DIY Linux

3 Ways to Boot Multiple OSes on a Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley Updated 16-07-2020

The Raspberry Pi is usually set up with a single operating system that boots from the SD card. However, this can prove restrictive to some users. For example, you might want to install multiple versions of the Raspberry Pi OS for different projects. Or you might want to multiboot your Raspberry Pi 4 with Kodi, RetroPie, and Ubuntu MATE.


Different options are available for multibooting a Raspberry Pi, depending on your model and preferred storage media. Here’s how to install multiple Raspberry Pi OSs for dual boot and multiboot use.

Why You Need Multiple OSs on the Raspberry Pi

The Raspberry Pi has so many strengths. It’s flexible, as suitable as a desktop computer as a development environment for kids. Its versatility and portability surpass the competition 5 Raspberry Pi Alternatives You Need to Know About The Raspberry Pi is no longer the only board in town. We cover some of our favourite competitors, and why you might want to buy one. Read More thanks to an imaginative community and support from the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

But the Raspberry Pi does have one key shortcoming. Booting the operating system from the SD card means that the Pi is locked to a certain configuration. This can prove problematic if you’re working on, say, a camera project and want to switch to a Bluetooth speaker.

Usually, you have two options here:

  1. Back up the OS Easily Clone Your SD Card For Trouble-free Raspberry Pi Computing Whether you have one SD card or several, one thing that you will need is the ability to back up your cards to avoid the problems that occur when your Raspberry Pi fails to boot. Read More , reformat the SD card, and write a fresh new version,
  2. Buy a new SD card 5 Mistakes to Avoid When Buying a MicroSD Card Buying MicroSD cards may seem simple, but here are a few critical mistakes to avoid if you don't want to regret your purchase. Read More and keep a record of what is on which SD card

However, a third option, usually overlooked, is available: installing multiple operating systems on your Pi. Let’s look at how that works.


SD Card, USB Storage, or Network Multiboot?

In the early days of the Raspberry Pi, there was only one choice for operating system boot media: SD card.

As the platform has progressed, however, so more options have been added. Since the release of the Raspberry Pi 3, it has been possible to program the board to boot from USB How to Make Raspberry Pi 3 Boot From USB The Raspberry Pi is a versatile piece of kit, capable of a diverse range of tasks. But it has one glaring flaw: the inability to boot from USB. Until now, that is. Read More .

This has resulted in USB flash drives, USB hard disk drives (HDDs), and USB solid-state drives (SSDs) replacing SD cards. In the case of USB flash drives, these are low power devices suited to the Raspberry Pi. Most USB HDDs and SSDs, however, require independent power supplies, albeit with some exceptions.

For example, Western Digital’s Labs team (WD Labs) released a (now discontinued) range of “PiDrive” HDDs that shared the Raspberry Pi’s power connection.


The Raspberry Pi 3 also introduced network booting to the platform. Using PXE (Pre eXecution Environment), the Pi 3 and later models can be booted from server-hosted images.

1. Multiple Pi Operating Systems With NOOBS

Raspberry Pi NOOBS software

NOOBS can be used to simply install multiple OSs on your Raspberry Pi SD card.

You have a choice of two NOOBS versions. One is an online installer that downloads the operating systems you choose. The other is an offline installer with all the operating systems pre-loaded for you to select from. Use the version that suits your internet connection.


To install a Raspberry Pi operating system with NOOBS:

  1. Download the installer
  2. Unzip the contents
  3. Copy them to your formatted SD card
  4. Insert the card in your Raspberry Pi
  5. Boot the Pi
  6. Navigate the NOOBS menu

In the menu, select one or more operating systems to be installed. Several operating systems are available, from the Raspberry Pi OS to media center options like OpenElec.

When you’re done, each time you boot the Pi you can choose which OS you want to run.

NOOBS can be used with any model of Raspberry Pi.


2. Multiboot Your Raspberry Pi With BerryBoot

Use BerryBoot to run multiple Raspberry Pi operating systems

Before NOOBS there was BerryBoot. It’s a bootloader, rather than an installer. This slight difference means that it is optimized to run multiple operating systems.

Like NOOBS, BerryBoot requires you to download a file, unzip, and copy the contents to a formatted SD card. Unlike NOOBS, however, BerryBoot has no offline installer. You’ll need to ensure your Raspberry Pi is online to download your chosen operating systems.

