Etcher - Etched in Linux


Updated: July 5, 2017

What's the color of the boathouse at Hereford? This question has the same implication as asking someone, what's the best USB image writer for Linux? Since there can be no single definitive answer, one must embark on a quest of trial & error, frustration & glee.

Almost every distro has its own tool, different desktop environments have their own utilities, and each one comes with its own level of reliability. All of them work, but then, not quite. And yet, all you want to do, once you've downloaded an ISO file, is to have it committed to a USB thumb drive, so you can actually boot and run that particular distro. A way out of this confusion? Etcher.

Fetcher me Etcher

Before I introduce our star for today, let me give you a little bit more context around USB image writing. Windows people will probably go with the Universal USB Pendrive or maybe unetbootin, while Linux folks are more likely to mention unetbootin or Fedora Image Writer as the most reasonable choice. More to follow.

I have always liked how Ubuntu - and Fedora - do things, namely Gnome stuff for this particular task, but then, I somewhat struggled with the Kubuntu USB creator. It had worked just fine with the first image I had selected, but then it wouldn't let me select any other. Unetbootin was peachy when it comes to getting the job done, but not so when it comes to booting. Some distros have their own peculiar formats, and combined with the UEFI challenges, you end up with a less than perfect success rate.

Somewhat annoyed that such a simple task could not be streamlined, I began my quest and eventually landed on Etcher. This is a new, stylish, modern tool, created with the dot-IO mindset. Multi-platform. And for Linux, cross-distro, too! Aha. It's delivered as an AppImage, so there's no need for a hundred different RPM, DEB and whatever packages. This is a great thing, the right mindset, and it got Etcher some extra bonus points right away. Anyhow, let's see what it does. To run Etcher, download the tool, extract the ZIP file, and then either double-click on the AppImage in a file manager or execute from the command line - the actual version name will differ on the specific version you use, but you get the drift:

./Etcher-<version>.AppImage

Etcher in action

When you launch the program, it comes with a very simple, straightforward interface. Select the desired image (ISO file most likely). Select the desired USB device. Hint, Etcher will automatically detect it, even if inserted after the program has been launched. Click Flash to complete the process. That's all there is. Fast, simple, elegant, straightforward, and reliable. Consistent results over several runs, with different images and target machines. In Kubuntu, you even get a system notification. Lovely jubbly.

Select image & device

Writing

Validating image

Image write complete

Settings

By default, as the screenshots show above, Etcher will also verify the integrity of the written media, to make sure you have a valid working copy. Moreover, it also unmounts devices once the job is complete. Future versions will also support writing multiple images to several devices, in order to save time. Cushty.

Settings

Conclusion

This is probably my shortest tutorial slash review ever, and that's because Etcher offers a very practical, simple interface with guaranteed results. Exactly what you expect from software. Intuitive and safe use, consistent and satisfactory end state.

I am pleased by Etcher, also because it signifies a mental shift in how Linux software should be done. I don't care about the backend, the whole buzzword-rich stack. What I do like is that you have a portable Linux tool that can do the job of writing images to USB media, and it does this reliably and efficiently. There you go. The next time you're in need for some Linux testing, give Etcher a try, and see how well it does its job. I believe you will be pleased. Dedoimedo, over and out.

Cheers.

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