Portable mode

How to set up Zero Install on a USB thumb drive:

  1. Connect a thumb drive to the computer and make sure there are no files you still need on it.
  2. Format the thumb drive with NTFS (FAT32 will not work, see below for explanation).
  3. Download and run Zero Install.
  4. Select “Tools” and “Portable Creator” at the bottom of the window.
  5. Follow the instructions on screen.

You can now use your thumb drive to run Zero Install on any Windows Computer with the .NET Framework 2.0 (which is built-in starting with Vista). Zero Install stores downloaded applications directly on the stick so you can access the same applications everywhere. Please remember to always “eject” the thumb drive in Windows before disconnecting it from the computer.


The applications launched by Zero Install are not automatically made portable by this. They still store their settings in the usual locations. Please make sure to move these files to the thumb drive as necessary.

Portable versions of Zero Install cannot perform desktop integration (e.g. create start menu entries). Consider using regular Zero Install on multiple computers with Zero Install Sync instead.

Technical details

FAT/FAT32-formatted drives cannot be used for Zero Install because they do not store file security settings (ACLs). They also only store time with an accuracy of two seconds while Zero Install checks the exact modification time of files.

The portable creator creates a file in the destination directory called _portable, which instructs Zero Install to run in portable mode. When this file is detected Zero Install stores all its files in its installation directory instead of the usual system directories.