a new table with two partitions and formatted them without setting the labels. Still the same problem. I used --force, and now I get grub console instead of a menu. In your grub.cfg I replaced your entries by mine, for which I used your PartedMagic entry and only changed iso, first argument to linux and argument to initrd. No error messages from grub at boot. Any ideas what is wrong? – kyrill Jul 7 '16 at 9:51
  • See answer for update. Note steps 4 and 5. If you have a grub command line you are almost there. – jc__ Jul 7 '16 at 17:29
  • Sorry, problem was between keyboard and chair -- a simple mistake in grub.cfg. Everything works fine now, except for the grub-install error (both partitions are always called "CDROM", even after e2label /dev/sdc2 '' and fatlabel /dev/sdc1 ''), but with --force, it installs. Thanks. – kyrill Jul 7 '16 at 22:46

To make this explicit -

  • "I would like to simply use dd, as I do now."
  • "Windows and others may only see the first partition on a usb device even when there are multiple partitions."

I don't think these goals are practical to achieve, so you will have to compromise somewhere.

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