[Alternative solution found] Running Mint from a USB stick

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ganamant
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[Alternative solution found] Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by ganamant » Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:42 pm

I will be using someone else's computer for a couple of weeks and I was thinking about installing some version of Linux Mint onto a USB stick, so I can have my programs, my stuff and my configs in one place without affecting the host machine (which is trusted, by the way). I've never attempted anything of the sort, and I need some recommendations to save me some time and head scratching. The host will be a laptop from the early 2010s or so.
  1. I'm going to use a 32 GB stick with 2 or 3 partitions for system, /home (just config files) and /data. How big should the system partition be?
  2. Do I just pick the USB stick as a target for installation, or is there something special I need to do? Will the installation affect Grub on the source computer at all?
  3. Will the borrowed machine just boot from USB and remain unaffected like it would do with a proper live distro?
  4. Which is going to be faster in my case: Mate or Xfce?
  5. What about file systems? Is journaling bad for a USB stick and better disabled, or should I just keep the defaults?
  6. Is Linux Mint the right distro for my case after all, or will something else (Debian-based if possible) fit the bill better?
Any other thoughts not evoked in my questions are also welcome.
Last edited by ganamant on Mon Mar 25, 2019 3:38 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by arvy » Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:14 pm

Setting aside those specific questions just momentarily, the first issue to be aware of would be the Ubuntu installer bug that can arise when installing Mint to a USB stick. Its has potentially destructive results for the existing boot setup on the machine where that process is carried out. Depending on how much "stuff" you actually need beyond what booting Mint "live" on the borrowed machine could accommodate, there are workarounds for that installer bug. See these "Three Options" as posted by pbear.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by ganamant » Sun Mar 17, 2019 5:29 pm

Thanks for pointing this out. I was unaware of the Ubuntu bug and of that useful post.

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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by Valsodar » Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:10 pm

arvy wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:14 pm
Setting aside those specific questions just momentarily, the first issue to be aware of would be the Ubuntu installer bug that can arise when installing Mint to a USB stick. Its has potentially destructive results for the existing boot setup on the machine where that process is carried out. Depending on how much "stuff" you actually need beyond what booting Mint "live" on the borrowed machine could accommodate, there are workarounds for that installer bug. See these "Three Options" as posted by pbear.
Just a thought here - can this bug be circumvented by running the installation process from a virtual machine? The USB stick would be attached to the host machine but whatever changes the installer attempts to make won't matter cuz the virtual hard disk would be empty anyway.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by Bobb24 » Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:07 pm

Why not just use a live USB stick ? Or if you need all your settings you could get an external storage hard drive and install Linux on it and then you can customize it all you want and then just choose it from the laptop BIOS and you should be good to go

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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by arvy » Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:10 pm

Valsodar wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:10 pm
Just a thought here - can this bug be circumvented by running the installation process from a virtual machine? The USB stick would be attached to the host machine but whatever changes the installer attempts to make won't matter cuz the virtual hard disk would be empty anyway.
Never having tried what you suggest, I can't say for sure, but I wouldn't count on it as a workaround for the installer bug. It appears only to affect UEFI mode installations BTW, and pbear's options seem effective in dealing with it. To be honest, I'm not really sure how the bug finds and alters what it shouldn't nor about your proposed installation setup would differ in practice or in effect from booting to the Mint "live" environment and running the installer process from that.
Last edited by arvy on Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by Valsodar » Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:21 pm

arvy wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:10 pm
I'm not really sure how your proposed installation setup would differ in practice or in effect from booting to the Mint "live" environment and running the installer process from that.
It would differ because if you run the live env. from the real machine, the installer will detect the storage devices of the real machine and do the destructive thing that was mentioned above. But if you attach the USB stick to the real machine and run the live env. from a virtual machine (ofc., you'll have to do the appropriate settings in the virtual machine to detect the USB stick), then the live env. will detect only the empty storage device in the virtual machine. Thus the only changes will affect the USB stick and the real machine devices will remain intact.
If you still don't follow my thought, just try it - you won't lose anything. Or, if you're scared, run a virtual machine inside the virtual machine and then try it. Either way your real storage devices will be untouched.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by arvy » Sun Mar 17, 2019 7:30 pm

Why would I try it? I thought you were asking me if it would work for yourself. If you've already tried it and it does work, you have my heartiest congratulations. But I'll take your word for it. I don't have a problem and don't need that solution.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by Valsodar » Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:09 pm

