How to Create a Linux Bootable USB on macOS

Linux is one of best operating systems to learn coding and system administration. Nearly half of the web servers are running Linux. To learn Linux, the first step is to create a bootable USB for installation. This is a simple task on Windows PC as there are tons of free tools like Rufus to get it done. However, it is not as easy as Windows when you are trying to create a bootable Linux USB on Mac.

In fact, there are several workarounds for making this possible, but not all of them works for you as some may cause irreversible damage to your Mac system. In this guide, we are going to walk you through the steps on how to burn Linux ISO to USB drive on your Mac.

Before we begin, make sure you now have an external USB drive with at least 16GB of storage and you have already formatted it. Also, download ISO image of your favorite Linux distro.The process involves erasing everything on your drive, hence it is recommended to take a backup before proceeding.

1. Burn Linux ISO to USB Using Terminal App (dd Command)

macOS is a variant of Unix, which is built upon text commands. The first approach in this guide is by using text commands in Terminal app to create a bootable Linux USB, meaning that there are no third-party software installs.

It is also fast, reliable in producing a desired bootable volumes out of ISO image files. However, we recommend this approach to those who are already comfortable with the command line. A wrong input could result in permanent data loss that you cannot recover, so make sure you know what you are doing before moving ahead.

Step 1: Insert a USB drive into your Mac if you have not already done so and then launch Terminal app from Launchpad.

Step 2: Type the following command to reveal a list of all attached external disks on your Mac:

diskutil list external

Step 3: If you enter the command correctly, you should see something like this (pic below). This may be different depending on the Mac model you are using. In this example, the file path to USB drive is /dev/disk2.

Step 4: Now unmount USB drive using the following command:

sudo unmount /dev/disk2s1

Step 5: You will be prompted to format target drive using this command:

sudo dd if=/path/linux_image.iso of=/dev/disk2s1 bs=1m

Replace linux_image.iso with the real name of ISO image file.

Step 6: Make sure you enter the command correctly and then hit the Return key on your Mac’s keyboard. You will be prompted to enter your admin password. The process should begin now and may take several minutes depending on your Mac’s speed.

That’s it! This approach should work on all macOS versions and Mac models out there.

2. UUByte DMG Editor for Creating Linux Bootable USB

Some of the Linux ISO are unable to mount on Mac. This means there is no way to copy installation files to USB drive. Hence, the above dd command method will fail. If this was your case, then UUByte DMG Editor will do a great help to burn Linux ISO to USB on Mac.

Speaking of UUByte DMG Editor, it’s an ultimate tool for burning various image files to USB, including ISO, DMG, ZIP, BIN. Currently, it supports running from both Windows and macOS. The process is also quite fast, as you only wait around 5 minutes.

Download: https://www.uubyte.com/download/dmg-editor.dmg

Step 1: Once the download is done, install the app on Mac as you always do. You will be prompted to purchase its lifetime license. If you are not ready yet, you can skip this section and proceed.

Step 2: From its main menu, hit the Burn button and then select your Linux ISO file.

Step 3: Select a target USB drive and then hit the Burn button. The process should begin shortly and takes around 5 minutes.

UUByte DMG Editor is a super useful tool when it comes to burning Linux ISO file on both Windows and Mac. If you are desperately looking for a reliable tool to get the job done on Mac in a simple way, then UUByte DMG Editor is the perfect choice.

3. Create Bootable Linux ISO via Rufus in Windows Virtual Machine

Rufus is the most popular tool for burning your ISO file to USB. But it only supports Windows. This means you need to create a Windows virtual machine on your Mac. We are going for a Windows 10 in virtual machine using VirtualBox. If there was already a Windows virtual machine or boot camp partition on your Mac, please skip the creation part.

Download VirtualBox: https://www.virtualbox.org/wiki/Downloads

Make sure you get the latest version of VirtualBox for your Mac. Once the download is complete, follow the instructions to install VirtualBox on your Mac.

If the tool does not work on your Mac, you need to give your Mac permission to install programs from Oracle. To do this, go to Applications > System Preferences > Security and Privacy. From here, hit the Allow button.

Step 1: Once you have installed VirtualBox, launch it on your Mac and then click New from its main menu

Step 2: Name your OS to your liking (in this case, enter Windows 10) and hit Continue to proceed.

Step 3: Choose how much RAM you want to allocate for your Windows 10 virtual machine and hit Continue. After that, select the size of the hard disk for your virtual machine. If this is the first time you are setting up a virtual machine on your device, hit the Radio button next to “Create a Virtual Hard Disk Now,” and hit Create.

Step 4: Select what type of hard disk you want to create (VDI by default) and hit the Continue button.

Step 5: On the next window, check the box next to “Fixed Size,” and then click “Continue.”

Step 6: Select where you want to store your Windows virtual machine and how much storage you want for it. If you choose Fixed Size from the previous step, VirtualBox will automatically allocate storage for your VM.

Step 7: Now you have a Windows 10 virtual machine on your Mac. Let’s proceed with how to burn a Linux ISO to USB using Rufus.

Burn Linux ISO to USB on Mac Using Rufus

Step 1: Download and install Rufus in Windows 10 virtual machine. After that, insert your USB drive into Mac.

Step 2: From the Device drop-down, select the USB drive you want to burn your ISO to and then select the “Disk or ISO image (Please select)” option.

Step 3: Click Select and then locate the ISO file image you wish to burn and then press Open to open it in Rufus.

Step 4: Now hit the Start button to start the burning process (this may take seconds).

Step 5: Once it is done, close Rufus and remove your USB drive.

The Bottom Line

For advanced users who prefer using a free tool, dd command should be their choice when it comes to creating Linux bootable USB on Mac. For normal users, UUByte DMG Editor is more suitable and time saving. For Mac users who already have a Window virtual machine on their Mac, Rufus is the best option.

Tech content writer & blogger who’s passionate about computer software and hardware.

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