balenaEtcher: A Tool To Turn Linux .ISO Files Into Bootable USB Drives

balenaEtcher is a free software tool used to write .ISO files to USBs so that you can boot from them and install Linux. balenaEtcher is just one of many tools to do this, but it is both simple and effective. That makes it fit for purpose and is why it is getting its own article.

You’re going to need a blank USB drive, like a thumb drive. Well, it needn’t be blank but it should be. It needs to be large enough to meet the requirements of your distro – usually 4 GB is adequate. Larger is fine.

You’re also going to need the correct .ISO from the distro you’re trying to install. I have no way of knowing what that is, so here’s an article about picking the distro that’s right for you. You should verify the integrity of the .iso to eliminate it as a source of problems.

You’re also going to need to know how to boot to USB. That link will take you to an article that covers that, and includes DVD. It covers booting to something other than your default drive.

Finally, you’re going to need balenaEtcher. Head to this page and scroll down. If you scroll down, you’ll see many download options. It’s available for everything from Linux to MacOS.

Download the correct version for the operating system you’re currently using. If you download the AppImage, be sure to make it executable before trying to run it. Either way, you’ll need to download balenaEtcher (maybe install it) and then run it. That’ll vary depending on your OS, but they even have .deb and .rpm files available.

All set?

Let’s Use balenaEtcher:

With all those pieces in place, balenaEtcher is fairly self-explanatory. I’m going to assume you got it to work properly. If you can’t get it installed or running from the AppImage, just leave a comment and I’ll talk you through it for your system. You can also ask on Linux.org.

It’ll look something like this when you first open it.

balenaEtcher pick a file
In this case, you’ll pick “Flash from file”.

Then, you’ll click ‘Flash from file’ and doing so will let you navigate to and select the .iso you want to use. Do so, being sure to get it correct.

Next, you’ll select the target. The target in this case means the USB drive that you want to write the .iso to. So, that will be the smaller flash drive in most cases and will look something like this:

balenaEtcher in action
Select the right flash drive. Be very careful at this stage! This step can go horribly wrong!

There’s just one step remaining! You need to click the Flash button and wait for it to do its job writing the .ISO to the USB drive. It looks like this:

balenaEtcher in action
Click the ‘flash’ option and wait patiently while it does its job.

That could take a little while, though not all that long if you’re using USB 3.0. On USB 2.0 it takes a bit, so be prepared to wait – but not terribly long. 

When this is all done, just close the program and your new USB device should be ready. You should be able to boot your computer, select the USB drive as the boot device, and then install Linux. Most of the time, it goes just swimmingly. If it doesn’t, ask for help.

Again, don’t forget to verify the integrity of the downloaded .ISO before you do any of this. The process for doing that varies, and the distro will tell you how on their download page. Have fun installing Linux!

I’ll probably eventually take the screenshots of me installing Linux in a virtual machine, but I haven’t done that article yet. It seems like a good future article to write.

Closure:

Well, there’s another article. This is just a nice, quick article. It’s handy for when you need to know how to use balenaEtcher, or when you need to tell someone else how to use it. It’s one of the articles I’d expect to see people linking to on a regular basis. “Hey, this is how you use Etcher!”

Thanks for reading! If you want to help, or if the site has helped you, you can donate, register to help, write an article, or buy inexpensive hosting to start your own site. If you scroll down, you can sign up for the newsletter, vote for the article, and comment.

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How do I ‘Boot to USB’? (Or CD/DVD, if Such is Available)

In order to install Linux, you need to be able to boot to USB (or CD/DVD – with USB being more common these days and many devices not even having CD/DVD drives). The goal of this article is to help you boot to USB or to optical media, so that you can install or repair your Linux system.

To install Linux you pretty much have to boot to USB or to a CD or DVD. It’s true, you can actually install directly from your regular disk drive, but that’s a convoluted method that few people will ever need. I may cover that method at some point, but today is not that day!

You may also need to boot to a live Linux instance for other reasons. Maybe you need to repair your installation? Perhaps you need to grow your partition because you have run out of room? Or, just maybe, you need to recover your data so that you can do a fresh installation – or so that you can start the recovery from your backed up data?

It’d be rather pointless to enumerate the many reasons why you’d want to boot to USB. There are many reasons and it’s a skill you’re going to need. Trust me, you need to know this stuff.

I say USB because that’s the most common today, but you may also need to boot to CD or DVD. Your hardware may actually be so old that it won’t even let you boot to USB. So, for the sake of this article, let’s just assume you’re booting to some form of external media, be it USB, optical media, or even an SD card. No matter what you’re trying to boot as an alternative media, the process is pretty much the same.

Booting to USB

Booting to USB, what’s the purpose? The purpose is to install or repair an already running system. It means booting to something other than your default internal drive (under normal configurations) and using that booted media to effect change on your system.

As I said above, there are many reasons why you’d want to do this. It’s a pretty common thing, especially among Linux users. There are many questions asked about this process and I’ve decided to document the methods here.

However, there’s no way I can possibly make this article truly definitive. In fact, I’d appreciate it if you’d help. In the comments section, fill in the blanks for me. You have hardware that I may not have access to, so you can tell us what works for your hardware and the article will be a more complete source of information. It’s your time to shine!

How to Boot to USB

In order to boot to USB, you have to have fairly good timing – or a willingness to sit there and pound on the same key over and over again. In a traditional sense, you’re aiming for a boot selection menu that you can access after POST (Power On Self-Test) and that split-second before the OS starts its boot sequence.

You’re not trying to access the BIOS, you’re trying to access the boot selection menu and there’s a narrow window to get it right. The good news is that the key to access the BIOS is different than the key to access the alternative boot menu. So, a good working strategy is to press the right key on your keyboard over and over again during boot while hoping for the best.

The question is, which is the right key? You don’t want the BIOS menu, unless you plan on changing it permanently. You only want the temporary boot menu, which another animal entirely.

So, I have a bunch of hardware. I also have a search engine. I’ve made an attempt to find the temporary boot menu keys and to document them all in one place.

The list of keys!

     Acer: ESC, F2, or F12
     Apple/Mac: OPTION
     Asus: F8 or ESC
     Compaq: ESC or F9
     Dell: F12
     HP: ESC or F9
     Lenovo: F8, F10, or F12
     MSI: F11
     NEC: F5
     Packard Bell: F8
     Samsung: ESC, F2, or F12
     Sony: F1, F2, or F3
     Toshiba: F12

NOTE: This list isn’t exhaustive nor is it completely accurate. In some cases, you may need to actually enable this in your BIOS. Samsung, for example, will not show the temporary boot selection menu unless you’ve first disabled “Fast Boot”. Other OEMs may require similar changes.

The above keys should get you into the temporary boot menu, where you can choose to boot to USB, CD/DVD, an external drive, a microSD card, or whatever. It’s an essential step in both booting and repairing your Linux computer. It’s a good idea to memorize it once you know which one works for you.

As I mentioned above, you can help. If you have a device that’s not listed, please let me know in the comments. Some manufacturers have more than one way to access the screen, so be sure to let me know if your device is different. The more data we get, the more people we can help.

Thanks for reading! As always, feedback is fantastic, you can sign up for the newsletter, and you can donate. You don’t have to donate. The site will remain online regardless, but you can help cover the costs. If I keep this schedule up, we should have a new article in two more days – so stay tuned!

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