I was just talking to a person who wouldn't believe that this would work, not to you in particular. Altough in this case you ARE the unbeliever. :P
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by arvy » Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:49 pm

Valsodar wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 8:09 pm
I was just talking to a person who wouldn't believe that this would work, not to you in particular.
That's rather difficult to accept when your initial question included a verbatim quote from what I had posted in my effort to forewarn and assist the OP, and your follow-up also quoted me "in particular".
Altough in this case you ARE the unbeliever. :P
I said that I had not tried what you were suggesting and that I was not sure about its efficacy for the intended purpose. If you would prefer some BS "faith-based" profession of certitude you asked the wrong person. Moreover, terms like "unbeliever" seem entirely out of place in any rational discussion of this nature so far as I'm concerned and that will be my last answer to you on this subject.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by pbear » Mon Mar 18, 2019 11:00 pm

ganamant wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 12:42 pm
I will be using someone else's computer for a couple of weeks and I was thinking about installing some version of Linux Mint onto a USB stick, so I can have my programs, my stuff and my configs in one place without affecting the host machine (which is trusted, by the way). I've never attempted anything of the sort, and I need some recommendations to save me some time and head scratching. The host will be a laptop from the early 2010s or so.
  1. I'm going to use a 32 GB stick with 2 or 3 partitions for system, /home (just config files) and /data. How big should the system partition be?
  2. Do I just pick the USB stick as a target for installation, or is there something special I need to do? Will the installation affect Grub on the source computer at all?
  3. Will the borrowed machine just boot from USB and remain unaffected like it would do with a proper live distro?
  4. Which is going to be faster in my case: Mate or Xfce?
  5. What about file systems? Is journaling bad for a USB stick and better disabled, or should I just keep the defaults?
  6. Is Linux Mint the right distro for my case after all, or will something else (Debian-based if possible) fit the bill better?
Any other thoughts not evoked in my questions are also welcome.
Taking those in order.

a. IMHO, it makes no sense to split a 32 GB stick into multiple partitions. Just use a single root partition. Even with that, 32 GB is a bit skinny, so only load the apps and data you're actually going to need. Also, don't bother if it's an old 2.0 drive; the performance will be intolerable.

b. Notice the bug arvy mentioned is only an issue if your machine uses UEFI. Also, once installed, there's no risk from using the drive, to you or your host. Third, it's impossible to tell from "early 2010s" whether the host uses BIOS or UEFI, as the latter became common with Win8 in Oct'12. Probably best, then, to use option two of the tutorial (hybrid method) even if you don't have to worry about the bug. BTW, installing from VirtualBox (as suggested by American Muscle) won't help because VBox only will boot a Mint VM in BIOS mode. That you can do without VBox.

c. Correct. A full install USB boots completely independently.

d. I run both Mate and XFCE from a USB hard drive and haven't noticed a difference. Not saying there isn't one, just that it's not substantial.

e. Some sources recommend formatting in ext2, which is the nonjournaling option. Frankly, I don't think it matters. What burns out the drive is the temp files and other actual writes. Based on anecdotal evidence, you can reasonably expect 500 hours of service (or more) from a full install flash drive. For a few weeks use, not worth worrying about. If you want long term use, get a USB hard drive, which also will let you have all those partitions you want. :D

f. I have Mint, Ubuntu, MX Linux and Manjaro on USB drives. All run pretty much the same, AFAICT. Bear in mind, if your host uses UEFI, secure boot generally will have to be disabled for Mint. By contrast, Ubuntu works with secure boot enabled. Don't recall about the other two.

Hope that helps. Good luck.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by DRL » Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:20 am

Valsodar wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:10 pm
arvy wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:14 pm
Setting aside those specific questions just momentarily, the first issue to be aware of would be the Ubuntu installer bug that can arise when installing Mint to a USB stick. Its has potentially destructive results for the existing boot setup on the machine where that process is carried out. Depending on how much "stuff" you actually need beyond what booting Mint "live" on the borrowed machine could accommodate, there are workarounds for that installer bug. See these "Three Options" as posted by pbear.
Just a thought here - can this bug be circumvented by running the installation process from a virtual machine? The USB stick would be attached to the host machine but whatever changes the installer attempts to make won't matter cuz the virtual hard disk would be empty anyway.
I was very interested in the idea of installing from a VM. I want to install Linux Mint 19.1 on an external USB drive. I have it running in a VM on Win10 fully installed to a virtual HD, I also have it on a usb flashdrive with persistence but the limitation of that is a 4 gig storage space limit.

