How to Install and Run Linux on a Chromebook

Use Crouton to switch between Chrome OS and Ubuntu

Run a full-fledged version of the Linux operating system on your Chromebook, opening up a whole world of possibilities on what is essentially a low-budget machine.

Before installing Ubuntu on your Chromebook, you first need to enable Developer Mode.

Enable Developer Mode

While most of your data in Chrome OS is stored server-side in the cloud, you may also have important files saved locally; such as those found in your Downloads folder. In addition to disabling certain security restrictions and allowing you to install a customized version of Ubuntu, activating Developer Mode also automatically deletes all local data on your Chromebook. Therefore, back up essential local data on an external device or move it to the cloud before taking the steps below.

  1. With your Chromebook on, hold Esc+Refresh keys and tap your device's power button. A forced reboot begins, at which point you can let go of the keys.

  2. After the reboot is complete, a screen with a yellow exclamation point and a message that Chrome OS is missing or damaged appears. Press Ctrl+D to initiate Developer Mode.

  3. The following message should now be displayed: To turn OS verification OFF, press ENTER. Press the Enter key.

  4. A new screen appears stating that OS verification is off. Do not touch anything at this point. After a few sections, you'll receive notification that your Chromebook is transitioning into Developer Mode. This process may take some time and could involve multiple reboots. You will eventually be returned to the OS verification is OFF message, accompanied by a red exclamation point. Ignore this message and wait until you see the welcome screen for Chrome OS.

  5. Since all local data and settings were deleted when you entered Developer Mode, you may have to re-enter your network details, language and keyboard orientation on the OS welcome screen as well as agree to the operating system's terms and conditions. Once completed, sign in to your Chromebook.

Installing Ubuntu Using Crouton

The main reasons to choose Crouton lie in its simplicity and the fact that it allows you to run Chrome OS and Ubuntu side-by-side, eliminating the need to hard boot into one operating system at a time. To get started, open your Chrome browser and follow the steps below.

  1. Open Crouton's official GitHub repository.

  2. Click the goo.gl link, located directly to the right of the Chromium OS Universal Chroot Environment header.

    Goo.gl link for Universal Chroot Environment
  3. A Crouton file downloads to your Downloads folder. Open the Chrome OS developer shell in a new browser tab by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T.

  4. Type shell and press the Enter key.

    shell command after crosh prompt
  5. Enter the following syntax at the prompt and press the Enter key: sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -e -t xfce. If you are running a Chromebook device with a touchscreen, use the following syntax instead: sudo sh ~/Downloads/crouton -e -t touch,xfce.

    sudo sh crouton command on Chromebook crosh prompt
  6. The latest version of the Crouton installer downloads. You'll be prompted to provide and verify both a password and an encryption passphrase at this point because you chose to encrypt your Ubuntu installation through the -e parameter in the previous step. While this flag is not required, we recommend it. Choose a secure password and passphrase that you will remember and enter them accordingly, if applicable.

  7. After the key generation completes, the Crouton installation process begins. This process takes several minutes and requires minimal intervention. However, you can view details of each step in the shell window as the installation progresses. You will eventually be asked to define a username and password for the primary Ubuntu account toward the tail end of the process.

  8. After the installation completes, you'll find yourself back at the command prompt. Enter the following syntax: sudo startxfce4 then press the Enter key. If you chose encryption in the previous steps, you will now be prompted for your password and passphrase.

  9. An Xfce session begins, and you'll see the Ubuntu desktop interface.

    Linux on Chromebook via Crouton
  10. Crouton runs both Chrome OS and Ubuntu simultaneously. To switch between the two operating systems without rebooting, use the following keyboard shortcuts: Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Back and Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Forward.

If these shortcuts do not work for you then you are probably running a Chromebook with an Intel or AMD chipset, as opposed to ARM. In this case, use the following shortcuts instead: Ctrl+Alt+Back and (Ctrl+Alt+Forward) + (Ctrl+Alt+Refresh).

Start Using Linux

Now that you've enabled Developer Mode and installed Ubuntu, follow these steps to launch the Linux desktop each time you power on your Chromebook. You'll see the warning screen stating that OS verification is OFF every time you reboot or turn the power on because Developer Mode remains active until you manually disable it, and is required to run Crouton.

  1. Return to the developer shell interface by using the following keyboard shortcut: Ctrl+Alt+T.

  2. Type shell at the crosh prompt and press Enter.

  3. Type the following command: sudo startxfce4 then press Enter

  4. Enter your encryption password and passphrase, if prompted.

The version of Ubuntu that you have installed does not come with a great deal of pre-installed software. The most common method for locating and installing Linux applications is through apt-get. This handy little command line tool allows you to search for and download countless applications within Ubuntu. AMD and Intel-based Chromebooks offer access to more working applications than those running ARM chips but even ARM-based Chromebooks run some of the most popular Linux applications.

Backing up Your Data

While most data and settings in Chrome OS are automatically stored in the cloud, the same cannot be said for files created or downloaded during your Ubuntu sessions. Use Crouton to back up your Ubuntu data.

  1. Launch the developer shell interface by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T.

  2. Type shell at the crosh prompt and press the Enter key.

  3. Type the following command and parameters: sudo edit-chroot -a then press Enter.

  4. The name of your chroot displays in white text (i.e., precise). Type the following syntax followed by a space and the name of your chroot: sudo edit-chroot -b. (i.e., sudo edit-chroot -b precise) then press Enter.

  5. When the backup process concludes, the chroot displays Finished backing up along with a path and filename. Generally, the backup is a tar file located in your Chrome OS Downloads folder, which is shared and therefore accessible within both operating systems.

    Backup commands in Crosh command terminal

Removing Linux From Your Chromebook

To remove Linux from your Chromebook, follow this procedure:

  1. Restart your Chromebook.

  2. When the OS verification is OFF message appears, press the spacebar.

  3. Confirm reactivating OS verification. Press the Enter key.

  4. A notification alerts that OS verification is now on. Your Chromebook will reboot and be restored to its original state at this point. After the process is completes, the Chrome OS welcome screen appears.