I know a few things on partitioning here and there but I'm no expert. I was willing to setup a multi boot system where I can have multiple distros on an external drive. On my main drive (/dev/sda), I currently have a dual boot system with Windows and Ubuntu but because I don't have enough storage I prefer having the multi boot setup externally. I was hoping someone could answer my questions about the partition setup.

What would be the best way of partitioning the external drive for installing/managing several distros on it if I want separate /home partitions for each distro?

Also, if my EFI system partition is mounted on my main drive, do I need to create a new one for the distros I will be installing on the external one?

As for the swap partition, if I create a new one on the external drive, can it be used for all distros I have installed (even if I don't use hibernation)?

  • What have you researched? Try to avoid questions asking "best way"... They can result in too many answers with too many opinions--I personally maintain at least three opinions for every one topic! (Even if none of them are correct or valid :-P) And finally, try to avoid asking multi-part questions. Research the parts, and for each part you still do not understand or have a problem with, ask a separate question regarding that one part.
    – C. M.
    Jul 3, 2021 at 21:25
  • Why, exactly, do you want to multi-boot between different distros? Is there something your current distro doesn't do that you want it to? Do you just want to try out different distros to see which you prefer? I recommend trying out different distros in VMs rather than multi-booting. It's a lot less hassle, and there'll be no risk of accidentally messing up your grub boot configuration. The VM images can be stored on an external drive if required. virt-manager provides a nice, simple GUI for creating, managing, and running VMs.
    – cas
    Jul 4, 2021 at 3:47
  • If you ever want to boot external drive from any other system, you will need an ESP. Often better to keep /home inside /, but then create a large data partition which you then can share across multiple installs. Or two data partitions one ext4 & one NTFS for some Windows data. Can be same drive: askubuntu.com/questions/1013677/…
    – oldfred
    Jul 4, 2021 at 3:47
  • Alternatively, if you use VirtualBox, the VMs can be run from either Windows or Linux (if the VM disk images are accessible by both, which probably means a FAT or NTFS partition on the external drive, which would be very much sub-optimal in Linux). Virt-Manager is, IMO, the superior option but only works on Linux.
    – cas
    Jul 4, 2021 at 3:50
  • @C.M. So far I've done some research on setting up partitions for a single distro install but I'm still looking into setups similar to what I was trying to do. Also, thanks for the pointers, will definitely keep them in mind. Jul 4, 2021 at 9:30

1 Answer 1


You can definitely share a swap partition. Everything else depends on details. But you want to avoid creating multiple efi partitions, because it is very confusing.

For example, if you have a sufficient RAM, you could run one or more VM's [but possibly only one at a time] - with disk storage on an external disk. This would save rebooting.

If you have space to allow the various /boot partitions to reside on the hard disk, you could consider a LVM setup on the external disk. I would suggest that you setup a test system before following this route for the first time.

Consider what your strategy will be for backups, in advance.

  • I could definitely try using the distros in a VM, but is there a way to optimize a VM if I'm giving the guest OS about 2 GB of RAM and 2 CPU cores but I still have lagging/freezing issues? Jul 4, 2021 at 10:01
  • 2GB RAM is not enough for the larger distros such as Ubuntu or Mint distros, but should be fine for many of the lightweight distros. You would have similar problems if you tried to install these big distros onto hardware. Jul 4, 2021 at 17:03

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