Anyway in my VM install of Mint there is no option to do an install somewhere else, I suppose if you were to try it, it would be when you first partly install and there is an install opportunity?

I have started twice to do the install to the external USB drive from my USB flash drive Mint but have chickened out when I could not figure out the choices to install to plus the thought of the bug.

Initially I followed one of the guides I found but it pooched my Win10 MBR and would not boot up anyway. I have much important stuff on My Win10 so I am beyond apprehensive about trying an install again.

I hoped one day someone would have figured out a simple way to just install to a target drive and it would do the disk management and put the grub stuff in the right place (it is 2019 afterall) installing something should not be hard or require pixi dust and mirrors to get it done.

If there is any progress on this matter I would be very very interested in knowing.

Thank you
D.

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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by phd21 » Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:51 am

Hi ganamant,

I just read your post and some of the good replies to it. Here are my thoughts on this as well.

I would recommend using the whole 32gb for fully installing Linux Mint onto the USB stick which is more secure than a USB Stick with persistence. It is fairly simple to fully install Linux Mint onto a USB stick.

How to fully Install Linux Mint to USB Stick - YouTube
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v_INn5_mXAI&t=9s

You can also use Aptik to backup your applications and settings (do not include your home folder) if you want from a fully installed Linux Mint system and then install Aptik on the USB stick Linux Mint and restore your Aptik backup.


There are also ways to get over the 4gb limit with USB Sticks with persistence.

[Tutorial] Live usb with persistence over 4GB - Linux Mint Forums
viewtopic.php?f=42&t=229086&hilit=usb+persistence


Hope this helps ...
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by pbear » Wed Mar 20, 2019 1:22 am

DRL wrote:
Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:20 am
Anyway in my VM install of Mint there is no option to do an install somewhere else, I suppose if you were to try it, it would be when you first partly install and there is an install opportunity?
What you would do is open Settings and reinsert the ISO you used to create the VM. This will boot a live session. I've not gone the next step of installing to a USB drive, but I'm pretty sure it will work.

As I mentioned above, though, the problem is VBox by default boots in BIOS mode. There's an experimental EFI mode, but I couldn't get it to boot a live Mint ISO. On reflection, though, I realize that was VBox 5.2 rather than 6.0 (the current version). If you want to give it a shot, make a clone of your VM and you have nothing to lose. Does have to be a clone, though, I think, as you need guest additions to mount the USB drive.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by Valsodar » Wed Mar 20, 2019 9:04 am

DRL wrote:
Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:20 am
Anyway in my VM install of Mint there is no option to do an install somewhere else
Yes, there is. But for that option to work, first you must make settings to the VM when it's turned off - attach the USB stick to the real machine and in settings you have to add the flash drive as a storage device, along with the virtual hard drive you created initially. When the installer asks you whether you want it to automatically partiton the disk, you just select "other" or "manual partitioning" and click "proceed". Then the installer will open a window where you can select and manage the available partitions. Just select the flash drive from the drop-down menu, choose file system, mount point, etc. - just like you do for a normal installation. If the flash drive is, per say, /dev/sdg and you want that linux installation to be bootable on every single computer, just choose /dev/sdg1 as a location for the boot loader.
I did something similar some time ago, altough it wasn't a flash drive but an external USB hard disk. The client wanted to be able to run his OS on all devices he attached the hard drive to (PC, laptops, servers) and that's the way I did it.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by pbear » Wed Mar 20, 2019 4:21 pm

So, I gave it a whirl, installing in EFI from VirtualBox 6.0. Good news is it worked. Notably, able to get Mint to boot in EFI mode, where could not with 5.2. (Always possible I did something wrong the first time, but pretty sure not.) On the other hand, was complicated, fiddly, took much longer than the workarounds linked above (which, I don't claim to have invented, so don't have an ego investment) AND blew up the bootloader for the VM.

