How to Install Kali Linux on a USB Drive with Persistence

Today, I will show you how to install Kali Linux live on a USB drive with persistence storage. You’ll get zero boot errors or failures. Simply flawless installation!

Now the persistence storage acts as a hard disk for Kali so that changes you make during the live boot are saved, which ordinarily is not supposed to be. 

This means, just like on your computer hard disk, you can install and use Kali Linux on probably a 4GB USB drive or Memory card.

What is more interesting is you can carry that bootable Kali Linux USB flash drive around and use it on ANY computer you settle on. Awesome!

Now let’s take a look at the required things you’ll need to make your Kali Linux bootable USB drive:

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Requirements to make Kali Bootable USB with Persistence

  1. USB Flash Drive or Memory Card (class 10): It doesn’t have to be only a USB drive, it can also be a high-end memory card (but you must then use it in a USB card reader). Secondly, the USB drive capacity MUST be anywhere from 4GB and above. Yes! A 4GB drive can work with the procedure I will show you even though I recommend 8GB for larger persistence storage.
  2. The Kali Linux ISO image: If you are going to be making a bootable Kali Linux USB drive, you will need a Kali ISO file to install. But frankly speaking, you can use this same procedure to install ANY flavor of Linux on a USB. Kali offers a bunch of ISOs for download but the one I always do recommend for beginners is the Kali Linux Light ISO.
  3. Burning Software or Program: Just in case you didn’t know, you’ll need something to burn that ISO image on to the USB drive. The best burning software I have come across that burns ISO images on to drives fast and flawlessly without any errors is etcher.
  4. Disk Partitioning Software: In order to be able to create the storage space that would serve as our persistence disk drive, we will need a disk partitioning tool. Also, the best I have found in this space is the MiniTool Partition Wizard (Windows only). Linux users download GParted (or sudo apt install gparted). MacOS users try Disk Utility (I’m not really a Mac person lol).

So once you’ve gotten all of these requirements pinned down, you’ll be ready to create your Kali Linux bootable USB drive with ease.

How to Install Kali Linux on USB with Persistence

It’s a fairly straight forward process. More or less 5 steps. Check them out:

Step 1: Burn the Kali Linux ISO file on the USB

Plug your USB drive into your PC and launch etcher. Etcher will automatically detect your USB drive. Otherwise, you should click change to select the appropriate drive. In my case, it correctly detects the 32GB class 10 memory card which I put into a USB card reader.

Connect USB drive to PC and launch etcher

Click Select image to open up your file explorer and attach the Kali Linux ISO file you want to burn and click Flash!.

Flash Kali ISO to USB with etcher

That’s ALL! You now have a Kali Linux bootable USB drive that will work any time without errors. But continue on to add persistence storage!

Warning: Be aware that once you click Flash, the USB drive will be formatted and whatever you have stored on it will be permanently lost. So make sure it’s the drive you want that is selected and also make a backup of it if you have to. 

Step 2: Create the persistence partition on the Kali Linux bootable USB

Launch MiniTool Partition Wizard and click Disk and Partition Management.

MiniTool Partition Wizard Disk Partitioner

You’ll notice that I have 2 disks in the screenshot below. Disk 2 (29.81 GB) is my bootable USB drive. Now we are going to create our persistence storage from the unallocated 28.7 GB partition.

MiniTool list partitions on drives -  install kali linux on usb

Right-click on the unallocated partition block, click create. Set the Partition Label: persistence & File System: Ext4 (Linux file systems are Ext4). You can adjust the slider to reduce the space of the partition or just leave it as is to use the whole unallocated block space. Click ok when you are done. 

create kali persistence partition -  install kali linux on usb

Click Apply at the top left corner to apply all changes and create the persistence partition.

apply partition changes - install kali linux on usb

Step 3: Restart your PC and boot from the Kali USB drive

Plug in your bootable USB drive on your computer and restart it. As soon as your computer reboots and it’s trying to come back on, quickly press the special key designated to launch the boot or startup menu.

For this PC I’m on, the boot interrupt key is ESC. So I will press that a couple of times just before my computer boots to display the Windows logo. 

Press ESC to open boot menu

On the next screen, I press key F9 (Boot device Options) to instruct my PC to boot from the bootable USB drive. The keys you’ll press for your PC might be different, just do a quick Google search!

Press F9 to enter boot menu

Step 4: Setup persistence storage on the Kali Linux bootable USB

Upon booting from the Kali USB drive, the Kali Linux boot menu will come up. Select Live USB Persistence.

Once the system is up, open up a terminal window and pour in the following commands (I’ll explain what each command is doing) :

fdisk -l

This lists all the disks on your computer and how they have been partitioned. It is the command-line version of what MiniTool Wizard graphically showed us earlier.

List disks of Kali bootable Kali Linux USB drive
Notice the 28.7 GB Persistence Partition we made earlier
mkdir -p /mnt/drive

Makes a custom directory called drive in the /mnt directory of the Linux filesystem.

mount /dev/sdXX /mnt/drive

Maps the persistence partition (sdXX) we earlier created on our USB drive to the custom drive directory we just made on the Kali Linux filesystem.

Note: I have used XX to represent the dynamic values in /dev/sdXX because yours will not be the same as mine. So you’ll have to observe from the output of fdisk -l command which letter reps your USB drive (the first X), and then the number that reps the persistence partition (the second X). For mine as seen in the above screenshot, comes down to /dev/sdb3.

echo “/ union” > /mnt/drive/persistence.conf

Infuses our created /mnt/drive directory with the persistence configuration and promotes it to become the persistence storage. Please notice the SPACE before union in that command.

umount /dev/sdXX

Unmounts and releases the /dev/sdXX (which for me is /dev/sdb3) because we no longer need it. Please notice the command umount, not to be confused with unmont. These are the little errors that beginners attempting to do this unwittingly make and then they complain they’ve followed everything step-by-step but it didn’t work for them. 

reboot now

Finally, reboot the system for all changes to take effect.

So if you typed out everything right then your terminal window will look like mine in the screenshot below.

How to make a Kali Linux usb drive with persistence successful
Kali Bootable USB drive ready with persistence

Step 5: Test if the persistence storage is working correctly

As before, boot your computer from the Kali Linux USB drive and select Live USB Persistence. This is how you will always use this Kali system – on live USB persistence mode.

To check whether the persistence storage worked, try to make changes to the system and reboot to see if the changes “persists”.

For me, I simply just create a folder on the desktop and reboot to see if the folder doesn’t get deleted. If it doesn’t get deleted, then you have successfully installed Kali Linux on your USB drive with persistence storage.

Let me know in the comments if this worked for you or if you have any issues.