How To Install An Operating System To Your Raspberry Pi
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Your Raspberry Pi doesn’t come with an operating system. This is not a weakness, however, rather a feature that means you can choose from a wide of OSs, each of which can be flashed to an SD card (or microSD card for the Raspberry Pi B+ The Raspberry Pi B+ Is Here. What's Changed? The Raspberry Pi B+ Is Here. What's Changed? Read More ) in a few simple steps. Here’s how to get a new OS installed and running on your Pi – and how to clone your perfect setup for quick disaster recovery.

Operating systems such as the recommended Raspbian Optimize The Power Of Your Raspberry Pi With Raspbian Optimize The Power Of Your Raspberry Pi With Raspbian As befits a man with too much tech on his hands, I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi recently, configuring the device so that it works to its fullest potential. It continues to run as... Read More , ArchLinux, Risc OS and even Android come ready to run on your Raspberry Pi. I’ll show you the two main ways add an operating system – and once you’ve got your Pi setup how you want it, we’ll look at how to clone the card so that it can be restored following errors (or for temporary reuse of your SD card).

The following tutorials assume that you have a basic Raspberry Pi package What Is The True Cost Of Running a Raspberry Pi? What Is The True Cost Of Running a Raspberry Pi? The Raspberry Pi - a small, compact and versatile computer, capable of processing HDMI and MPEG-2 being the central component of any number of weekend projects from retro gaming stations and media centres to smart... Read More  and Windows to manage your SD card writing and cloning.

Flash An OS To SD And Boot Your Raspberry Pi

Whichever operating system you download for your Raspberry Pi, the process of writing it to an SD card is the same. However, there are some differences in SD card writing between desktop operating systems. You’ll also need to ensure that your card is blank and formatted, and at least 2 GB.


For Windows users (and also those of you with Mac OS X) the tool of choice for writing a Raspberry Pi OS image to SD card is SD Formatter, from the SD Association. With the card inserted into your computer’s card reader, and ensuring you have the correct Drive letter selected in the drop down menu, open the Option menu and select Full (Erase)  and On. This ensures that the full capacity of the storage card will be available.

Click OK, then Format to begin.

To write the disk image, use Win32DiskImager, available from Sourceforge. You may need to run with administrator privileges. Select the correct drive letter for your SD card, browse to the image file and click Write to commence the process. Win32DiskImager will inform you when the data has been written.

If writing the disk image seems too much hassle or is beyond your abilities, it is possible to purchase SD cards with Raspbian pre-installed.

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.

In Raspbian, you can change your password by running

sudo raspi-config

And selecting the Change Password option.

Install Raspbian, XBMC, Risc OS, OpenElec & ArchLinux Easily With NOOBS

For a simpler, more streamlined install of the more popular Raspberry Pi distros such as Raspbian, ArchLinux, XBMC and OpenElec media centres, as well as Risc OS and Pidora – you can employ NOOBS, the New Out Of Box Software installation system.


NOOBS is available from and doesn’t require “writing” to SD card in the way Raspbian and other Pi operating systems are. You will need a card greater than 4GB and should use the SD Formatter tool to format (Full Erase On, Format Size Adjustment On). 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 will be required to install an OS with NOOBS, as will a HDMI display.

With the Raspberry Pi booted into the NOOBS interface, you can choose your operating system(s). Our full guide to NOOBS includes everything you need to know How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users There is something about the Raspberry Pi that might just put people off: until now, setting it up has not been particularly user friendly. NOOBS aims to change that! Read More about this method of setting up a Raspberry Pi OS.

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, if you want to use your Raspberry Pi as a media centre The Easiest Raspberry Pi Media Centre, With RasPlex The Easiest Raspberry Pi Media Centre, With RasPlex Read More , then you might use NOOBS to install XBMC or (the better option, in my opinion) OpenElec.


With this done, you will then need to install various updates from within the media centre software (much as you would if you had installed Raspbian). There may be other applications that you need, add-ins for the media centre 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 if you were configuring your Pi as a wireless print server Make Your Own Wireless Printer With A Raspberry Pi Make Your Own Wireless Printer With A Raspberry Pi Fewer cables, flexibility about where you can put your printer – wireless printing is a win-win. Unless you have an older printer. Raspberry Pi to the rescue! Read More , perhaps, or even webserver Host Your Own Website On Your Raspberry Pi Host Your Own Website On Your Raspberry Pi Need to run a website but can't afford the hosting costs? One way around this is with the low-powered Raspberry Pi, which is more than capable of running basic web server software. Read More .

Once this is done, you should have your Raspberry Pi installation perfected.

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 is a full backup image of the SD card saved to your hard disk drive (or second SD card) that can be easily flashed should you run into trouble.

Windows users can again employ Win32DiskImager here, ensuring that the perfected Raspberry Pi SD card is inserted in your Windows card reader before launching the utility.


Find the Image File field, and browse to the folder where you will be saving your SD card image; in the Device box, select the drive letter of the SD card, and after confirming both are correct, click Read to begin the cloning, following any on-screen instructions. Give the process time to complete before proceeding.

Should you need to revert the SD card back to its “perfect” state later on, you’ll need to remove all partitions (WIN+R to launch Disk Management, right-click the SD card and select Delete) before restoring the image. You might also reformat using SD Formatter, as explained above.

Again using Win32DiskImager, browse for the image file, set the Device drive letter and then click Write. Once the process is complete, your SD card will be reverted to the “perfect” configuration you worked on earlier, and your Raspberry Pi should be ready to put to use once more.

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 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 .

Conclusion: Make The SD Card Work For You

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!

We can’t underline enough how important it is to make an image of your SD card. With the various ways in which you can find your Pi not working correctly 3 Reasons Why Your Raspberry Pi Doesn't Work Properly 3 Reasons Why Your Raspberry Pi Doesn't Work Properly I've been living with the Raspberry Pi for several months now, and have found this astonishing little computer to be even more amazing than expected. Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Raspberry Pi is as fruity... Read More , having a quick restore file saved to a HDD is really quite important.

Have any thoughts or observations? Do you want to ask a question about this article? Please use the comments below.


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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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?

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

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

  7. 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