If someone wants to try, be sure to install base system in BIOS (otherwise, you'll run into the bug and the USB won't boot independently), install guest additions and clone. Then modify Settings of the clone to select EFI mode (one of the System options) and insert to the virtual optical drive the ISO being installed (I misspoke earlier, doesn't have to be the same as the base install). Attach target USB drive; boot VM and claim USB from Devices. The rest, as Valsodar says, basically like a standard install. Create a gpt partition table with GPartted; create an EFI partition at least 200 MB, format fat32 and flag boot/esp; create root and other partitions as usual. Install with Something Else option, designating sdb1 (or whatever) as destination for bootloader (unlike BIOS, where the primary bootloader goes on the device, an EFI bootloader goes on a partition), sdb2 for root, etc. Let 'er rip, which was hella slow. Tried two different host machines. I assume this is due to the VBox/USB interface. Shutdown. Test USB drive on a UEFI computer. Boot the clone, if you like, to confirm it has been hosed, then delete. Frankly, it's interesting this works, but not something I'll be doing again.

By the way, rummaging around last night on the internet I tumbled over a really simple solution I've not seen before, to wit, unflag the internal drive's EFI partition, install to USB, then restore the internal drive boot flags. Haven't had the gumption to test yet, but it's endorsed by senior Ubuntu Forum guru sudodus, so I probably will eventually (after making a copy of the partition for insurance, another idea mentioned in the thread).

ETA: Curiosity got the better of me, so went ahead and tested the unflag/reflag strategy. Yup, it works. When done, the Win10 machine on which I did the test booted like nothing had happened. USB drive boots fine. Kind of funny to find such a simple solution after almost two years of looking.

ETA2: On further testing of the VBox method, I realize I was crossing up which things require guest additions. Mounting USB drives does not, though it does of course require the extension pack. This means a bare VM, just the hardware, RAM and virtual CD drive are sufficient; in particular, no virtual hard drive is needed and no prior installation. That makes VBox a more viable option, I think, so I've incorporated it into my tutorial linked above. Editing this post to correct my comments about guest additions on the off chance someone finds the thread by Forum search.
Last edited by pbear on Mon Apr 08, 2019 11:02 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by DRL » Wed Mar 20, 2019 8:03 pm

DRL wrote:
Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:20 am
Valsodar wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:10 pm
arvy wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 3:14 pm
Setting aside those specific questions just momentarily, the first issue to be aware of would be the Ubuntu installer bug that can arise when installing Mint to a USB stick. Its has potentially destructive results for the existing boot setup on the machine where that process is carried out. Depending on how much "stuff" you actually need beyond what booting Mint "live" on the borrowed machine could accommodate, there are workarounds for that installer bug. See these "Three Options" as posted by pbear.
Just a thought here - can this bug be circumvented by running the installation process from a virtual machine? The USB stick would be attached to the host machine but whatever changes the installer attempts to make won't matter cuz the virtual hard disk would be empty anyway.
I was very interested in the idea of installing from a VM. I want to install Linux Mint 19.1 on an external USB drive. I have it running in a VM on Win10 fully installed to a virtual HD, I also have it on a usb flashdrive with persistence but the limitation of that is a 4 gig storage space limit.

Anyway in my VM install of Mint there is no option to do an install somewhere else, I suppose if you were to try it, it would be when you first partly install and there is an install opportunity?

I have started twice to do the install to the external USB drive from my USB flash drive Mint but have chickened out when I could not figure out the choices to install to plus the thought of the bug.

Initially I followed one of the guides I found but it pooched my Win10 MBR and would not boot up anyway. I have much important stuff on My Win10 so I am beyond apprehensive about trying an install again.

I hoped one day someone would have figured out a simple way to just install to a target drive and it would do the disk management and put the grub stuff in the right place (it is 2019 afterall) installing something should not be hard or require pixi dust and mirrors to get it done.

If there is any progress on this matter I would be very very interested in knowing.

Thank you
D.
Happy update, so after doing my whining :-) I installed a mint 19.1 in a VM under win10.

I went for the full install but made sure the settings for USB included the external drive.

I then proceeded to do a full install-- when the install got to the place for "where" I selected other thing, I saw my external drive so I selected it for boot drive. It had 2 partitions so I selected one for the system files and formatted it to use as /. I selected the 2nd and formatted it for /home and went ahead. It did install with no issues.

Not all the Mint 19.1 distro allow that choice, cinnamon did not, xfce did. Which worked out well because that is what is on my flashdrive with persistence.

The install went straight through no issues except the following

When I booted into it their were no drivers for wifi in the repository, the manager said insert CD or USB drive, so I inserted my USB with xfce on it and it got the driver repository immediately and the driver was available so all was good.

