I understand there are a lot of questions regarding this topic of MBR partitions, GPT for UEFI, having dual OS, one with MBR and the other with GPT, but due to my own inexperience I cannot figure this out.

I have an USB drive. It has a full installation of Elementary OS, which is a close distro to Ubuntu, using MBR to boot ONLY from CSM UEFI and actual Legacy BIOS systems. I want to use it across different systems, some of them use UEFI, others UEFI + Legacy, CSM...

Is it possible to have two partition tables, MBR and GPT on the same USB stick which point to the same OS so it can be booted from UEFI and Legacy systems? If it is, How can this be archieved?

  • Ubuntu can boot in BIOS or UEFI boot mode from gpt. You need an ESP - efi system partition for UEFI boot and a bios_grub partition for BIOS boot. Some have configured one gpt based flash drive for both, but I prefer just to have two flash drives. And I normally use gpt for both. help.ubuntu.com/community/Installation/UEFI-and-BIOS May not be totally stable as updates in one mode may conflict with the other mode. – oldfred May 26 '16 at 16:35

Strictly speaking, a disk can use MBR or GPT, but not both. That said, there's an ugly and dangerous hack, known as a hybrid MBR, which is most often used on Macs, that enables a GPT disk to include MBR pointers to three of its partitions for the benefit of GPT-unaware OSes. There's very little or no reason to use a hybrid MBR except on Macs that are dual-booting with Windows 7 or earlier, or with other non-GPT/non-EFI OSes. A hybrid MBR would provide NO benefit for your specific case.

Be aware that boot mode (EFI/UEFI vs. BIOS/CSM/legacy) and partition table type (GPT vs. MBR) are not necessarily linked. Windows ties the two together, and older OSes understand neither EFI nor GPT, but other than that, you're usually free to mix and match. You can install Ubuntu in BIOS mode to a GPT disk, for instance. That said, using GPT for EFI-mode booting and MBR for BIOS-mode booting will minimize the risk of running into problems, but it's often possible to cross those boundaries if doing so is necessary. Thus, if you want to have a USB drive that's bootable under either BIOS or EFI, you can, in principle, use either MBR or GPT on it. You'll have to be sure to install both BIOS-mode and EFI-mode boot loaders, but the partition table can be either type. This type of configuration can be tricky to set up, though, and offhand, I don't know of any site that provides step-by-step instructions for configuring it. There are about a million special cases that can create problems for specific computers or for computers configured in particular ways (Secure Boot issues, firmware that's finicky about partition tables, 32- vs. 64-bit systems, etc.). Thus, depending on your needs, it might be better to plan on creating two or more bootable USB drives. Yes, that's more hassle to carry around and keep them straight -- but that hassle may be less than the hassle involved in navigating the mine field of quirks involved in creating a truly universal boot medium.


As far as i know, there is NO possibility of having 2 partitioning schemes on the same data storing device. Either MBR or GPT, BUT NOT BOTH at the same time. GPT is an evolution of MBR, but they enumerate data blocks a bit different which is leading to misunderstanding where the partitions are starting and where are ending on the disk. GPT is better because it automatically creates a backup of the partition table at the end of the disk.

I personally use two USB sticks: one with MBR, the other with GPT. Some people say that a GPT Ubuntu can boot in BIOS mode. That may be truth, but when installing it to internal drive in BIOS/MBR mode, you will be having BIG trouble with the GRUB not installing correctly, and thus not being able to run the Ubuntu from the hard-drive.

So, you can run it any way you want, but you can't install correctly any way you want. Install from GPT medium to another GPT medium, and from BIOS medium to another BIOS medium. Don't mix them up!

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