How to Install pfSense From a Bootable USB Stick

Updated on January 15, 2018
skear profile image

Sam works as a Network Analyst for an algorithmic trading firm. He obtained his Bachelors Degree in Information Technology from UMKC.

Installing pfSense from a USB stick is much more convenient when compared to the live CD installation method.

CDs are quickly becoming obsolete and burning a new disk for each release of pfSense is wasteful and time consuming.

In this hub I'll show you how to create a bootable USB stick that can be used to quickly install pfSense on a PC.

Downloading the Memstick Image

First you'll need to download the USB memstick image for pfSense from one of the mirror sites.

The memstick images are available in both 32, or 64 bit versions. Download the version that's compatible with the hardware you'll be installing pfSense on.

Download either the i386 (32-bit) , or 64-bit memstick image file.
Download either the i386 (32-bit) , or 64-bit memstick image file.

Extracting the Image File

The file downloaded from the mirror site is compressed in gzip format. Before the image can be transferred to a USB drive it must be extracted. 7zip is a great free program that can be used to extract gzip archives.

Extract the IMG file to a location on your PCs hard drive.

7zip can be used to extract the IMG file from the compressed archive.
7zip can be used to extract the IMG file from the compressed archive.

Writing the Image to the USB Drive

Once you've extracted the image file you are ready to write it to a USB drive.

Uncompressed the image file for pfSense 2.0.1 is 253 megabytes so you'll need a thumb drive with at least that much capacity.

The image file can be written to the USB drive using Win32 Disk Imager.

This process will erase the contents of the target drive so be careful and make sure you select the correct drive.

  1. Download the win32diskimager-binary.zip file.
  2. Extract the contents of the zip file to a folder called Win32 Disk Imager.
  3. Run the Win32DiskImager.exe program.
  4. Click the blue folder icon and select the pfSense-memstick.img file that was extracted earler.
  5. Select the drive letter of the USB drive in the device drop down box.
  6. Click on write.

Image writer for Windows is a small utility that can be used to write the image to the USB drive.
Image writer for Windows is a small utility that can be used to write the image to the USB drive.

Booting From the USB Drive

After the image has been written to the USB drive it's ready to be plugged into the computer you wish to install pfSense on. You may have to adjust the computers bios settings in order to support booting from a USB device.

Most computers have a hot key that can be pressed when the system boots to access a boot device menu. For Dell computers the boot menu hotkey is F12.

If your system doesn't have a boot menu you can usually force the system to boot from USB devices first within the BIOS.

After booting from the drive select option number 3 from the pfSense welcome menu.

Selection option 3 to boot from the USB drive.
Selection option 3 to boot from the USB drive.

Launching the Installer

Shortly after pfSense begins to boot from the USB drive there will be an option to enter recovery mode or installer mode. Press 'I' to launch the installer.

If you miss the prompt you can reboot the system or select the hard drive install option from the main menu after the boot process completes.

Press 'I' to launch the installer when prompted.
Press 'I' to launch the installer when prompted.

Console Configuration

The installer will allow you to specify a different font, screenmap, or keymap if needed. In most cases you can just accept the default settings here.

In most cases the default console settings are fine.
In most cases the default console settings are fine.

Selecting the Installation Mode

Next the installer will prompt you to select the installation mode. I like to run the quick/easy install because it bypasses some settings I usually don't need to modify. In quick mode the installer will automatically format the first hard disk and install pfSense on it.

If you have multiple drives in the system, or if you want full control over the installation then select the custom install option.

The quick/easy install mode will wipe the primary hard drive and load pfSense with little interaction required.
The quick/easy install mode will wipe the primary hard drive and load pfSense with little interaction required.

Using the Quick Install Method

If you choose the quick installer you will see the confirmation screen below. Make sure you don't have any data on the hard drive because this method will wipe out all of the data on it.

Kernel Selection

Most users will want to select the symmetric multiprocessing or SMP kernel.

The SMP kernel supports processors with one or more cores. If your box has a CPU that supports hyper threading then you should also select the multi-processor kernel.

The embedded kernel is designed for compact or low power hardware such as Soekris, Netgate, or PC Engines.

Finally a developers kernel is available which includes a debugger and other features you won't see in the standard kernel.

The SMP kernel is the most common selection.
The SMP kernel is the most common selection.

Rebooting

After selecting the kernel the installer will prompt you to reboot the system. While the system reboots you should remove the USB key from the system so pfSense can boot from the local hard drive.

The First System Boot

The first time pfSense boots it will start the interface assignment wizard which will allow you to define the LAN and WAN interfaces.

The wizard will ask you if you want to setup VLANs, most users should choose no here.

VLANs allow you to use a trunk connection to connect multiple networks to the system using a single physical connection.

