I have live-usb stick that I can boot latest live Ubuntu from. Then I have 160GB external WD hdd with few GB free of space.

My notebook can't have any internal hdd so I was wondering if I can use my external one to install and boot Ubuntu and install new programs, save settings etc. without loosing (or moving around) any data on this external hdd.

The best would be if I can somehow use the live-usb. I'm traveling so any "complicated" solution might be bit hard to implement. I do have an access to the Internet.

  • I backed up everything before we left to travel. I took the 160GB to move pic from digital camera. So I need to be really careful about these pictures on external hdd. All I want to is install skype and network settings and flash player etc... – Radek Mar 25 '12 at 6:52

yes you can, i have done this and lost nothing, the ntfs drive was #0, and created ext3 (3 was the latest available) as second, swap as #3, lost nothing, the boot sector of first drive has been always empty for me ( i mean none of my documents been there) so nothing wiped
but really, even if there is the smallest chance of loosing data (0.0001%) do you really want to take it? if no, wait till you find another 160GB to backup, if yes, i wish you luck

  • I was thinking more of using existing fat partition only for root and swap... If possible... – Radek Mar 25 '12 at 6:40

I agree with loologyyy that it is very possible to do this and do so without loosing data but it must be done carefully. The first thing you need to do is identify how much free space you actually have to work with and where it is located.

running sudo fisk -l will list the partition tables of each drive on your computer (have the external plugged in and mounted when you do this. Next you need to determine the filesystem of your external drive (this is likely NTFS if windows can read it, or ext3/4 if you made it via Ubuntu).

Open GParted from your live USB and shrink the partition of your external HDD by selecting the external HDD from the device list in the upper right; then right click the partition in the list and click 'grow/shrink/move'. How much free space you leave is up to you.

If you manage to free up 4 GB (20 or so is recommended) then you can create a new partition in that space by right clicking and selecting 'new'. Make it ext3 or fat32 so it stands out from the rest of your partitions.

Run the Ubuntu installer and when it asks where to install Ubuntu, select 'Something Else'. When the partitioner appears. Select your newly created partition and use it as '/'. You'll also want to format it. If you want the rest of your partitions to mount to particular places (such as Windows mounting to /media/Windows) then type those in to the 'Use as' box for each partition.

That's it. If you have questions feel free to comment.

  • I don't have any internal hdd connected, only usb-live ubuntu on 2GB stick and 160GB usb hdd (onr fat partition). Can I install Ubuntu on that fat? – Radek Mar 25 '12 at 6:47
  • No, Ubuntu (or any linux) needs to be on a filesystem that supports the unix file permissions system. This limits your options a bit, as fat32 has no file permissions at all. ext3 is the recommended filesystem for now. – Huckle Mar 25 '12 at 14:24
  • I am sure that years years ago some of the distros could be installed on fat. In that case I try the installation after the backup is done. Thank you. – Radek Mar 25 '12 at 23:45
  • One more question. I'd partition my external hdd and then install Ubuntu on one of the new partitions. Then I want to mount fat partition when booting Ubuntu. I have 4 usb ports. Does it matter which one I use to the device id is the correct one or it doesn't matter? – Radek Mar 25 '12 at 23:47
  • 1
    The kernel will number the HDDs it finds in the order that it finds them. This is normally consistent from boot to boot, but isn't guaranteed. The easiest way is to refer to each filesystem by it's UUID. In this case it will not matter what port you use or what order the kernel finds it, as the UUID is 'Universally Unique'. There are plenty of questions on this site about /etc/fstab and UUIDs – Huckle Mar 26 '12 at 0:06

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