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Feature: System Administration

UNetbootin lets you install distros without burning discs

By Emil Visti on January 25, 2008 (9:00:00 AM)

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UNetbootin is a simple open source tool that allows you to install a variety of distributions over the Internet, without burning a CD.

The Wubi tool for installing Ubuntu this way has been around for a while, but unlike UNetbootin, Wubi installs Ubuntu on a file stored in a Windows environment and creates no actual partitions. UNetbootin will create a partitioned dual-boot system as though you installed with a CD. It's useful if you're working on a machine with a slow or no CD/DVD drive or don't have any spare discs to burn.

UNetbootin works using an installer program to add an entry to the bootloader in use (either GRUB or Windows' bootmgr, bcdedit or boot.ini) that boots a netboot kernel, which then downloads and installs your distribution of choice through your Internet connection.

How to install

To install a distribution you need to go to the UNetbootin site and get either a .deb, .rpm, or .exe installed, depending on which system you have and which you'd like to install. The packages available as of now are for Ubuntu, Fedora, Mandriva, openSUSE, CentOS, Arch Linux, Slackware, and Debian. The creators of UNetbootin say it's easy to modify UNetbootin to install any distribution, as long as it uses an unmodified netboot kernel and initrds. You can even spin your own custom distro and use your own local area network to install it. A small guide can be found on the site.

The installation process differs from distribution to distribution, particularly where you need to point the installer to get the files for the installation. For example, when installing Fedora, you need to choose FTP as the installation source and provide a custom server (listed at the UNetbootin site). However, when installating openSUSE, you need to select Network and HTTP as the source. Read the instructions on the site thoroughly before installing.

After installing the downloaded file, reboot your machine. You will be greeted either by a GRUB screen with an added entry, if you're using Linux, or a Windows-style dual boot window with a choice of either Windows or UNetbootin. Here you should choose the new UNetbootin option, and an installer will boot and you can install the operating system you want as you normally would, except that the installer downloads the files instead of reading them from a CD/DVD. You'll get all the regular options, including one to let you resize your partitions if necessary.

UNetbootin should create a dual-boot system, but if the original system you installed from was Windows, then choosing Windows from the new GRUB menu will drop you to the choice between Windows or the installer. When you first boot into Windows, UNetbootin will ask if you want to remove the installer from the system automatically.

In addition to creating a dual-boot system, UNetbootin can install a primary OS as well. If you have a machine that doesn't have an OS on it already, download the Debian minimal-install diskettes to install a minute system. Once that's set up, installing UNetbootin is as easy as using the command wget $unetbootin.deb.

Some distributions (such as Fedora, openSUSE, Mandriva, and Arch) allow you to use your hard drive as an UNetbootin installation media. This is helpful if you have the ISO file but no media burner. In such a case, select Hard Drive as the installation source. If you use this method, however, you can't resize the partition from which you install during the installation.

The UNetbootin site describes a number of other uses for the tool. One of the more interesting is to utilize UNetbooting to load an application rather than a distro, which opens the door for a host of new uses. For instance, you could boot into Parted Magic, a tool for formatting, repairing, and resizing partitions, or load Smart Boot Manager, which lets you boot from CD-ROM or diskette on computers with a faulty BIOS.

The site also contains information on installing other distros than the ones supported and accomplishing various other tasks using UNetbootin.

Whether you're installing Linux to liven up an older machine or a super-portable laptop with no available CD-ROM driver, or you don't have access to a capable media writer, or simply need to restore your computer, UNetbootin is a tool that can help you in numerous ways.

Emil Visti is a student of English at the University of Aalborg, Denmark.

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UNetbootin lets you install distros without burning discs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 25, 2008 10:52 AM
This sounds great and makes my life alot easier since there is no disk-drive in my Thinkpad X30. :)
Thomas Jansson



Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 25, 2008 11:14 AM
"Emil Visti is a student of English at the University of Aalborg, Denmark." -> Really? I'm an EECS student at a university much more well-known. What kind of credibility does that lend you to?


Re: Credentials?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 25, 2008 12:22 PM
"What kind of credibility does that lend you to?" Perhaps it was just a statement of fact - who the author is - not some kind of ego-stroking exercise about whose university or studies sound more impressive. And in the real world, dropping the name of the institution you attended only gets you so far; the rest is on merit. You might want to take note of that. (And I guess the author could give you some advice on writing correct English, too.)


Re: Credentials?

