Running from a Flash Drive

[updated 2009.10.25]

USB flash drive

Sometimes it can be really handy to run your own software, already set up just the way you prefer, with the security you need, and store your files as well.

Using flash drive technology, you can easily do this, and computers on campus usually will allow you to use it.

Pick Your Drive Type

First, there are two types of drives: a standard drive, and a U3 drive.

U3 drives have part of the drive partitioned off to contain software which you can run from the drive.  You can get this from and install it on a U3 drive.  However, the example used here is Firefox, and U3 doesn’t have the latest version of that readily available (3.5.x or later).

Fortunately, U3 drives can also use the same software that standard flash drives can use, so let’s use that instead.

One convenient and up-to-date place for versions of flash drive software, also called “portable applications”, is .

You can either get a suite of software, which you can customize with only the items you like, or you can get individual programs.

Quite a lot is available (if you have room on your flash drive!), including the full OpenOffice suite of programs (comparable to Microsoft Office).

And it’s all FREE!  (Aside from what you paid for the flash drive, of course.)

We’ll use just the Firefox browser alone as an example here.

The Firefox browser in portable form is available here.

  1. Download the portable Firefox and save it on your flash drive.  If you have a U3 drive, use the partition that you normally use to save your files.  This will take up less than 80MB when installed, so it can be used even on smaller drives.
  2. Open where you saved it and double-click the file on your portable drive.  This will install it on your flash drive.
  3. Whenever you need to use it, be sure that Firefox is not already running on the computer, and then go to your flash drive, open the FirefoxPortable folder and click on the FirefoxPortable.exe icon.
  4. For your Flash plugin, you can use the easy download.
  5. For Shockwave:
  • Download the free Shockwave Player from the Macromedia website
  • Run the installation routine and, instead of letting it install to a local browser, select to choose your browser
  • Browse to X:\FirefoxPortable\App\firefox (where X is your device’s driver letter) and continue with the installation
  • You may need to restart Firefox Portable for the changes to take effect.

Start from scratch…

You can just set up Firefox from scratch. You can also download plugins from PortableApps for regular needs, such as reading PDF files (Sumatra Portable), playing audio (VLC Media Player), and so on.  Most of the popular Firefox add-ons will install and work normally.  You can also add anti-virus such as ClamWinPortable. You’ll also need JavaPortable to run Java.

Some recommended add-ons are listed here.  Most things you get from should install normally.  Some XPIs from other sources must be downloaded to your PC before installing and then opened using FILE and then OPEN.

or, copy your regular settings over…

If you want to save time: you can copy your PC’s Firefox setup to your flash drive from C:\Documents and Settings\[your user name]\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox\Profiles\[whatever code it is].default .  Copy the contents of that folder (except the cache directories) to the FirefoxPortable\Data\profile directory.

Then, and this is important, delete the file FirefoxPortableSettings.ini within the FirefoxPortable\Data\settings directory, if there is one. When you start Firefox Portable for the first time, it’s recommended that you turn off disk cache, password saving and history if you’re using a flash-based portable device. You can set all of these within the Privacy tab of the Firefox Options window. Sometimes, certain profiles will cause the launcher to fail or hang. It’s best to give it a few minutes to see if it’s just checking compatiblity and adjusting the locations of the extensions before giving up on it. If it fails, it is usually due to an incompatible extension.

Remember: if you use the XMarks add-on, it should work with your portable Firefox and sync all your bookmarks and RSS feeds from your other computer(s).


AntiVir and Avast, on more than one occasion, have claimed there is a trojan or virus in the launcher. This is due to poor detection in both products that will occasionally mis-identify many NSIS-based applications as trojans. It will usually occur after a definitions update.  Nothing can be done at PortableApps; this is on the anti-virus vendors.

Remember – you can only run ONE Firefox source (even if you open multiple windows, they all have to come from the PC or from the flash drive, but not both).

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