How to install Debian from USB

So you have decided that you want to install Debian Linux on your computer. These days, the easiest way to install Debian is from a bootable USB thumb drive. To do so, you must first download the installation media and burn the ISO file to USB.

In this tutorial, we will take you through the step by step instructions of downloading Debian Linux, putting the operating system onto a USB memory stick, and finally installing Debian onto a computer.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How to download Debian Linux
  • How to copy the Debian ISO file to bootable USB drive
  • How to create a bootable Debian USB installer
  • How to begin installing Debian
How to install Debian from USB
How to install Debian from USB
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Any Linux distro or other system to prepare the USB
Software N/A
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user
Before you continue make sure that you have backed up all your data from your USB memory stick. After completing this guide your USB memory stick will contain a new partition table and all your data will be lost.

Download Debian Linux

The first thing you will need to do is download Debian. You can check out our Debian Linux download page or navigate directly to the ISO downloads on Debian’s official website.

Ordinarily, you will want to download the Net Installer ISO file, which is very small (less than 400 MB) and can download everything it needs during the installation process. That is what we will be using in this tutorial, although you can feel free to select a different ISO installer if you would like.

Copy Debian ISO to USB

Next, let’s copy the ISO file to the USB thumb drive.

Create Debian USB From Linux Command Line

If you are already using Linux and want to create your bootable installation media via the command line, we can use the following dd command to burn the ISO file to our USB stick:

$ sudo dd bs=4M if=/path/to/file.iso of=/dev/sdX status=progress oflag=sync

Of course, replace /path/to/file.iso with the path to your ISO file, and replace /dev/sdX with the name of your device.

dd command being used to copy ISO contents to USB stick
dd command being used to copy ISO contents to USB stick

If you would like more detailed instructions or want to see the process from GUI, see our tutorial on burning an ISO file to USB.

Create Debian USB From Windows

If you are currently on a Microsoft Windows system, we recommend downloading Rufus and using it to create your bootable Debian USB.

Install Debian from USB

The last step is to plug your USB drive into your computer and install the operating system. The only tricky part here is that sometimes you will need to access your computer’s boot menu in order to instruct it to boot from the USB drive instead of your hard disk. But you may not need to do that at all, as many computer’s will try to boot to removable media by default.

  1. Pay attention during startup to see how you can enter the boot menu. In the instance below, we have to press the ESC key.
    Entering the boot menu
    Entering the boot menu
  2. Select your USB drive from the boot menu.
    Boot menu selection
    Boot menu selection
  3. After selecting your USB stick as your boot device, you will be presented with the Debian installation menus.
    Debian installation menu
    Debian installation menu

Closing Thoughts

In this tutorial, we saw how to install Debian Linux from a USB thumb drive. There are more and more laptops nowadays which do not have a CD/DVD-ROM facility built in, but are able to boot from USB memory stick. Once you know how to create bootable installation media, installing Debian from USB proves rather easy.