A Linux live distro is very useful either you are a Linux user or a Windows user. They comes very handy if you screwed up your Linux system beyond normal recovery or your Windows system is infected with a nasty malware.
Best Linux live CD distributions
In this article, we'll discuss about what is actually a Live CD Linux distro, some example and their usage case. Let's dive into the topic.
Linux live operating systems are the linux distributions which can be booted directly from a CD or USB drive without installation, without making any changes to the existing system.
That's why it's called live. But CDs and DVDs are almost obsolete now, live CD is evolved to live USB, however kept it's old name.
As you don't even need to install a live OS to use it, so you can check the new operating system before installing it to the hard drive. Think about a fully featured linux desktop with you on-the-go inside a DVD disc or USB flash drive.
But the real potential of a live CD is more than the above. They're immensely useful to remove malware from a infected system, or to recover data from a crashed system.
There are many Linux live CD distribution, so which one is more feature packed or which one fulfill your need? Lets find out with these 7 special purpose Linux live distro.
Slax is a fast, small and portable Linux live USB distro, was based on Slackware. Now it's based on Debian stable.
Despite its small size, Slax provides a wide collection of pre-installed software for daily use, including a well organized GUI.
Previously Slax used a stripped down version of KDE, now runs a highly customized version of the FluxBox window manager with some pre-installed GTK+ based application.
It also can be installed on hard drive for daily use. Slax modules can be added or removed on-the-fly, so software installation during live session is easy and efficient.
It can be booted from a wide range of media like CD/DVD ROM, USB flash drive or external hard drive etc. Here's how to boot Slitaz from a PXE server.
Slax have a nice syslinux boot menu with many options like copy to RAM, act as a PXE server to boot slax on other computers on a LAN, load previously made changes etc. With the copy to RAM option, the boot media can be removed safely while the system is running entirely from RAM.
Get slax from here.
Knoppix is one of the very first linux live CDs, based on Debian, available in English and German, fast and fully featured.
It supports a lot of hardware out of the box, a lot of GPUs, Network Cards(both Ethernet and Wi-Fi) usb modems etc.
Knoppix is primarily aimed at being run from live media but it can be installed into hard drive. During live session software installation is also possible with apt-get.
Knoppix comes with LXDE desktop on top of compiz window manager by default, but knoppix desktop is not well polished. Standard Debian applications are available by default plus some more Knoppix oriented applications.
Get Knoppix from here.
RescaTux Linux Live CD
Rescatux is a Debian based special rescue cd focused on broken system rescue.
It have a noob friendly graphical Rescapp to rescue broken GNU/Linux or Windows system with few clicks and many advanced options like restore or update the GRUB bootloader, restore Windows MBR, boot reapir option, check filesystem for defects etc.
Some funny options like change or clear linux password, clear Windows password, unlock Windows user or make the user administrator etc. are also available.
Rescatux have some preinstalled tools like Gparted to manipulate harddisk partitions, a web browser, an IRC client and LXDE desktop environment with openbox window manager, so do not expect a shiny desktop.
The rescatux ISO can be booted of with CD, USB drive with syslinux or GRUB bootloader and features automatic 32bit or 64bit kernel selection for better hardware support.
Easy and powerfull Rescapp makes Rescatux a must have rescue live CD for everyone.
Get RescaTux from here.
Slitaz is an extremely lightwaight and fast live CD that runs great on old hardware.
The name SliTaz stands for "Simple Light Incredible Temporary Autonomous Zone". There are lots of useful software packed inside a just 35 MB iso image to make a full blown desktop.
Slitaz supports a wide range of hardware with bare minimal system requirement, any x86 compatible processor with 48 MB of RAM for text mode or 192 MB RAM for GUI desktop.
It boots very fast from a wide range of media like live CD, live USB, floppy disk, over PXE on a local network or can be installed on hard disk.
Very well configured Openbox window manager and Slitaz LXDE theme gives a pretty descent look and feeling.
Slitaz is one of the small live cd distros, comes in two flavor. A stable version with hardened stability and cooking version with cutting edge software. Main drawback of Slitaz stable version that it may not run well on latest hardware.
Get Slitaz from here.
Tails live CD
If you're a computer security enthusiast, i.e. a computer hacker, most most probably you know about it.
According to Tails, it aims at preserving your privacy and anonymity, and helps you to be anonymous. Though Kali Linux can be used as a live distro, but Tails is Tails is designed to be a live linux distro for penetration testing.
It ships with many preinstalled tools for penetration testing and internet anonymity, and most notably Tor.
Tails forces all the connections to the Internet to go through the Tor network, ensuring almost negligible internet footprint.
Get Tails from here.
If you ever dealt with FTP/SFTP, then there's a very good chance that you know what is FileZilla.
So, basically CloneZilla Live is live linux distro with FileZilla and other backup utilities preinstalled.
Clonezilla is developed by the NCHC in Taiwan. It is very useful in case of hard drive crash and for full disk backup. The cloned data can be saved to another local media or remotely over SSH,to a NFS shared filesystem, or to a SAMBA share.
CloneZilla can take a full disk backup, take a partial backup or completely clone a disk and restore it back. By default CloneZilla supports a wide range of disk drives and disk partition type including windows NTFS and Mac HFS+ . If partition type is not supported it can make a exact disk image as backup.
It runs entirely from the USB/CD media and do not require HDD install. The copy to RAM option is available on the boot menu, so after booting the bootable media could be removed safely.
ClonZilla have a ncurses based interface not an impressive desktop but the interface is easy to use. Finally, If you have a little knowledge about linux command line, every functionality of CloneZilla is possible with any of the above live CD.
