I suppose you just bought a Raspberry Pi Zero, but you didn’t take a complete kit. You are now installing it because there are only mini ports on it (mini USB and mini HDMI). Or maybe you don’t have any screen or keyboard available. Anyway, I’ll help you to install it with nothing: no keyboard, no monitor or even no Ethernet cable.
A keyboard and monitor are not required to install a Raspberry Pi. There is a configuration file on the SD card, with an option to enable SSH and set the Wi-Fi automatically on boot. If configured correctly, the Raspberry Pi will be accessible remotely on first boot.
In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to do this if you have nothing: no keyboard, no monitor, or even no Ethernet cable for the Raspberry Pi Zero W (wireless). But it works for any Raspberry Pi model (in fact I’m doing this for any new installation).
By the way, I’m using my Raspberry Pi kit from Vilros to do this tutorial for you, and I love it. It includes everything you need to start (adapters, heat sinks, several lids, etc.). If you don’t have one yet, I highly recommend it.
Download Raspberry Pi OS
Raspberry Pi OS is the Linux distribution dedicated to Raspberry Pi. Built by the Raspberry Pi Foundation specifically for this product, it’s the best system to start on Raspberry Pi.
It exists in several versions:
- Lite: without a graphic interface, you have only a terminal where you can enter commands,
- Desktop: with GNOME as the default interface and a lot of other software like Chromium, LibreOffice, etc.,
- Full: with all the recommended software to start on Raspberry Pi, everything is already here.
For this tutorial, I’ll do the test for you on Raspberry Pi OS Lite, but it’s working on any version, And you’ll probably do the same choice, as a graphical version without a screen is useless 🙂
Download the image from the official website and move to the next part.
If you can, I recommend using Torrent for a faster download.
Flash the SD Card
Then you need a micro SD card to copy the image on it. I can help you without a keyboard or monitor, but you really need an SD card 🙂
If you don’t have one yet, check my recommended products page to find the best one for you.
To copy the image on the SD card, we’ll use a tool that does everything for you. Follow this procedure to create the SD card:
- Download Etcher from this page
- Install it on your computer
It’s available for any operating system
- Start Etcher
It looks like that:
- Insert the SD card in your computer
- Click on “Select image” and browse to find the image file on your computer
- Etcher will auto-select the drive when you insert the SD card
- So just click on “Flash” to copy the files on the SD card
After a few minutes, the SD card is ready, but as we cannot configure the Raspberry Pi Zero with a screen and a monitor, there are some extra steps to take.
Allow SSH access
The main goal of this tutorial is to get access to the Raspberry Pi via SSH as soon as it starts. By default, SSH is not enabled on Raspberry Pi OS (for security reasons), so you need to follow this procedure to force SSH to start on boot:
- Insert your SD card into your computer again (eject and re-insert if always inside).
- Your system should display the “boot” partition in your file explorer
If not, go to your file explorer and find the boot drive in the left menu (probably D: or E: on Windows).
- You should see the content, it looks like this:
- You need to create a new file in this folder.
Right-click, then choose “New” ⇒ “Text document” and name it “ssh” without an extension and nothing inside.
- Be careful on Windows, extensions aren’t displayed, and it will probably keep ssh.txt.
You need to go in View > Options > View to uncheck “Hide extensions for known file types”.
Then remove the .txt at the end of the file name.
That’s all! With only this empty file, Raspberry Pi OS will enable SSH on boot, and you can connect to it directly.
If you don’t have Ethernet, you also need to configure the Wi-Fi connection as described in the following paragraph. Otherwise, you can skip the next paragraph
Configure WiFi settings
If you also need to use a wireless connection with your Raspberry Pi Zero, you need to do the same thing for the WiFi configuration:
- Access the boot partition from the SD card on your computer
- Create a new file named “wpa_supplicant.conf”
- Right-click in the folder, select “New” in the context menu, and “Text document”.
Then rename the new document to “wpa_supplicant.conf”
- But this time we need to put something inside: the Wi-Fi SSID and password
- Open the wpa_supplicant.conf file with your favorite editor
- Paste these lines inside:
Adjust these settings to fit your network environment (country, SSID, password and security type).
This file is not at the usual place, but it’s a common file on Raspberry Pi and Linux. You’ll find all the help you need on the Internet if you have specific settings to configure. For example, here is the Debian wiki about this.
- Save the file and exit.
That’s it, the Wi-Fi configuration is also on the SD card, so everything should work at the first try 🙂
Insert the SD card
Eject the SD card from your computer (preferably by using the safe remove tool). Insert it on your Raspberry Pi and start it.
The Raspberry Pi Zero starts as soon as you plug it to a power source, there is no start button.
While the Raspberry Pi is starting, you can download a tool to use SSH. SSH is a secure way to access devices on a network. You’ll get the same thing as if you had a screen and a keyboard.
You can download Putty from the official website here. Download the version corresponding to your operating system. For windows, there are a portable and an installer version, both are fine.
Connect to the Raspberry Pi
It’s now time to connect to your Raspberry Pi. But before, you need to know its IP address.
As I already wrote an article on this topic, I won’t repeat here. Check my tutorial on how to find the Raspberry Pi IP address and come back here later. If you have a web interface on your DHCP server (internet box probably), it can be the easiest way.
Now that you have the IP address, use this procedure to access the Raspberry Pi:
- Start Putty
Either in the start menu or in the Downloads folder depending on the chosen version
- The Putty interface looks like that
- Enter the IP address in the “Host name” field
- Then click on “Open” to connect
- A black screen will open, asking for a login and password
Use the default Raspberry Pi account:
- Login: pi
- Password: raspberry
Congrats, you now have access to your Raspberry Pi and can work on it as if you had a screen and keyboard. From here, you can follow a classic “How to guide” to finish the Raspberry Pi OS installation and configuration. I recommend at least to update your system and change the default password.
If needed, you can check my Raspberry Pi OS installation guide to know exactly how to do this. Go directly to the Raspberry Pi OS Lite part and skip the first paragraphs as you already done most of the work.
Is it possible to copy an SD card from another Raspberry Pi? Yes, that’s what I did when I bought my first Raspberry Pi Zero. I didn’t know we could do like I taught you today, so I made all the installation on the Raspberry Pi 3B+ and then put the SD card into the Raspberry Pi Zero. You can also use Win32 Disk Imager to create an image from an existing SD card and flash it to another.
That’s it, you now know how to install a Raspberry Pi Zero with only a power cable. You need no screen, keyboard or Ethernet cable to do this.
And obviously, it’s also works on any other Raspberry Pi.
Now, what’s next?
If you need some ideas to play with your new Raspberry Pi Zero, check my article about 16 cool projects ideas to do with the Raspberry Pi Zero.
All these projects ideas are taking advantage of its small size to build awesome things.