Assigning Interfaces

Next the interface wizard will prompt you to enter the name of the interface you would like to use for the WAN connection, or press 'A' for auto detection.

I prefer to use the auto detection method because it saves me from guessing which interface corresponds to which network port on the box.

To use the auto detection function remove any network cables from the computer, then press 'A' and hit enter.

Next plug in the network cable to the NIC you want to use as the WAN interface and press enter. As long as link is established on that port the software will automatically detect which network card was connected. In other words the other end of the cable must be plugged into a device that is powered on.

Complete the same procedure for the LAN interface, and any additional interfaces you would like to add.

Completing Interface Assignment

After you've finished assigning interfaces press enter, then type 'Y' to confirm the selection. If you make a mistake you can type 'N' instead and complete the process all over again.

In the future you can reassign interfaces from the console, or SSH menu.

Assigning IP Addresses

After interfaces have been assigned the main console menu will be displayed.

By default DHCP is enabled for the WAN interface allowing it to obtain an address automatically. The LAN interface will receive an IP address of 192.168.1.1.

If you need to change the IP address assignments you can do so be selecting option #2 from the main menu.

Logging Into the Web Interface

At this point you should be able to connect to the web configurator by entering the LAN IP address of the system into your browser.

Default username: admin

Default password: pfsense

If you are unable to connect to the web interface try pinging the LAN IP address. If you can't ping it make sure that the PC is on the same subnet as the LAN interface for the system.

Sometimes tracing the connections and or re-assigning the interfaces will help identify where the problem lies.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Sam Kear

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      • skear profile imageAUTHOR

        Sam Kear 

        8 months ago from Kansas City

        @fbelom

        If you can get back to the Marvell prompt again you can try doing 'run recovery'. You'll need to have the factory image downloaded to a USB drive first though. The procedure is documented at the link below.

        https://www.netgate.com/docs/pfsense/solutions/sg-...

        If it's not booting to a Marvell prompt then you'll have to reach out to Netgate to see how to proceed.

      • profile image

        fbelom 

        8 months ago

        Dear,

        I have the issue below

        ====================================================

        Please i was performing i restoration while its got stack on updgrading state!

        I was prompted

        Marvell prompt from which i type the command "resetenv" because I wanted to restore the system to factory! Right now I'm block with the error below!

        Marvell boot

        Reset RTC...

        Date: 1970-01-01 (Thursday) Time: 0:00:00

        Reset RTC...

        Date: 1970-01-01 (Thursday) Time: 0:00:00

        Error: SCSI Controller(s) 1B4B:9215 1B4B:9235 not found

        ** scsi detection can run only once - please reset board before running detection again **

        ** Bad device scsi 0 **

        ** Bad device scsi 0 **

        Bad Linux ARM zImage magic!

        Marvell

        ========================================

        Now I see your procedure and I want to try it to restore the pfsense on my NETGATE SG-3100

        Can you please advise?

      • profile image

        Steven 

        2 years ago

        Tried downloading from poses the memstick iso, but when extracting it it says there is an error...

        I think it has to do with the latest build. Any comments?

      • skear profile imageAUTHOR

        Sam Kear 

        2 years ago from Kansas City

        @Andrew

        Once you've applied the disk image the drive can no longer be opened on a Windows computer because it cannot read the filesystem.

        Have you attempted to boot from the drive yet? Give it a shot, it should work.

      • profile image

        Andrew 

        2 years ago

        Hey, I followed well the steps but when I try to open my USB, it can't be accessed anymore. An error prompted: Needs formatting. The volume does not contain a recognizable file system. Please make sure all required file system drives are loaded and that the volume is not corrupted. Why is that? What's wrong? Please help. Thanks.

      • profile image

        asas 

        3 years ago

        @Paludo It sounds like the hardware you are using might have a compatibility issue with pfSense.

        Have you tried both the livecd and embedded image and received the same results?ok

      • skear profile imageAUTHOR

        Sam Kear 

        4 years ago from Kansas City

        @Paludo It sounds like the hardware you are using might have a compatibility issue with pfSense.

        Have you tried both the livecd and embedded image and received the same results?

      • profile image

        Paludo 

        4 years ago

        I can not install pfsense from flash drive, or directly by cfcard on my x86 appliance via serial console! 4 days we have been trying and I can not! When will the USB to go ahead, but inexplicably hangs in the middle of the process.

      • seigfried23 profile image

        seigfried23 

        6 years ago

        I think nearly everything these days should be installed from usb sticks. CDs are quickly falling out of use anyway - even for movies, and definitely for programs. Thanks for taking the time.

      • Daddy Paul profile image

        Daddy Paul 

        6 years ago from Michigan

        I like this.

      • smga22 profile image

        smga22 

        6 years ago from Dhaka, Bangladesh

        Good job and nice description. Looking forward to get more from you.

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