How would I convert a persistent filesystem (live-rw) from a Debian Live USB to a standalone, bootable installation that can be run on a VM?

What I've tried

  1. Chrooting and installing a bootloader (grub) - Can't chroot since the filesystem (live-rw) is a very limited installation, no bash etc.
  2. Installing Debian from this USB in hope that it will preserve the persistent files (like Ubuntu does) - installs a clean system.

Full story

I have been given files copied from a Live Debian (Squeeze) USB that has been used with the persistent option. I need to convert the persistent filesystem to a standalone installation and put it on a vmware vSphere VM, as it contains configured servers/services I would rather not configure from scratch.

Since the persistent file (live-rw) is just an ext2 filesystem i thought I would only need to install a bootloader and provide kernel/initrd image. The problem is this image has no /proc /sys and /dev nodes and only a few binaries in /bin (can't even chroot into it without bash)

$ file live-rw 
live-rw: Linux rev 1.0 ext2 filesystem data (mounted or unclean), UUID=fa55a4d2-1fc4-5344-9e94-dc12cb60612d (large files)

Contents of /:

$ ls /
bin  etc  home  lib  live  lost+found  media  opt  root  sbin  tmp  usr  va

Contents of /bin:

$ ls /bin/
bunzip2  bzcat  bzcmp  bzdiff  bzegrep  bzexe  bzfgrep  bzgrep  bzip2  bzip2recover  bzless  bzmore

I had an 'A ha!' moment when I realized that I would just need to install Debian from this USB drive and that would keep my persistent data. This is how Ubuntu works I believe. I've created an empty image, partitioned and formatted it, copied the USB file and installed MBR & extlinux. However after booting and running an installation from this USB it has only installed a clean system...

What should I do in this situation? How to convert this image fully featured Debian installation?

I know it can be done, it's Linux after all...

  • 1
    I don't know of a one-stop solution, but dpkg-repack might help?
    – tripleee
    Jul 1, 2013 at 4:18
  • @tripleee thanks, I now know a handy tool! It won't cut it I'm afraid, since not everything has been installed through a package manager/deb files.
    – rszalski
    Jul 1, 2013 at 12:07
  • What kind of persistent information is the one you want to keep? User data (/home)? system configuration files (/etc)? Depending on what you want it may be as simple as copying to the new install the files you require. Or you can use the same technique to make a live usb from a DVD/CD to create your system from what you already have.
    – YoMismo
    Jan 14, 2015 at 16:48

1 Answer 1


This should not be different, than copying a Installation from one partition to another. You only have to copy the files.

If you google for that problem there are quite a few guides. Also remember, that you don't have to clone the partition - a 'simple' copy works,too.

  • Could you expand on your answer a bit? What do you mean by copying the files? Copy files from the live-rw partition over to an existing, healthy installation or to a clean disk/partition? If it's the latter, I have tried that and it won't work because the live-rw partition is a stripped down version of a full system (limited binaries, etc.).
    – rszalski
    Jul 7, 2013 at 19:29
  • he literally means cp -r :) afterwords you'll probably have to setup the bootloader and you're good to go...I think
    – Alko
    Jan 14, 2015 at 16:12

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .