Creating a portable Arch Linux flash drive with live image – Hacker-friendly

Today we will create a “live” USB drive with an Arch Linux installation image. “Live” in the sense that during use it will be possible to install and remove programs, change any files and save changes. I have prepared for you the most detailed instructions on the basic steps, but then you can configure everything the way you like.

Every Linux user has a favorite system. Some even have several, each for specific tasks. One such special case is a portable system that can be booted on someone else's machine or on yours if the main OS suddenly stops working properly.


There are many ready-made developments designed specifically to solve such problems. But we want to get a completely customized environment – familiar and with a set of necessary programs!

There are two options here: make a bootable ISO image or simply install everything on a flash drive. In the first case, the system will be much more compact, in the second we will get the important ability to install and remove programs and change settings while working.

Yes, the flash drive will wear out, but they are inexpensive now, and the ability to work with a full-fledged OS, in my opinion, is much more important.


I will carry out all the work on Arch Linux for x86-64 and will take the original archiso, which is used to create official ISO images.


Therefore, the following packages must be installed on the system: archiso, arch-install-scripts, gptfdisk.

You can either immediately install it on a USB drive or create a disk image, which can then be written to a flash drive. Next, I will describe the process of creating a disk image.

Create an empty file to fit the size of the flash drive

Let's go to the directory where we will create our image.

Все даль­нейшие дей­ствия будем делать с при­виле­гиями супер­поль­зовате­ля.

Что­бы тебе было лег­че ори­енти­ровать­ся, буду показы­вать вывод некото­рых команд.

Уз­нать точ­ный раз­мер устрой­ства мож­но коман­дой

lsblk -bo NAME,SIZE
├─sda1 10485760
├─sda2 268435456
└─sda3 3725540864
mmcblk0 62226694144
├─mmcblk0p1 209715200
└─mmcblk0p2 62015930368

Она покажет все устрой­ства, сре­ди них тебе нуж­но най­ти свой USB-накопи­тель.

Уз­нав номер устрой­ства, ты можешь сос­тавить коман­ду и задать нуж­ный раз­мер фай­ла. Делим раз­мер на 4096 и получа­ем нуж­ное количес­тво бло­ков.


16 Гб: 16034824192 / 4096 = 3914752

4 Гб: 4005527552 / 4096 = 977912

4096 is the normal sector size for a file system.

Command to create file usb.img 4 GB in size:

dd if=/dev/zero of=usb.img bs=4096 count=977912 status=progress

$ dd if=/dev/zero of=usb.img bs=4096 count=977912 status=progress
3651747840 bytes (3.7 GB, 3.4 GiB) copied, 8 s, 456 MB/s
977912+0 records received
977912+0 entries sent
4005527552 bytes (4.0 GB, 3.7 GiB) copied, 8.78378 s, 456 MB/s

We check:

$ ls -la usb.img
-rw-rw-r-- 1 root root 4005527552 апр 25 19:51 usb.img

Ес­ли файл получил­ся боль­ше, мож­но обре­зать до нуж­ной дли­ны с помощью truncate. For example, up to 16 GB:

truncate -s 16034824192 usb.img

Create a disk partition

In order for our system to boot on computers with both BIOS and EFI, we need to partition the disk into three partitions:

  • one - 10 MB, without file system, required for installing the GRUB boot loader in BIOS mode;
  • the second - 256 MB, will be formatted in FAT32, we will create a partition here boot and install GRUB in EFI mode;
  • We will give all the remaining space to the root file system. Let's format it in Ext4.

Create a GPT partition and divide the disk into three partitions:

sgdisk -o -n 1:0:+10M -t 1:EF02 -n 2:0:+256M -t 2:EF00 -n 3:0:0 -t 3:8300 usb.img

$ sgdisk -o -n 1:0:+10M -t 1:EF02 -n 2:0:+256M -t 2:EF00 -n 3:0:0 -t 3:8300 usb.img
Creating new GPT entries in memory.
Warning: The kernel is still using the old partition table.
The new table will be used at the next reboot or after you
run partprobe(8) or kpartx(8)
The operation has completed successfully.

Mount the created image into the system

Create a link between the image file usb.img and a loopback device. This allows you to work with the image file as if it were a physical device, such as a USB drive.

losetup --show -Pf usb.img

$ losetup --show -Pf usb.img

The command will show the name of the created device, in this case it is /dev/loop0.

Let's check.

$ ls /dev/loop0*

У нашего обра­за дол­жно быть три раз­дела: loop0p1, loop0p2, loop0p3.

Formatting sections

According to the standard, the EFI partition must be formatted in FAT32.

mkfs.fat -F32 /dev/loop0p2

$ mkfs.fat -F32 /dev/loop0p2
mkfs.fat 4.2 (2021-01-31)

The third section will be the main one; for it you can choose any FS that will be supported by both the bootloader and the kernel.

Format to Ext4:

$ mkfs.ext4 /dev/loop0p3
mke2fs 1.46.5 (30-Dec-2021)
Соз­дание жур­нала (16384 бло­ков): готово
Writing superblocks and filesystem accounting information: готово


Монтируем разделы в /mnt/usb

Сна­чала мы смон­тиру­ем раз­дел /dev/loop0p3, this will be our main partition on which we will install the system. Then on this section we will create a directory /bootinto which we will mount the partition /dev/loop0p2.

mkdir -p /mnt/usb

mount /dev/loop0p3 /mnt/usb

mkdir /mnt/usb/boot

mount /dev/loop0p2 /mnt/usb/boot

Copy airrootfs

A few words about archiso. This is a tool that creates official Arch Linux images. It consists of two parts: script mkarchiso, which collects the image, and a directory with the settings of the future image. We will need a directory with configs. It contains:

  • a list of packages that need to be installed, they are stored in a file packages.x86_64;
  • catalog airootfs. Its structure is identical to the structure of Arch Linux; system configs are located here.

We will have to specify the path to the directory with archiso settings three times. To make it easier, let's put the path to it into a variable.

export ARCHISO=/usr/share/archiso/configs/releng