Get CloneZilla from here.
Finnix - Linux live distro for sysadmins
Finnix is a little known yet quite useful linux live distro for sysadmins, based on Debian.
You can mount and manipulate hard drives and partitions, monitor networks, rebuild boot records, install other operating systems, and much more with Finnix.
Finnix runs on many hardware platform, on x86, on ARM or even on PowerPC architecture. The Finnix live ISO is quite small, the x86 ISO file around 135MB.
Get Finnix from here.
Almost every Linux live CD can be used to do the required job by slightly tweaking it. But this article may help you to choose the right one for your purpose.
If you have a good set of live CD, your computing life will be a lot easier in case of emergencies. I think it's good to have at-least one live USB always ready.
Finally a bonus for live distro lovers,
- How to create a multiboot live USB with the MultiBootUSB tool.
- Manually create a multiboot live USB with GRUB .
- How to boot multiple distros from a OpenWrt PXE server, using your router.
Can you use TinyCore Linux (http://repo.tinycorelinux.net)?
chhagan parve says
send me live cd of linux
Betta Sharma says
I have had good experience running porteus. It is small, simple, fast and reliable.
Is there a live Linux with a media centre? So listening to CDs, watching DVDs, playing video files, plus whatever else... Maybe recording, editing... (asking too much?)
Arnab Satapathi says
LibreELEC could boot from USB, has many multimedia related tools preinstalled.
I've got an old proliant server with a raid array and need to recover some data from the array. It has Windows server running but we do not have any user passwords. Is there a boot /live distro that will either allow me to reset the Windows passwords or access the raid data?
Arnab Satapathi says
yes, that's Rescatux.
Patrick Ogay says
I myself love Linux Mint.
I use it to check "vista generation computers".
I runs on the most laptops of the "vista generation" out of the box ( I used 17-3 mate or XFCE).
IMHO the best Live-CD
T. Salisbury says
Arnab Satapathi says
Tried Puppy long ago, but the UI looked boring.
Puppy Linux may lack in aesthetics but I think it has a lot of functionality out of the box. I suggest looking at recent versions of it, especially the community editions.
this is the link to bitdefender rescue cd from official site:
I' sorry for suggesting Knoppix which is already in the list... 🙁
first, I'm sorry for my poor English...
This is a very good list, but I would like to suggest some other bootable disks I use to recover data, check, repair PCs, etc...
1) System Rescue CD: it's Gentoo based and it offers a lot of features in about 540Mb. It can be run from command line or, if you prefer, from a xfce GUI. If compared to other live CD's it is very often updated (1-3 months) with new kernel and updated tools and it's built to run automatically on 32 or 64 bit systems. It's a very rich tool whose features look endless. Strongly recommended.
2) Knoppix: I don't use it very often but if you want a complete distro, don't go further: Knoppix is your AIO tool! Unfortunately it's not very often updated so it happens you don't always have the most recent software. Try it and be amazed! 🙂
3) Boot Repair CD: it's Ubuntu based and it can fix your bootloader, especially if you have troubles with a dual boot Win/Linux. Worth a try. It's released in both 32 and 64 bit versions.
4) Alt rescue: it's part of Alt project, it's a very small (about 300 mb) cd (both 32 and 64 bit) and it's CLI only. It's very similar to Finnix but always updated. It has a forensisc (ro) mode so you can safely mount your partition; it can be booted un UEFI Secure Boot systems and it comes with the last UEFI compatible Memtest. Unfortunately you cannot run it in a multiboot, otherwise it won't work: you have to burn it on a cd or usb (using dd).
5) BitDefender Rescue CD: it's the most updated (2017) among AV rescue CDs: it's basically BitDefender runing from a live gentoo based with xfce as DE. The most powerful Live AV! Even Kaspersy updated (after 8 years) it's live CD in march but it still have a lot of issues.
6) AIO Srt: Developed by Paul Bryan Vreeland, it's an Ubuntu based CD containing the most useful tools for techies and admins and it has a NOT LIVE Winodws Autorun with a lot of utilities to fix and manage Windows. in other words you can use it as a bootable Live CD or you can use whithin Windows as a normal aio toolbox.
7) If you want go further you can use Kali, BackBox or other pentest distros if you are interested in pentesting and ethical hacking. If you are interested in forensic tool, C.A.I.N.E is one of the most Powerful ISOs, developed by the Italian programmer Nanni Bassetti. Warning! Both forensic and pentesting distros are only for advanced users and for specific targets: they wont' be you everyday use distros!
8) If you have old PCs (I mean BIOS and not UEFI machines) you can consider Ultimate Boot CD and Trinity Rescue Kit: REMEMBER! they won't boot on UEFI PCs, so they are recommended for old computers only.
For XP you can consider the small Britec Recovery ISO, which can help you to fix XP from command line.
Finally, consider that even a small iso like Clonezilla has not only the default tool (which is based on partclone) but a command line from which you can run a lot of CLI tools: parted, testdisk/photorec, fsarchiver, partclone, fdisk tools, ntfs tools, nano and many many other tools, so Clonezilla can be your friend not only for backing up.
Arnab Satapathi says
Fabulous! I should have at least added the BitDefender Rescue CD.
And thanks for informing about AIO Srt live cd.
Your live CD list rocks !
But you might want to consider a little update, Slax is now debian based, not slackware.
Arnab Satapathi says
Yes it is, post updated. Thanks.
an archy says
You might want to have a look at MX-16 as it can be run from a usb and has the persistence facility. 😉
Arnab Satapathi says
Thanks for the tip ! MX Linux looks promissing.
Your Work is very interesting and helpful keep it up and thanks to share us.