BerryBoot supports installation to SD card, USB devices, and even network drives. To install multiple Raspberry Pi operating systems with BerryBoot:

  1. Download BerryBoot
  2. Extract ZIP file to a formatted SD card
  3. Insert the card in your Raspberry Pi
  4. Power up the Raspberry Pi
  5. Select and install one or more operating systems
  6. Choose which OS you wish to use each time you boot your Raspberry Pi

Our full guide to multibooting a Raspberry Pi with BerryBoot How to Dual Boot a Raspberry Pi Using BerryBoot Want to install multiple operating systems on your Raspberry Pi? Dual booting is the answer, and BerryBoot is one of the best tools for that. Read More outlines these steps in greater detail.

Like NOOBS, BerryBoot will run on any version of the Raspberry Pi board.

3. Network Boot Multiple Raspberry Pi Operating Systems With PiServer

Finally, there is the network booting option. This comes built into the Raspberry Pi OS desktop but requires that all devices connect over Ethernet. Wi-Fi is not supported.

However, it is ideal if regular replacement of your Pi’s SD card has become an issue. With network booting, the SD card isn’t required—the Pi boots from a disk image stored on a network drive. The Raspberry Pi website provides a detailed explanation on how to set up PXE booting with PiServer.

Using this method, you could maintain multiple Raspberry Pi OS environments, one for development, another for desktop productivity. Simply reboot the Raspberry Pi to select a different OS. The server will back up the operating system, too, meaning you won’t be prone to corrupt SD cards.

This option is most suitable for Raspberry Pi 3 and later.

Multiboot: The Future of Raspberry Pi Computing!

The days of having to repeatedly reformat your Raspberry Pi’s SD card to start a new project are now over. All you need is a multiple boot tool! Once you’re done, you’ll have every Raspberry Pi OS you need, restricted only by the size of your storage device.

While NOOBS and BerryBoot make good use of your physical storage, the PiServer option is potentially the biggest game changer. Having said that, NOOBS is certainly the simplest Raspberry Pi multiboot installer.

Now you just need to choose which Raspberry Pi operating systems to install 23 Operating Systems That Run on Your Raspberry Pi Whatever your Raspberry Pi project, there's an operating system for it. Here are the best Raspberry Pi operating systems! Read More .

Related topics: Dual Boot, Linux Distro, Operating Systems, Raspberry Pi.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. mukhi
    January 18, 2020 at 10:08 am

    3 questions:
    Does Pi 4 allow the use of exFAT? Or you must use FAT32 (that doesn't allow storing files with sizes > 4 GB)?
    What's the SD card size limit now with Pi 4?
    Is a dual boot with Ubuntu possible?
    Thanks in advance.

  2. PiPhi
    July 10, 2019 at 10:40 pm

    Thank you for the interesting article!
    Regards the PiDrive, I read the following in a Lifehacker article by Thorin Klosowski:

    “Sadly, only Raspbian and Raspbian Lite are included as installation options here, leaving a hole where the OSMC media center software or RetroPie game emulator software would have made a heck of a lot of sense as options. Of course, you can install those manually once Project Spaces sets up each partition, but it’s not totally the one-click installer I was hoping for.”

    I would really appreciate any advice you might provide for achieving this.

    I am running Foundation Edition on the WD 64GB USB Flash PiDrive on my Pi-Top [3]/V2 and, amongst other Project Spaces, set up a couple of 16GB partitions currently occupied by Raspbian Lite OS.

    I have downloaded PolarisOS as a zip file on my Pi-Top and would really like to be able to extract the contents to one of the aforementioned 16GB Project Spaces but I am not sure to which file I should extract them.

    I presume one of the root files? I have root, root0 and root1, which would seem to correspond to the number or Project Spaces I setup on the 64GB USB Flash PiDrive but how do I tell from which one of these I remove the Raspbian .img file to replace with the PolarisOS .img file?

    Regards BerryBoot, from what I’ve read, this partitioning software for multiple OSes doesn’t seem to be easily updated from within the OS in use on your Raspberry Pi; you have to wait ‘til the individual who runs BerryBoot provides updates for their software?

  3. Bob
    December 28, 2018 at 11:55 pm

    Is there any way to select a default operating system that automatically boots after some period of time so the RP can be used in headless mode when configured to run Kodi?

  4. Hugh
    October 10, 2018 at 4:06 pm

    Seems that it is on purpose to publish empty ans useless articles.

  5. James
    May 14, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Your link to the Berryboot tutorial just reloads this page :(