How to Install an Operating System on a Raspberry Pi

Christian Cawley Updated 22-03-2019

Your Raspberry Pi doesn’t come with an operating system pre-installed.


This means you can choose from a wide of OSs, each of which can be flashed to your Raspberry Pi’s SD card. Here’s how to get a new OS installed and running on your Raspberry Pi, using Windows, macOS, or Linux.

Choosing Your Raspberry Pi Operating System

So many operating systems are available to run on your Raspberry Pi. From the recommended Raspbian Stretch (and its Lite alternative) to Ubuntu MATE, via OSs for Kodi, RetroPie, and many other projects, via several Linux and non-Linux alternatives 9 Raspberry Pi Operating Systems That Aren't Linux Looking for a Raspberry Pi OS but want to avoid Linux? Check this list of non-Linux Raspberry Pi operating systems for ideas. Read More , the choice is massive. If you want Windows functionality, you can set up Raspberry Pi as a Windows thin client.

Our list of operating systems for the Raspberry Pi 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 will give you a flavor of what is available. Whichever OS you choose, be sure to download it to your PC in advance. This will be an ISO or IMG file ready to be written to your Raspberry Pi’s SD card.

Flashing an Operating System to Your Raspberry Pi

To install an OS to your Raspberry Pi, you’ll Etcher. This is a tool for writing disk images to flash storage, whether an SD card or a USB thumb drive. It’s a simple mouse-driven app, available for Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Download: Etcher (Free)


Use Etcher to write data to your SD card

With Etcher installed and running, you’ll notice three buttons.

All you need to do is click each in turn. Begin with Select Image, then browse to your chosen operating system’s ISO or IMG file. Next, click Select Drive to choose the SD card. Etcher is smart enough to detect any SD card connected to or inserted in your PC, but it’s worth checking that the right one is detected.

Finally, click Flash to begin writing the data. You don’t need to format the SD card as Etcher will handle this.


When done, click OK to finish, then exit Etcher. Eject the SD card, and insert it into your powered-off Raspberry Pi. Connect the power cable and wait as the computer boots the operating system.

If using Etcher to install an operating system seems difficult, why not purchase an SD card with Raspbian pre-installed? This uses the NOOBS installation system, which we’ll look at below.

Raspberry Pi 32GB Preloaded (NOOBS) SD Card Raspberry Pi 32GB Preloaded (NOOBS) SD Card Buy Now On Amazon $17.99

Booting Raspbian for the First Time

With Raspbian installed, you’ll need to login with the following credentials:


Username: pi
Password: raspberry

For other operating systems, check the documentation to find the default login credentials.

Remember that the password will not be displayed as you type it; there are no Windows-style * symbols representing the letters. Instead, it will appear that you haven’t entered a password. This is a security feature in Linux to prevent people guessing the length of your passphrase. Just type the password regardless.

Once Raspbian has booted, change your password by running:

sudo raspi-config

Select the Change Password option and follow the on-screen instructions.

Installing Operating Systems With NOOBS

For a simpler, more streamlined install of the more popular Raspberry Pi distros, you can employ NOOBS.

An acronym for the New Out Of Box Software installation system, this features Arch Linux, OpenELEC Kodi, RISC OS, and more alongside Raspbian.

Install one or more Raspberry Pi operating systems with NOOBS

NOOBS is available from and doesn’t require “writing” to SD card in the way Raspbian and other Raspberry Pi operating systems do.

You will need a formatted SD card greater than 4GB. When downloading NOOBS, note that offline and online installers are available, differing in size; the smaller download will require that your Raspberry Pi is connected to the internet via Ethernet.

A keyboard and/or mouse and HDMI display are needed to access the menu to install an OS with NOOBS.

With the Raspberry Pi booted into the NOOBS interface, you can choose your operating system(s). NOOBS isn’t the only option here, however, so check our comparison of NOOBS, Berryboot, and PINN installation systems NOOBS vs. BerryBoot: Which Is Best for Installing a Raspberry Pi OS? Want to install a Raspberry Pi operating system without messing around with image files and SD card writing programs? It's easy with NOOBS and BerryBoot... but which option is best? Read More for the Raspberry Pi.

Perfecting Your Raspberry Pi OS

Different Raspberry Pi projects require a varying amount of software; it really all depends on what you’re planning to do.

For instance, you might want to use your Raspberry Pi as a media center. If so, you might use NOOBS to install one of the Kodi options.

Install OSMC for Raspberry Pi 3

With this done, you will then need to install whatever updates are available. There may be other applications that you need, or add-ons such as Vimeo or YouTube, perhaps the TED Talk channel, etc.

As with any computer system, installing the operating system is only the first step. Updates, optional software and other tools will also need to be added before you’re happy that the Raspberry Pi is ready for its intended use. The same process would be followed for whatever Raspberry Pi projects you have in mind 26 Awesome Uses for a Raspberry Pi Which Raspberry Pi project should you start with? Here's our roundup of the best Raspberry Pi uses and projects around! Read More .

Disaster Management: Cloning the OS

The point at which you’re happy with the installed OS is precisely when you should make a clone of it. This like making a backup of your PC and saving the data to a hard drive. Cheaper SD cards often corrupt when disconnecting the power supply, so having a backup is a smart option.

Several tools are available for making a full backup image of your Raspberry Pi’s SD card. Once the backup is made, it can be easily flashed to a different SD card following a system error.

Find out more in our comprehensive explanation of cloning your Raspberry Pi SD card 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 .

Installing an OS on a Raspberry Pi Is Easy

One thing is clear about the Raspberry Pi: it relies on the SD card to on extent or another. As such, understanding how to use this type of media with the little computer is vital.

Writing an operating system to SD card is the Raspberry Pi equivalent of installing an operating system. As you’ll have noticed, it’s much quicker than installing Windows to a HDD, and with NOOBS doing the hard work, even simpler!

Not keen on relying on the SD card? Try booting your Raspberry Pi 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 .

Related topics: Data Backup, Data Recovery, DIY Project Tutorials, 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. Shivaprasad
    March 25, 2019 at 10:20 am

    Can I use LCD screen ????

  2. Francis Gan
    January 9, 2018 at 1:17 pm

    How to use the laptop computer screen for the Raspberry pi 3model b
    After I have used Etcher to write the Rasberian OS from Magpi?

    Thanks for your sharing.

  3. Pavan
    September 16, 2016 at 11:20 am

    Can we change the OS running in raspberrypi by just changing the sd card with other OS.
    Like if i m running ubuntu with one sd card & i want to change it with android OS which is stored in other sd card. & vice versa.

  4. Anonymous
    June 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

    If once an OS is installed on my Pi, can I erase that OS and program my Pi for another project?

    • Christian Cawley
      June 15, 2016 at 10:09 am

      You can simply reformat the SD card install a new OS to it.

  5. Asha
    April 13, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    Is it possible to use clone of a raspberry pi on another raspberry pi.. Will img file work on all raspberry pi s.. Or is there any changes to be done while installing image file

    • Christian Cawley
      April 13, 2016 at 7:58 pm

      Hi Asha - this should work.

  6. Anonymous
    October 5, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    After installing flashing my MicroSd card with win32 disk imager it detects that my disk now only has 255 mb of which most are written. Is this normal?

  7. Anonymous
    June 18, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Is there a guide somewhere for installing Android on a Pi?

  8. dragonmouth
    January 21, 2015 at 11:39 pm

    "This is not a weakness, however, rather a feature "
    It's NOT a bug, it's a feature! LOL