I would like to redo the install because I had no clue as to what the 2 partitions should have been for either size or type or format. If someone would care to lay that out I would appreciate it for the proper install.

It does work but I would just as soon it be done right, right now there are 2 equal partitions of 250 gig, one formatted for ??2 and the other for ??4. I chose / for one and /home for the other.

The important thing is it was safe the only drives visible to install were the VM virtual disk and my external USB drive so no danger to my Win 10 setup.

Hope this helps someone

D.

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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by DRL » Sun Mar 24, 2019 12:13 am

DRL wrote:
Wed Mar 20, 2019 8:03 pm
DRL wrote:
Wed Mar 20, 2019 12:20 am
Valsodar wrote:
Sun Mar 17, 2019 6:10 pm


Just a thought here - can this bug be circumvented by running the installation process from a virtual machine? The USB stick would be attached to the host machine but whatever changes the installer attempts to make won't matter cuz the virtual hard disk would be empty anyway.
I was very interested in the idea of installing from a VM. I want to install Linux Mint 19.1 on an external USB drive. I have it running in a VM on Win10 fully installed to a virtual HD, I also have it on a usb flashdrive with persistence but the limitation of that is a 4 gig storage space limit.

Anyway in my VM install of Mint there is no option to do an install somewhere else, I suppose if you were to try it, it would be when you first partly install and there is an install opportunity?

I have started twice to do the install to the external USB drive from my USB flash drive Mint but have chickened out when I could not figure out the choices to install to plus the thought of the bug.

Initially I followed one of the guides I found but it pooched my Win10 MBR and would not boot up anyway. I have much important stuff on My Win10 so I am beyond apprehensive about trying an install again.

I hoped one day someone would have figured out a simple way to just install to a target drive and it would do the disk management and put the grub stuff in the right place (it is 2019 afterall) installing something should not be hard or require pixi dust and mirrors to get it done.

If there is any progress on this matter I would be very very interested in knowing.

Thank you
D.
Happy update, so after doing my whining :-) I installed a mint 19.1 in a VM under win10.

I went for the full install but made sure the settings for USB included the external drive.

I then proceeded to do a full install-- when the install got to the place for "where" I selected other thing, I saw my external drive so I selected it for boot drive. It had 2 partitions so I selected one for the system files and formatted it to use as /. I selected the 2nd and formatted it for /home and went ahead. It did install with no issues.

Not all the Mint 19.1 distro allow that choice, cinnamon did not, xfce did. Which worked out well because that is what is on my flashdrive with persistence.

The install went straight through no issues except the following

When I booted into it their were no drivers for wifi in the repository, the manager said insert CD or USB drive, so I inserted my USB with xfce on it and it got the driver repository immediately and the driver was available so all was good.

I would like to redo the install because I had no clue as to what the 2 partitions should have been for either size or type or format. If someone would care to lay that out I would appreciate it for the proper install.

It does work but I would just as soon it be done right, right now there are 2 equal partitions of 250 gig, one formatted for ??2 and the other for ??4. I chose / for one and /home for the other.

The important thing is it was safe the only drives visible to install were the VM virtual disk and my external USB drive so no danger to my Win 10 setup.

Hope this helps someone

D.
Just a follow up... Since the install from a Mint VM went so well and easy, I reformatted the external USB drive and partitioned more correctly with 3 partitions for root - swap - home.

I then used the same procedure to create a live Mint USB thumb drive with no issues whatsoever.

I highly recommend this no risk to your win MBR method of creating live installs with no fuss and no muss.

D.

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Re: Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by pbear » Sun Mar 24, 2019 12:44 am

Please boot your full install USB, run the following command in Terminal (use copy and paste) and let us know what is reported. Thanks.

Code: Select all

[ -d /sys/firmware/efi ] && echo "Currently in UEFI mode" || echo "Currently in Legacy mode"
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Re: [Alternative solution found] Running Mint from a USB stick

Post by ganamant » Mon Mar 25, 2019 3:46 am

Thank you all for helping. I finally gave up on installing Mint as too involved and probably too slow and settled on Slax, hence my edit of the post's title. Slax is not Ubuntu-based, but at least it's based on Debian, so I do feel comfortable with it. I'm still trying to figure out that module thing to make the barren and stripped-down live distro feel like home. The big advantage is that I can run it from a standard, FAT-formatted USB stick with very little low-level hassle. I did hear of Slax before, but I was not aware that the codebase had switched from Slackware to Debian recently.

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