Creating a bootable USB to install any operating system mainly involves three steps: format the USB device, burn the ISO image into it, and then just boot into your system.
Whether you want to make a bootable USB on Windows or Linux, there are several applications available like Rufus that can help you to do the same. But if you want to install another OS, you have to repeat the same process again to make a bootable USB with a new OS.
At this point comes the concept of multiboot USB that allows us to put more than one OS ISO into a USB device instead of burning ISO again and again. This way you can avoid the use of multiple USBs and install any number of operating systems on a single USB.
Hence, creating multiboot USB suits best for those who want to try or install multiple operating systems using a single USB stick. In this article, I’ll guide you for the same and tell you how you can put multiple ISO files of Linux distribution on USB and create a multiboot USB on Linux.
There are also several applications available to create a multiboot USB on Windows or Linux, such as YUMI, WinSetupFromUSB, MultiSystem. But, in this article, I want to introduce you to the latest cross-platform application, Ventoy, and easily creates multiboot USB on Linux using Ventoy.
What is Ventoy?
Ventoy is a new open-source software that allows you to create a bootable USB stick for one or more ISO image files. Unlike traditional methods, you don’t need to format your USB devices (aka USB sticks, thumb drives, and Pendrive) every time to burn new ISO files.
What Ventoy makes different from other applications is the way it eases the process of flashing ISO to USB devices. The only thing you have to do is just install Ventoy on USB, copy any number of ISO files to create multiboot USB and boot it to install multiple OS.
Ventoy shows a boot menu to select the ISO of the operating system and proceed further to install or try it in Live mode. You can even customize and enhance Ventoy boot menu using plugin support.
Features Of Ventoy
- 100% open source
- No ISO file extraction to USB
- Both Legacy and UEFI boot mode support
- UEFI Secure Boot support
- Persistence support
- ISO files larger than 4GB support
- ISO file listing in either List or TreeView mode
- Plugin Framework for customization
The first version of Ventoy 1.0.00 was released on 05 April 2020. Since then, it has continued to add new ISO support every week. As of now, Ventoy has successfully tested over more than 260 ISO files of the operating system.
Now let’s move on to the implementation part of creating multiboot USB. But before that, I want to clarify that here I’m using the Ubuntu 20.04 Linux system to put multiple Linux distros ISO files on a single bootable USB Stick. You can also follow the method below on any of your desired Linux host systems.
How To Install Multiple Linux Distros Using Single Bootable USB Stick?
1. Download Ventoy App
First, download the latest binary files of Ventoy from here.
2. Extract Ventoy files
Then, extract the Ventoy files from the downloaded tar archive. You can do the same either by double-clicking on the archive or running the command:
tar -xvf ventoy-1.0.12-linux.tar.gz
Next, move to the directory and now you can see the listed files that we will use to install Ventoy on the USB disk.
3. Plug-In And Detect The Mounted USB Flash Drive
Once you plug-in your USB device, run the following command to locate and get the USB device name on Linux filesystem.
Here, you also need to look at the mount point of your USB device. If you have a mount point, you’re clear to go to the next step. But if your mount point is empty, you first need to fix your USB and move to the next step.
4. Install Ventoy On USB Device
I guess your USB drive is now mounted and we can now install Ventoy to create multiboot USB on Linux. But before we proceed, I would recommend to backup all your data from your USB device as installing Ventoy on USB flash drive will erase all data from USB.
Now, to install Ventoy on a USB flash drive, run the shell script written in the ‘Ventoy2Disk.sh’ file as a root user passing option and device name as an argument:
sudo sh Ventoy2Disk.sh OPTION /dev/X
Here, replace X with your own device names like sdb or sdb1 and OPTION with any of three:
- -i — install Ventoy normally to sdX
- -I — force install Ventoy to sdX
- -u — update Ventoy on sdX
As you can see, you have to confirm twice as you will lose all your data from the USB disk drive. Once the process finishes, your whole USB disk will be divided into two partitions in MBR format — one with EFI system partition (ESP) FAT and other with the exFAT filesystem.
5. Check Again If The Device Is Mounted Or Not
Before we head over to create multiboot USB using Ventoy, you have to again check the mount status of the USB device. There are chances one exFAT part of USB device will have no mount point and hence you may be unable to access and copy ISO files into it.
So, you can repeat the process to mount only the unmounted partition again and you will get the mounted drive with the mount point. You can also watch the USB drive partition in your respective Linux distro disks application and use it to mount or unmount by just clicking a button.
6. Copy ISO Files And Create A Multiboot USB On Linux
Now, to combine multiple iso files to create a single bootable USB, you only need to copy your Linux distros ISO files to the exFAT part of USB using either CLI or GUI method and create a multi-OS bootable USB.
Note: The full path of the ISO file (directories, subdirectories, and filename) should not contain space or non-ASCII characters.
As you can see, I’ve copied three Linux distros ISO files — Arch Linux 2020.05.01, SliTaz Rolling, and TinyCore. And we’re now ready with our multiboot USB to install multiple Linux distros.
7. Reboot Into Multiboot USB Drive
After you finish moving files to USB, restart your device and set your system to boot directly into a USB storage device. If all goes well, you’ll notice a Ventoy boot menu with all Linux distribution whose ISO file you copied in the previous step.
You can boot into any of the Linux distributions to install it or just try using the available Live session. Unfortunately, I found an error booting Arch Linux in Legacy mode. Hence, if you also find so, create an issue on Ventoy GitHub and you’ll definitely get the solution. I’ve also reported the error and hope to resolve it soon.
I hope you learned how to use a single USB to boot and install multiple Linux distros using Ventoy. I found Ventoy an easy tool to create a bootable USB with multiple ISOs. You’re also free to use other software and create your own multiboot USB flash drive on Linux.