How to Install Raspbian on Your Raspberry Pi

This was originally a PerfectPi post, but we’ve moved it over to SideGamer, our system site. You’ll probably find this kind of content useful if you’re building a RetroPie gaming machine, so we still reckon it’s useful. Good luck!

Installing Raspbian is the first task that most Raspberry Pi owners have to complete. This variant of the Debian Linux distribution is one of the most popular distros for the Raspberry Pi and comes with support from the Raspberry Pi Foundation itself.

If you’ve used Linux before, the Raspbian interface should be pretty familiar. It’s also friendly for beginners, considering the Pi is designed with children in mind. To get started, here’s how you can install Raspbian.

1. Choose Your Raspbian Installation Method

Before you start installing Raspbian, you’ll need to decide how you want to install it. There are two options—using the NOOBS installer, or flashing the Raspbian image to your device yourself.

NOOBS Installer

NOOBS is beginner-friendly, with a graphical interface that lets you choose what operating system you’d like to install. It offers various Linux distributions, including Raspbian and LibreELEC for Rasperry Pi media centers.

You’ll still need to flash the NOOBs installer to your SD card, however. If you’re certain you want to use Raspbian, it’s probably easier to flash the Raspbian image to your SD card directly.

If that’s the case, you can move onto the next stage of this guide.

2. Download Raspbian

The latest Raspbian image is available for download from the Raspberry Pi Foundation website. There are three Raspbian images for download:

  • Raspbian Desktop with additional software. This is the default Raspbian image with the PIXEL desktop environment included, meaning you’ll see a graphical user interface when you boot up your Pi. It also comes with some extra software like Scratch. This is around 2.5GB in size.
  • Raspbian Desktop. This Raspbian image comes with the PIXEL desktop environment. It’s over half the size of the option above, at around 1.1GB in size.
  • Raspbian Lite. At around 450MB, Raspbian Lite is ideal for users who need a headless Raspberry Pi for their projects. It lacks any of the desktop software you’d find in the Desktop edition, including a desktop environment. You’ll need to use the Linux terminal to use your Raspberry Pi with this edition.

Once you’ve decided on your Raspbian image, download and unzip the file. The IMG file held within is what you’ll be using to flash Raspbian to your SD card.

Before you do that, make sure to take a look at our Raspberry Pi setup guide and check that you have all of the components you need to begin assembling your Pi.

3. Flash Raspbian to an SD Card

With the IMG file extracted, you’ll need to flash your SD/microSD card (depending on your Pi model) with Raspbian. The Raspberry Pi Foundation recommends balenaEtcher for this task. It’s cross-platform, so it’ll work on Windows, Linux, and macOS.

Download and install the latest version of Etcher for your OS to begin. Once installed, open Etcher on your platform and click Select Image.

balenaEtcher Window

In the dialog box that opens, find and select your Raspbian IMG file, then click OK to confirm. The next button, Select Drive, will appear.

Plug your SD card into your PC using an SD card reader, then click Select Drive. Select your SD card in the menu that appears, then click Continue.

Etcher Select Drive Menu

Once your image file and drive are both selected, you’re ready to begin flashing your SD card. Click Flash! to begin the process. This may take a few minutes to complete.

Etcher SD Card Flashing

Etcher will alert you once the flashing process is complete. Don’t remove your SD card just yet, though—you’ll need to do a few things first, like enabling SSH access.

4. Extra Configuration Before First Boot

Before removing your SD card, you’ll need to make a few additional changes to the Raspbian configuration before you boot it up for the first time.

This is especially true for users who plan on using their Raspberry Pi headless, without a screen, keyboard or mouse. It’s also useful to do if you want to enable SSH access to use your Pi remotely, especially if you’re using the Raspbian Lite image.

Access the boot partition on your SD card. This is around 250MB in size and includes some initial boot-up files for your Pi. From here, you can begin making changes:

  • Adding SSH. Raspbian comes with an SSH server to allow you to access your Raspberry Pi terminal remotely, but it’s disabled by default. To enable it before you boot it up, create an empty file called ssh and save it to the boot partition.
  • Configuring WiFi. If you want your Pi to automatically connect to a wireless network, you can create this configuration before first boot. Create a file called wpa_supplicant.conf and add the following:
    ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev

    Replace the country code, SSID (network name), password and Wi-Fi network type to match your own.

  •  Overlocking your Raspberry Pi. If you want to push your Pi a little further, you can overclock it. We’ll talk about this further in a future article, but until then, take a look at the information provided by the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

Configure these settings as needed. Once you’re ready, safely remove your SD card and insert it into your Pi’s SD/microSD card slot, then power up your Pi.

You’ll be asked to sign in once your Pi boots up. Use the default Raspbian username and password, which is pi (username) and raspberry (password).

5. Final Configuration After Booting Raspbian

With Raspbian installed, you’ll need to do a few extra things to get it running perfectly.

If you’re using Raspbian Desktop, you’ll also have a Welcome to Raspberry Pi menu that appears on first boot. This menu will guide you through configuring your Pi to your country or language, updating your software and connecting to your WiFi network.

Welcome to Raspberry Pi Menu

It will also ask you if you want to change from the default Raspbian password. Enter a new password at this stage.

You can also do this by opening a terminal window or by changing it over SSH. At a terminal window, or over an SSH connection, type passwd and follow the on-screen instructions to change to a more secure password.

Raspbian Passwd Change

You should also make sure your Raspberry Pi is completely up-to-date before you start using it. Security fixes and new software updates are installed at this point. The initial set-up menu for Raspbian Desktop users will check and perform this for you.

Raspbian Initial Update Menu

Click Next for Raspbian to begin checking and installing updates. Alternatively, open a terminal or connect via SSH and type:

sudo apt update
sudo apt full-upgrade

Type Y on your keyboard to confirm any user prompts.

Once the process is complete, the post-installation configuration will have ended, so click OK to close the menu and begin using your Raspberry Pi.

Raspbian on Your Pi

With Raspbian installed and configured, you can begin using your Raspberry Pi the way you want to. You can explore the pre-installed software, install new software yourself, and begin trying out the features that make the Pi such a popular mini-computer.

You don’t need to opt for a headless Raspberry Pi set up to use it remotely. If you want to use your Pi from a distance, install and set up a Raspberry Pi remote desktop using VNC instead.

Ben Stockton

Ben is a gamer and tech writer from the UK, writing for sites like How-To Geek, MakeUseOf, and others. He's now here to help turn his passion for gaming into a useful resource for other PC gamers.


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