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 25, 2008 06:13 PM
The credibility comes from the fact that Emil, unlike you, wrote an interesting and useful article. I am glad he did, since I learned something I didn't know before, and I couldn't care less what or where he studies.


UNetbootin lets you install distros without burning discs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 25, 2008 07:23 PM
Unfortunately, I downloaded the UNetbootin Parted Magic for Windows to partition my hard drive. After partitioning successfully, the computer keeps on booting into UNetbootin Parted Magix Linux system. No GRUB application allows me to select between operating systems... looks like I'm going to have re-install Windows! Is there any other way to reboot to Windows???? GRUB should have been included in the Parted Magic download as it does with the distro downloads...


Re: UNetbootin lets you install distros without burning discs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 25, 2008 09:01 PM
The partition program should not change anything else other than partitions on the target hard drive. If you have a live CD, you can edit the GRUB in /boot/grub/menu.lst to add Windows partition to the boot menu. Here is an example:

title Windows

rootnoverify (hd0,0)

chainloader +1 sucks big time when it come to comment posting so everything is all in one big paragraph instead of breaking up where it should be. The
means you hit 'Enter' on before enter the next line. Do you know where your Windows partition is? I assume it is the first partition, then you can add the entry exactly like what I have, then save and reboot to see if it shows up.


Re: UNetbootin lets you install distros without burning discs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 26, 2008 04:10 AM
"HELP! Unfortunately, I downloaded the UNetbootin Parted Magic for Windows to partition my hard drive. After partitioning successfully, the computer keeps on booting into UNetbootin Parted Magix Linux system"

I received a nearly identical bug report a few hours ago, in which the user was using GRLDR instead of the official Windows bootloader, which resulted in a conflict with UNetbootin since it also uses GRLDR. I presume this is the same situation, so this approach should work to fix the issue.

First of all, GRUB is indeed installed (since parted magic is booting fine). Just hammer away at ESC and it'll show the menu, then enter the commands posted above; see if they work. However, if my notions are correct, and they don't, you'll need to use these commands instead:

root (hd0,0)
chainloader (hd0,0)/ntldr

Or, if this is Vista, then:

root (hd0,0)
chainloader (hd0,0)/bootmgr

Secondly, what version of Windows is this, and more importantly, are you using any kind of bootloader modification or Windows activation circumvention hack, in particular, a GRUB4DOS/GRLDR-based one? UNetbootin does not install GRUB to the MBR (nor does it touch the MBR in any way whatsoever); it chainloads off of the Windows bootloader; therefore, since Parted Magic is still booting, the Windows partition, ntldr/bootmgr bootloader, and grldr are all intact.

As of revision 90, I've fixed this issue by renaming the various grldr files by adding a ubn- prefix to them, so they won't conflict with other GRLDR-based boot utilities such as the one you apparently have installed.

PS There's a bug reporting system at and a dedicated support thread for UNetbootin at so you'll get much faster help if you need it there

PPS I'm Geza Kovacs, the developer of UNetbootin (and also happen to have been the creator and lead developer of Wubi, back when it was known as the Windows-based Ubuntu Installer and before we handed control of the project to the official Ubuntu-installer devs). Much thanks to for the article, though I'd change the link to the site to rather than since the latter page is a general portal to the various Wubi-related projects I made (that homepage was originally made for Lubi, the port of Wubi to Linux/*nix), while the former page is the actual homepage made specifically for UNetbootin.


a comment for Geza

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 26, 2008 04:38 PM
As one of the most active Linux Advocates in the nation (not a "credential", just a fact) I want to personally thank you for your contribution to this "community" I emphasis the word because I believe the "Linux Community" resides in the realm as Santa, The Tooth Fairy and a kinder and gentle Internal Revenue Service. None the less, your work represents nothing less than an evolutionary leap in both the development and proliferation of GNU/Linux and you have my sincerest and warmest thanks for your work. I am in awe of your accomplishments and would like to talk with you about a possible email interview in the near future.

Ken Starks
aka - helios


UNetbootin lets you install distros without burning discs

Posted by: Anonymous [ip:] on January 29, 2008 01:43 AM
If the user has a secondary hard drive or a large flash drive, would UNetbootin allow a choice to be installed to either-or? I went through the walk-thru on hwotforge but it assumes a repartioned drive. This may seem like an entirely obvious thing but I'm cautious about going through the exercise to discover that it will only install on the primary existing boot drive.

-- Martin Shortpants is a rank novice deeply grateful for the enormous amount of help he has found others have built on his path to discovering Linux.


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