Create a Bootable USB

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Creating a bootable Alpine Linux USB Stick with UNetbootin

UNetbootin is a graphical tool that allows you to create bootable Live USB drives for Ubuntu, Fedora, and other Linux distributions without burning a CD. UNetbootin is available for many distributions and Windows. This process applies to all versions of Alpine Linux, and results in a run-from-ram style installation.


To create a bootable Alpine Linux USB drive, you will need:

  • An Alpine Linux ISO image file (Download)
  • A partitioned and formatted USB drive
  • UNetbootin


After the launch of UNetbootin, click the Diskimage radio button, and then the ... button to select the Alpine ISO image.


When you selected your USB device under Device and press OK' to proceed. When UNetbootin is done, your USB drive is ready to use.

Note: When you boot off the USB stick for the first time, if you get the error:

/boot/syslinux/mboot.c32: not a COM32R image

you will need to copy the mboot.c32 file suppled by your distro into /boot/syslinux/ on the USB stick

Creating a bootable Alpine Linux USB Stick from the command line

This process applies to Alpine Linux 1.9.0 or later, and results in a run-from-ram style installation.

Warning: This process can potentially totally or partly erase the contents of your hard drive. For this reason, it is recommended to do this procedure using VirtualBox rather than your own computer.


In order to follow this document, you will need:

  • Alpine Linux CD-ROM (Download a .iso file containing an Alpine release.)
  • A USB drive (flash, external HD, card reader, etc.)

The following part describes various ways how to create bootable USB stick with Alpine Linux.

Clone ISO image content to USB stick (Alpine Linux from 3.3.0 and later)

From Alpine Linux 3.3.0, the generated ISO's are a hybridISO, which means they contain a valid MBR and can be raw copied directly to the USB stick, Hard Drive (If you really know what you're doing), or burnt to a CD/DVD.

If the USB stick is in a Unix/Linux/OSX system, you will need to find out what the USB device is. There are various utilities to determine the device name (e.g. /dev/sdx) for your USB device. One way is:

$ sudo fdisk -l

If it is still unclear which is your USB's device name, in Linux you could try sudo lsblk -a ; or use parted (sudo parted -l).

Then, in order to dd the iso, ensure that your usb drive is not mounted, as various desktop environments automatically mount usb pen drives:

$ sudo umount /dev/sdx

Next, change to the directory where your Alpine .iso file is located, for example:

$ cd ~/Downloads
Warning: The following instruction will destroy data on the device being written to - be sure that you have identified your USB device name correctly first!

Then you can use dd to copy the iso to it. Change alpine.iso in the following command to the name of your .iso file; and change /dev/sdx to the name of your pen drive's device name. The following command may take a few minutes to execute:

 $ sudo dd if=alpine.iso of=/dev/sdx && sync

Copy ISO content to USB stick as individual files

Warning: We assume here sda is your USB stick which would hold bootable Alpine Linux files.

The following procesure is for Alpine Linux distribution itself, if you are using other Linux distro or other operating system you should know the best how to install syslinux and where mbr.bin file is located on your filesystem.

  1. If you created a new partition above, format the USB stick with a FAT32 filesystem (replacing sda with your USB stick name):

    apk add dosfstools
    mkdosfs -F32 /dev/sda1

  2. Install syslinux and MBR (replacing sda with your USB stick name):

    apk add syslinux
    dd if=/usr/share/syslinux/mbr.bin of=/dev/sda
    syslinux /dev/sda1

  3. Copy the files to the USB stick (replacing sda with your USB stick name):

    mkdir -p /media/sda1 mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /media/sda1 cd /media/cdrom cp -a .alpine-release * /media/sda1/ umount /media/sda1

  4. (Optional) Remove any apkovl files that were transfered as part of the copy process. This should be done if you wish to have a fresh install. Replace sda with your USB stick name)

    mount -t vfat /dev/sda1 /media/sda1 rm /media/sda1/*.apkovl.tar.gz umount /media/sda1

Create bootable USB stick from ISO on Windows

Additionally to the method above for Linux systems, there is also the Rufus program available, which allows writing such bootable USB flash drives under Windows.

Note: Rufus has been tested and works on Alpine Linux 3.12.x with the following settings
  • Partition scheme: MBR
  • Target system: BIOS or UEFI
  • File system: FAT32
  • Cluster size: 4096 bytes (default)


Wrong Device Name

If you cannot boot from the USB stick and you see something like:

Mounting boot media failed.
initramfs emergency recovery shell launched. Type 'exit' to continue boot

then it is likely that the device name in syslinux.cfg is wrong. You should replace the device name in this line:

append initrd=/boot/grsec.gz alpine_dev=usbdisk:vfat modules=loop,cramfs,sd-mod,usb-storage quiet

with the proper device name.

  • For boot from USB, the device name should be 'usbdisk' (as shown above)
  • For other options, you can run cat /proc/partitions to see the available disks (i.e. 'sda' or 'sdb')

Non-FAT32 Filesystems

When your USB stick is formatted with a filesystem other than FAT32, you might have to specify the necessary filesystem modules in the boot parameters.

To do so, mount the USB stick and change the syslinux.cfg file line from

append initrd=/boot/grsec.gz alpine_dev=usbdisk:vfat modules=loop,cramfs,sd-mod,usb-storage quiet


append initrd=/boot/grsec.gz alpine_dev=usbdisk:ext3 modules=loop,cramfs,sd-mod,usb-storage,ext3 quiet

in the case of an ext3 formatted partition. A similar procedure might apply to other filesystems (if they are supported by syslinux and the Alpine Linux kernel).

Slow USB Devices

Specifying the 'waitusb=X' option at the end of the syslinux.cfg line might help with certain USB devices that take a bit longer to register. X stands for the amount of seconds kernel will wait before looking for the installation media.

append initrd=/boot/grsec.gz alpine_dev=usbdisk:vfat modules=loop,cramfs,sd-mod,usb-storage quiet waitusb=3

See Also

Alpine Linux has some special applications that helps you to use it in the way you want.
Some of the first scripts you are suggested to use is:

  • setup-alpine (Configures all basic things on your Alpine Linux)
  • setup-acf (was named setup-webconf before Alpine 1.9 beta 4) (Configures ACF (webconfiguration) so you can manage your box through https)
Note: Just type any of the above commands on your console and hit Enter to execute the script.

Other useful pages