How to install Raspbian

Before you can do anything on your Raspberry Pi, you need some software for it to run. With a micro SD card in hand, we guide you through the process

Before the Raspberry Pi can do anything (apart from sitting there looking cute) it needs an operating system (OS). The most popular OS for the Pi is Raspbian, which is based on Debian Linux. A number of other operating systems are also available for the Pi. Some of these can be downloaded from the Raspberry Pi Foundation website ( and some can be installed using NOOBS (over the page). There’s Ubuntu MATE (Pi 2 and 3 only), an ARM port of Arch Linux, the classic RISC OS, the OSMC media center, not to mention the RetroPie vintage gaming platform. There’s also Snappy Ubuntu Core and even Windows 10 loT Core. If you’re a beginner, Raspbian is good to start with.

Unlike traditional computers, the Pi has no internal storage, so the OS needs to be loaded from an SD card. The original Pi models (models A and B) use full-size SD cards, whereas newer models (B+, 2,3 and Zero) use the smaller (and much easier to lose!) microSD variety. SD cards pre-loaded with an OS can be purchased from pretty much wherever the Pi is available, and are commonly included in bundles, but it is also straightforward (and cheap) to make your own. This can be done using freely available tools on Linux, MacOS or Windows.


Raspbian should be your first choice, but the other OSes can be fetched and installed with minimum fuss.

If you already have a pre-loaded SD card, you can skip this section entirely. If not, the most straightforward way to get going with the Pi is to download the latest Raspbian image and write it directly to an SD card, which needs to be at least 4GB in capacity. If all this seems too technical, you may wish to look at NOOBS (over the page).

Note that on MacOS computers, it’s also possible to write the Raspbian image using the dd tool from the command line. If you’re comfortable working this way, the procedure is very similar to the Linux instructions on page 25. Alternatively, check out the instructions on the Raspberry Pi Foundation website at

Enjoy Raspbian

Once your SD card is ready (whichever road you choose), you’re all ready to boot up your Raspberry Pi. Remove the SD card from your computer, plug it into your Pi (along with all the other gubbins – display, power, keyboard and mouse), and it should boot up to the raspi-config program. From here, you should expand the filesystem (if your card is greater than 4GB), change the default password and enable Boot to Desktop. Select Finish and you’ll be able to reboot to the Raspbian desktop. There’s all manner of interesting things you can play with right away, including Minecraft, Wolfram Alpha and Sonic Pi.

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If you have a wired network connection, then that will work out of the box. Some wireless ones will as well, but for many, this will be their first encounter with the recalcitrance of Linux. Just be patient, and remember, Google search is your friend…


1 SD card tools

We first have to download some additional image-writing software. For Macs, the simplest tool is Rpi-sd Card Builder (, but you may also want to look at Pi Filler ( or ApplePi-Baker ( On Windows setups, we recommend using Win32 Disklmager. which can be downloaded from Installation of all of these programs is straightforward.

2 Download Raspbian image

You’ll find the Raspbian image at The current edition is called Jessie, the same as the Debian release it’s based on. Be sure to choose the full edition, rather than the Lite one. at this stage – unless, of course, you’re sure that you’re happy at the command line, with no desktop environment. You may wish to save the Foundation some bandwidth and use the BitTorrent link. This requires you to have a BitTorrent client installed, such as Transmission or uTorrent. Whatever your download method, the full Raspbian image is a 1.3GB download, so will take a few minutes.

3 Unzip file

You’ll end up with a file in your downloads folder, called something such as Make sure that you’re not running short of hard disk space, because this file will be close to 4GB in size when it’s uncompressed. Double-click the ZIP file (if you’re using a Mac), or right-click it and select Extract All (on Windows). It should extract to a file called something along the lines of 2016-05-27-raspbian-jessie.img in the same folder as the downloaded ZIP file. This is the image file that we need write to the SD card in the next step.

4 Write the image

Win32 Disk Imager needs special privileges to write to the SD card. So. instead of double-clicking its executable, right-click it and select Run as Administrator. Now choose the image file you extracted in the previous step. In the Device section, choose the drive letter of the SD card. Click Write, double-check you have the right device, and writing commences. Wait for it to complete and. hey presto, all done. Mac tools work similarly (you may be asked for a root password), but be sure to choose the correct SD card device, rather than your hard disk. Whatever destination you choose is wiped, so you don’t want to get this wrong.


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