It's no secret that many distros can be run in Live mode, but there are some that are suitable for full-fledged work right from a USB drive. Given that almost all modern devices have high-speed USB ports, it would not be bad to be able to fully work in Linux from a USB flash drive.
But the problem is that all changes made by the user in live mode won't be saved. For these reasons, USB Persistent Linux distributions have appeared.
Live USB persistent Linux is a bootable media with the ability to save a modified state. Simply put, after work, all changes will be saved on a USB drive. All user files are stored in the casper-rw partition image.
Now we'll look at the best USB Persistent distros that can be used for various tasks. Some serve to restore the system, others can become a full-fledged portable OS.
Comparison table: USB Persistent Linux distros
|Distro name||Image size||Minimum RAM|
|MX Linux||1.8 GB||2 GB|
|Kali Linux||3.5 GB||1-2 GB|
|Tails||1.2 GB||2 GB|
|Netrunner||1.2 GB||1.5 GB|
|Porteus||≈ 500 MB||2 GB|
|Slax||≈ 300 MB||1 GB|
|Rescatux||≈ 750 MB||1 GB|
Overview of USB Persistent Linux distros
Now let's move on to a more detailed analysis of each of the distros. I'll start with the most functional and popular, and finish with those that are needed for short-term tasks, for example, to restore the system or access the Internet.
MX Linux is based on the Debian Stable branch, which means it's pretty stable. MX Linux is aimed at mid-range computers, as it doesn't consume many resources. But at the same time, developers don't classify it as lightweight.
MX Linux has a lot of useful software built in to get you started quickly. MX Linux has a sysvinit init system that will prevent you from installing snap packages. For many, this can be a disadvantage.
To run MX Linux from a Live USB in persistent mode, select "Persistent Mode" from the boot menu.
Kali Linux is a very popular distro among system administrators. Its main task is to conduct security tests. In total, Kali Linux includes more than 600 tools for comprehensive network analysis and vulnerability identification. That's why the image size is so big - 3.5 GB.
In addition, it's possible to run the distro in Forensic mode. In this case, the internal drives won't be used in any way. This is important if your goal is to keep all the files on your computer in their original form.
Kali Linux has a persistent mode that can be entered from the menu during system boot.
Tails is necessary if you want to access the Internet from someone else's computer, while maintaining privacy. The default browser in Tails is Tor, which encrypts the connection and prevents anyone from tracking you.
Tails was developed specifically to work from a USB flash drive, so you shouldn't have any problems.
In fact, Tor is the main sponsor of the development of Tails. The distro also includes several utilities for encrypting drives and creating digital signatures. For example, you can encrypt a drive partition and store important information there.
Netrunner is a distro based on the Debian stable branch and uses KDE Plasma as its desktop environment.
Netrunner doesn't offer anything new, just a slight enhancement to Debian. Netrunner has its own repository and Debian repositories, including non-free ones.
In general, a good distro with the ability to run in Persistent Mode.
Porteus takes up little space on a flash drive, but it has many pre-installed applications, such as Gparted or p7zip. Porteus is based on Slackware, which means development is quite slow.
Porteus is built on a modular system, where applications are packaged and mounted only at startup, which saves storage space.
There are several distro options to choose from with various desktop environments: KDE, XFCE, Openbox and others.
Slax is a compact distro that takes up approximately 300-500 MB of storage space. Slax runs in persistent mode by default. It is based on Debian and contains nothing extra. Only a few applications and a terminal are available to you. Basically, this distro is used to restore the work of the main OS.
In any case, you always have the opportunity to customize the distribution for yourself: change the desktop environment, install the necessary software, etc.
Rescatux is a system recovery distro. You can boot it in both UEFI and BIOS mode.
Rescapp allows you to fix the most common errors that occur in Linux. Rescapp automatically diagnoses the system, if any problems are found, you will be prompted to run a script that will do most of the work automatically.
In this article, I have shown you the best USB Persistent distributions from my point of view. Each of them is good in its own way, and each of them is adapted for specific tasks. We have listed the most common use cases, which will be enough for most users.
So, for example, to restore the system, you can use Rescatux, which performs many operations automatically. Kali Linux is perfect for everyday tasks and of course for pentesting. Tails is very convenient to carry around on a USB flash drive if you suddenly need to access the Internet from someone else's computer.
If you know other USB Persistent distros, please share them in the comments.