Friday, July 31, 2009

Booting Linux live from mobile phone

== If you had landed here thinking this is about booting Linux on your mobile phone, "NO". This is about booting Linux on a comp/laptop from a mobile phone ==

The concept of booting and using Linux without having to install it on hard disk (aka Live CD) has been there for years (at least 10?). Thanks to Knoppix -- the pioneer in this approach. This later evolved to booting a live CD from media other than just CDs, like pen drives etc., With the later BIOS, supporting USB devices in the boot list, this had become pretty handy. I was a big fan of Damn Small Linux (DSL), which is really a damn small linux (with just a 50MB foot print) and goes almost invisible on your pen drive. I used to happily carry around DSL on my pen drive 2-3 years back.

But hold on. Why do I need to carry a bootable linux on my pen drive?? Anyways I need a comp to boot it; and the comp would anyway have an OS installed. Then why? True, but it is handy. I primarily see this useful for 2 purposes:

1. To use it as a recovery tool if something terribly goes wrong with my comp -- I do backup my master-boot-record (MBR) and the partition table (pretty easy to backup/restore from linux) etc., so I can recover my PC if something goes wrong at that level. This is also useful to analyze any comp for that matter if that fails to boot.

2. I can carry a set of applications along with me. If I have a comp infront of me, I would like to have a C/C++ compiler on it, maybe python interpreter and sometimes Office suite (MS office or open office). I cannot expect this everywhere I need it. Well, my own personal comp in my home town (one of the powerful ones I had during my Engineering with 64MB RAM and 500MHz processor :D) now barely has anything useful in it. It does not have most of the applications that I would need for today; and some times it does not even boot when I need it to :) No photoshop, python, games etc., Carrying a linux satisfies all (at least, most of) these requirements.

This being so useful, the major setback is the necessity to carry around that pen drive all the time; this drawback supersedes and suppresses all its advantages, and I mostly did not have my pen drive with me when I needed it ; And at some point, I forgot which of my 'n' pen-drives had the Linux live installed -- and that was the end to my use of this approach.

Recently, this thought struck my mind -- Why shouldn't I use my mobile phone as a pen drive, as I carry it all the time. And now that I have a Windows Mobile phone, I was really interested to see my "Windows" phone striving hard to help me in booting Linux on my comp :). But, I wasn't sure if that would work, without having to have a dedicated memory card. I was very clear that this is useful only if I can use the memory card for any other use on my mobile, like earlier. I tried various flavors including Fedora, DSL and Knoppix. My first choice was DSL -- it being so small, but that failed to boot off any pen drive on my laptop and my desktop (Gave up! maybe it does not support a variety of hardware?). Fedora 11 was the next choice. I used this live USB Creator, but that failed to boot too -- I didn't spend much time on it. I thought I would try out the legend Knoppix and it just worked effortlessly. The only important thing to notice in this project is, that we need to boot Linux off a FAT16 drive. The knoppix live CD comes with the isolinux boot loader that operates off an ISO -- but that wouldn't help us here. Thankfully, syslinux is a boot loader that does this job for us.

So, here is what you need to do if you need to boot Linux from your pendrive or Windows Mobile or any other mobile that supports Mass-storage mode.

On Windows: (TRY AT YOUR OWN RISK!!!)

1. Download Knoppix Live CD ISO image.
2. Download syslinux.
3. If mobile, put your Mobile in USB Mass-storage mode and connect it to your PC (else connect your pendrive to your PC).
4. Extract the Knoppix ISO to a folder say C:\MyFolder (Many software could do this including WinZip, 7Z etc.,)
5. Copy all the files from the C:\MyFolder\boot folder to C:\MyFolder\ (ie., bring the files inside boot folder to the parent directory).
6. Rename C:\MyFolder\isolinux.cfg to C:\MyFolder\syslinux.cfg (thankfully the config files are similar between isolinux and syslinux).
7. Delete the isolinux.bin file from C:\MyFolder\ (we don't need this).
8. Now copy all the files from C:\MyFolder to your mass-storage folder (say G:). Note: Directory structure should be such that all files in the C:\MyFolder should be in the root directory of your mass-storage drive.
9. IMPORTANT: Be very careful at this step. If you give a wrong drive letter, you may spoil your computer from booting. Open up a command prompt. CD to the folder where you have syslinux and run 'win32\syslinux.exe -ma G:' (I assume G: is your mass-storage drive).

You are all set. Make sure you have USB removable device / USB HDD in the boot list (with priority ahead of your HDD) of your computer. If all done well, connect your mobile/pendrive to your comp and reboot; you should see Knoppix booting off it.

Here is my Lenovo T400 Laptop booting Knoppix from my Windows Mobile ASUS P320: (The video is little long, please feel free to forward if you feel bored; but I want to provide even granular details for the interested, so didn't strip it down).

Have fun!


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Is this persistent? (for example, will the changes you make stay after you reboot?)

  3. It depends on where you want to store and the live distribution you choose to install. As such the memory card on the phone is write-able.

  4. Thanks your blog is awesome.
    thanks for sharing information.
    Videocon 2.75g Internet plan
    Videocon Telecom invests approx Rs 130 Cr to upgrade its network to 2.75G EDGE, a 3G standard technology, to enhance Customer experience on data speed. Rolls out a full-fledged marketing campaign to get Customer attention.