[syslinux] Linux on a USB Drive

Nazo nazosan at gmail.com
Tue May 30 12:21:25 PDT 2006

On 5/30/06, Ben Everard <ben_everard at yahoo.com> wrote:
> --- Nazo <nazosan at gmail.com> wrote:
> > On 5/27/06, Ben Everard <ben_everard at yahoo.com>
> > wrote:
> > > Hi,
> > >
> > > I saw a post you made on a forum quite some time
> > ago
> > > about booting linux off a USB drive with
> > compatible
> > > bios via ISOlinux.  I'm currently trying to do the
> > > same thing and keep running into problems with my
> > > initrd.  This is probably caused by the fact that
> > I
> > > don't really know what I'm doing!  I was wondering
> > if
> > > you found any useful info on the net you could
> > point
> > > me in the direction of.
> > >
> > > Any help would be appreciated.
> > >
> > > Regards,
> > >
> > > Ben Everard
> > >
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> > >
> > I hope you don't mind my asking, but, why on earth
> > would you want to
> > boot a USB drive using isolinux instead of syslinux
> > anyway?
> >
> > That said, can you describe the problems you've
> > encountered in more
> > detail?  I don't know that I specifically can help
> > since I've never
> > even tried (syslinux gets the job done fine for me)
> > but I do know that
> > there just isn't really sufficient information for
> > much diagnosis.  I
> > might add that if there really is something isolinux
> > does which
> > syslinux does not do, maybe it's something that
> > should be put into
> > syslinux?
> >
> What I'm doing is trying to put linux on an external
> drive so I can use it on my work Laptop.  I can't
> really do anything like put a boot partition on the
> hard drive as they don't like us doing that sort of
> thing with the company computers.  So my plan was to
> put linux on an USB HD, and then use isolinux to boot
> off the CD drive, then run off the hard drive (Since
> the Bios does not support bios booting I cannot get
> away with an ordinary boot CD).  As far as I am aware
> isolinux is just syslinux set up to run off a bootable
> CD.
> The problem is happening when the system tries to
> Chroot to the USB drive.  I think that it is not
> loading the relavent modules for the usb drivers.  I'm
> having trouble mounting the initrd image. it won't
> autorecognise the filesystem type, I've tried all the
> basic types, but none of them seem to work.
> Regards,
> Ben
> __________________________________________________
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Ok, first of all, you should respond to the syslinux list too.  That
way others can help (which is good because I may not be of much help.)
 Since a copy is included in this reply, don't worry about it, but,
it's something to remember in the future.

That said, I'm sorry, my first response was when I was quite tired and
just saw that you said isolinux on a harddrive.  My thought was that
you were just having troubles booting with the program made for
booting from a CD.  I had actually seen someone say a while back
someone had modified isolinux to make it boot from a harddrive or
something, though I never understood why (other than maybe sheer
novelty value) anyone would do that.  If your harddrive can take it,
you MIGHT want to take a look into using the ZIP drive trick to get
your BIOS to boot from the USB drive directly.   Some things, like my
Cruzer Micro, can be very picky but can still end up working if you
keep at it.  Some like my external harddrive enclosure with a 80GB
Caviar seem to not like the odd setup (but, I'm not 100% sure on this
since in retrospect I think mkdiskimage might have used FAT16 and that
would cause obvious problems.)  It's controller may be too simplistic
to handle it, I'm not sure.  Still, it might be worth a shot, just be
careful and make backups.  Only thing that scares me is if something
freaked out so badly from a setup it didn't like that it refused to
even show up in linux long enough to fix again you could never fix it
back.  But, then again, I haven't found anything that does so (not
even a really crappy uber-cheap MP3 player I tried it on -- and this
player is so cheap they stopped selling them about two weeks after I
bought it.)  Read the README.usbkey file included in the various
syslinux archives to find out more information on how all this works.
So far my actual flash drives have taken pretty well to that trick
(with the exception of the Cruzer Micro which finally took it, but,
would not actually boot even with that for the longest time.)  Sorry
that I haven't tested more thoroughly on USB harddrives of any sort,
but, I haven't had one until just a couple of days ago, and even that
isn't your standard USB only harddrive but an IDE one with an
enclosure (so when things went wrong I was able ot just hook it up to
IDE and get the data off long enough to give it a normal format
instead of the zip-drive stuff.)

Well, my first thought here is that I have seen this a LOT on live
distros.  In particular, the one I currently use, Finnix, used to give
me troubles booting from a flash drive.  I think it definitely did not
load the USB modules at all.  The trick is you definitely have to get
those USB modules in the initrd and loaded before you can get the
drive mounted and chrooted obvoiusly.  It might also be wise to
remember that you are typically going to want to be using the SCSI
emulation, so you may even have to use boot options related to booting
SCSI so it can find and mount the drive.  I think there are other ways
of accessing USB, but, they didn't look very friendly from what I saw
(certainly they can't hold a candle to something as simple as
/dev/sda1.)  I would suggest that you should look at those live
distros which have to load up an initrd, get a few basic modules in
there, then figure out how the heck to access a drive with their image
without even knowing where to start.  Some of their methods should
surely be easily adaptable to your setup.  Again, the live distro I
currently use for my diagnostics/etc named Finnix would be a good
example.  You can find it at www.finnix.org.

Sorry I can't more directly help.  Hopefully looking over finnix or
something else like that should tell you all you need though.

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