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I am looking at the possibility of booting linux from MacOS without installing it to the internal drive at all - just to boot a linux on aniso image to write on external drive to boot linux directly from the external drive

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You do not need to install Linux on the hard drive of your Macbook. Here's how generally you can go with this:

  1. Attach the external drive, partition it, but reduce the size by >128MB. Erase this remaining >128MB and rename it to 'Boot Loader'. Then unplug the drive.
  2. After that start the Linux live session and choose EFI boot option.
  3. Plug in external drive, partition it in your booted Linux with GParted, remembering NOT to delete the hfs+ partition.
  4. Then you can go with installation as you normally would.

The next part would be making this system bootable, so that Mac recognizes it. You need EFI boot loader for that. There are tutorials on the Internet that can help you go through this procedure, for example: Installing Ubuntu on an external SSD drive on a Macbook.

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