I am looking for a distribution that can run the entire OS from a flash drive.

This question is NOT about being simply able to boot and/or run OS from a USB stick: what I am looking for is a distribution that specifically targets flash disk as a boot media. One example of such a distribution that comes to my mind is Android; however, I would prefer something that I could use on a server.

edit: I feel I must explain myself, why I wrote this post. I am aware it is possible, and quite easy as a matter of fact to install many distributions onto a USB flash drive. What flash drive is missing (if you compare it to SSD) is the wear-leveling smarts built into SSD firmware. But my logic was, that this should be possible to emulate wear-levelling logic using software, this is why JFFS, YAFFS, LogFS systems came about. What I am looking for is a distribution, which is made to run from one of those systems.

  • tech.bradbergeron.com/guides/… & PenDrive Linux are such I can quickly remember ... Jan 20, 2012 at 18:35
  • I am not sure if my earlier comment is through, but I will note again: PenDriveLinux Jan 20, 2012 at 18:36
  • This seems very similar to unix.stackexchange.com/questions/28328; is there some fundamental difference between "runs from a flash disk" and "specifically targets a flash disk"? Jan 20, 2012 at 18:36
  • @MichaelMrozek yes, what I am looking is for an OS to include all necessary optimizations when running from flash
    – galets
    Jan 20, 2012 at 18:57
  • What kind of flash and what kind of optimizations do you have in mind? USB flash, or something more like serial flash chip, which ie. OpenWRT is designed to run from?
    – Fox
    Jan 20, 2012 at 21:29

5 Answers 5


Your looking for a distribution, optimized for flash disk installation? I believe the concept of flash must be expounded. As you already knew, an SSD is not directly controlled. Firmware exists, as an intermediate, which controls the physical read/write process. Additionally as you understood, SSD firmware has a multitude of longevity features included.

Flash specific filesystems are designed to be implemented on RAW NAND MTDs. Basically for any flash storage lacking a controller, which means most non-block devices. USB Flash drives, are not MTDs, they have a flash memory controller. You generally don't want to use a Flash filesystem, even if possible, on a block device.

This should answer your question, regarding flash specific filesystems. As for other optimizations, most everything that holds true for SSDs applies to USB Flash. The exception being TRIM support, as most USB Flash devices lack TRIM. If you have any more questions, plesae comment.


  • That helps. I would still like to see if there is an operating system support for putting OS to a flash drive AND having longevity features enabled (such as: not write to the same sector over and over)
    – galets
    Jul 30, 2012 at 16:24
  • Unfortunately once you throw that layer of abstraction, the firmware, you lose some degree of control. For example, lets say the real data is stored in a logFS type filesystem. The firmware presents that data as a regular `ol block device. even if you wrote the same block, again and again, your actually not writing the same spot because of the underlying filesystem. In our example, the updates always happen sequentially. The flash controller provides the seamless translation. OS uses it's regular filesystems, the real data resides in a flash optimized filesystem. Jul 31, 2012 at 14:32
  • I do wish a flash optimized distro came ready to use, such features as: default scheduler set as Noop, default mount options noatime, all tmp/cache directories are TMPFS mounts.... but as far as I know, nothing pre-made currently exists. Jul 31, 2012 at 14:36

Puppy Linux was originally designed for running from a USB stick, and they make it easy for you to save your files in the same device.


You can install any linux distribution at flash drive.Then you can insert the flash drive into a computer,and set boot order in bios,then run entir os at the flash drive. I recommend you install Ubuntu server or centOS into flash.They are both good linux servers.


Porteus, a Slackware derivative, is best for this. I'm using Porteus right now to write this post, and I'm running entirely on RAM, i.e., no hard drives or flash drives! There's an option in the Porteus book to copy the entire OS into RAM.


You can use Knoppix from any flash disk! Very good and simple OS.

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