How to Get Ubuntu Running on Your Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley 19-07-2017

Raspbian Jessie 5 Ways New Raspbian Jessie Makes Raspberry Pi Even Easier to Use Following the release of Debian Jessie in July, the Raspberry Pi community has been blessed with a new release of the Raspbian variant, based on the "parent" distro. Read More is a great operating system for the Raspberry Pi, but if you want a more traditional Linux computing experience, you might be looking for a different OS.


Many operating systems are available for the Raspberry Pi, among them Ubuntu. But surely that’s a desktop operating system? Well, yes, and no.

In fact, Ubuntu is a desktop OS as well as a server OS. And both variants can be run on a Raspberry Pi 2 or 3. Several paths to installation on your Raspberry Pi’s SD card are available, and we’re going to take a look at each below.

Meet Ubuntu MATE

For Ubuntu to run on the Raspberry Pi as an alternative to Raspbian, you’ll need to use the dedicated Ubuntu MATE version from As you’ve already guessed, this is a version of Ubuntu with the MATE desktop environment, built for the Raspberry Pi.

ubuntu mate menu

In the desktop computing world, alternatives to MATE are available (such as GNOME 2.0). However, the MATE environment is low enough on system resources to run comfortably on the Raspberry Pi.


Buy a New SD Card

The first thing you will need to do is get hold of a microSD card suitable for running Ubuntu MATE. This should be a Class 6 or Class 10 microSDHC, at least 6 GB in capacity. A good quality SD card is required for speed and data correction purposes.

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With the card ready, it should be inserted into your desktop computer or laptop, awaiting a copy of Ubuntu MATE.

Ubuntu MATE Download

Once you’re ready, it’s time to download Ubuntu MATE and write the disk image to your microSD card. You’ll find the Ubuntu MATE 16.04.2 LTS version at has a Raspberry Pi 2 and 3 option, so use this. You’ll find options to download directly, or via BitTorrent (contrary to popular myth, BitTorrent is quite legal 8 Legal Uses for BitTorrent: You'd Be Surprised Like HTTP, which your browser uses to communicate with websites, BitTorrent is just a protocol. You could use your browser to download pirated content, just as you could use a BitTorrent client to download pirated... Read More ).


Once downloaded, you’ll need to decompress the data and write the disk image to your microSD card. You might even leave a tip.

How to Write Ubuntu MATE to microSD

Different options are available for writing a disk image to a microSD card. It depends on what operating system you’re using. If you’re using Windows, for instance, then the Win32DiskImager tool is ideal. We previously covered using this for installing a Raspberry Pi operating system How to Install an Operating System on a Raspberry Pi Here's how to install an OS on your Raspberry Pi and how to clone your perfect setup for quick disaster recovery. Read More .

ubuntu mate win32diskimager

If you’re using Linux or macOS, you’ll need to use the dd command. Linux users can also try the gddrescue utility, which introduces the ddrescue command. Install in the usual way, along with xz-utils (line 1), then uncompress (line 2) and write to the microSD card (line 3):

sudo apt-get install gddrescue xz-utils
unxz ubuntu-mate-16.04.2-desktop-armhf-raspberry-pi.img.xz
sudo ddrescue -D --force ubuntu-mate-16.04.2-desktop-armhf-raspberry-pi.img /dev/[sdx]

You’ll need to use the lsblk command to check the mounted location of the microSD card. It will typically be sda or sdb.

Our look at managing SD cards in Linux How to Write, Format and Manage an SD Card in Linux There are multiple ways to configure an SD card in Linux, either from the command line or using a graphical application. Here's how you do it. Read More explains more about the dd command. Meanwhile, Linux users preferring a graphical tool should consider GNOME Disks. Install this with:

sudo apt-get install gnome-disk-utility

gnome disks format

Whichever method you use, wait for the image to be written to the microSD card, and end the program. Then safely eject the card and insert it into your Raspberry Pi.


Booting Ubuntu MATE for the First Time

To save time in setting up wireless networking, connect the Pi to a display. This might be your TV (via HDMI or RGB 5 Ways to Display Your Raspberry Pi On a Monitor Or TV Back in the 1980s and 1990s, home computers didn’t rely on dedicated monitors to display operating systems, applications and games. In those days, things were far simpler. Instead of paying extra for a monitor, the... Read More ) or perhaps an official Raspberry Pi touchscreen display How to Setup Your Raspberry Pi Touchscreen The Raspberry Pi comes with a variety of useful add-ons, but one piece of kit that has proved particularly popular is the Raspberry Pi 7-inch Touchscreen Display. Here's how to set one up. Read More . Have a mouse or keyboard handy too at this stage.

Then, boot up and run through the usual Ubuntu setup, flavored with MATE. You’ll need to configure the regional settings and configure your username and password, for instance.

ubuntu mate raspi config

At this stage, you’re done. Ubuntu MATE is ready to use as your Raspberry Pi’s operating system. And if you need to tweak anything, the Raspberry Pi Configuration Tool is still available via the command line!

Ubuntu Server for Raspberry Pi 2 and 3

Running a desktop operating system is one thing. But what about a server for the Raspberry Pi?

Distinct versions are available for the Raspberry Pi 2 and for the Raspberry Pi 3 — note that only the Pi 2 image is official and supported by Canonical.

You can install these to microSD card as per the instructions for Ubuntu MATE, above. Once you’ve done this, you should boot the Pi, and make some customizations.

Most of these are available via an unofficial PPA Linux PPAs: Installation, Removal, and Security PPAs -- personal package archives -- are a way to install Linux software via the Terminal. But are they safe to use? How can you remove a PPA? And which are the safest PPAs to... Read More , and include:

  • libraspberrypi-bin — A collection of VideoCore utilities, such as raspistill.
  • libraspberrypi-bin-nonfree — Non-open source VideoCore utilities.
  • xserver-xorg-video-fbturbo — Accelerated video driver, limited to window moving/scrolling.

Install the PPA with:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ubuntu-raspi2/ppa
sudo apt-get update

As this is a server OS, you’ll need to connect via SSH to install these or any other applications.

Need a Desktop? Try This

Not happy with command line-only access? You need a desktop! Fortunately, some desktop options are available for Ubuntu Server on the Raspberry Pi. Try installing xubuntu-desktop, lubuntu-desktop, or kubuntu-desktop as a new desktop. For example, for Xubuntu, use:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

Note that Kubuntu will run slow until you disable Desktop Effects in System Settings. Otherwise, these are the only three desktops currently available that are suitable for the Raspberry Pi. Unity and Ubuntu-GNOME will not run on the Raspberry Pi (likely due to the need for 3D compositing).

Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi: Try It!

Who knew how easy it was to run Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi? Best of all, you have two options, desktop and server, that can be easily installed. Have you tried Ubuntu MATE on your Raspberry Pi? Perhaps you opted to use Ubuntu Server?

Whatever your experience of Ubuntu on the Raspberry Pi, we want to hear from you. Tell us about it in the comments.

Image Credit: goodcat via

Related topics: Linux, Raspberry Pi, Ubuntu.

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  1. An
    April 22, 2020 at 5:51 pm

    Originally installed an early release of MATE on a 3B, but gave up with it - extremely slow and buggy, and would freeze repeatedly - even after several attempts at installation.
    The new version is easier to install, but also has some odd bugs. I made several installations, and no two were the same - the panels would be in different place, or raspi-config would not run. It was also, in every case, extremely slow(click on something, and maybe two or three minutes later it would react). I bought a new Samsung sd card to see if that was the problem, but it still was the same. Give it a miss until it has developed further.