How to Know Which Raspberry Pi OS is Running? (Easiest way)


Don’t remember which operating system is installed on your Raspberry Pi? Or maybe you got it installed by someone else?
Today, I will show you how you can quickly find the version currently installed on your device.

The easiest way to get information about the OS running on a Raspberry Pi is to use the following command: cat /etc/os-release.
It displays the operating system name and version.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use this command and read the results. I’ll also add a lot more information to help you identify what is running on your Raspberry Pi.

By the way, if you want to unlock all the secrets of the Raspberry Pi, you can check my e-book here. It’s a 30-day challenge, where you’ll learn everything from beginner to master. It includes many project guides to learn by practice.

Which operating system is running?

There are many commands to find the Raspberry Pi OS version installed.
You can even deduct from the wallpaper or the Raspberry Pi model you use.
But the best way to get all the information is to run one command:

  • Open a terminal.
    If you are on a Desktop version, there is a shortcut in the toolbar, or under Accessories in the main menu.
    You can also connect to your Pi with SSH.
  • Type the following command:
    cat /etc/os-release
  • You should get something like this:

In my case, the operating system installed is Raspbian (Raspberry Pi OS) in version 10 (aka Buster). This is the latest version available during writing.
There is a new version approximately every two years, so Raspbian 11 should be available soon.

The PRETTY_NAME gives you everything you need in one line.
The NAME is still Raspbian, even if the operating system has been renamed to Raspberry Pi OS recently. So, it’s the same thing.
The version and code-name correspond to the Debian ones, I will give you more details about this.

Raspberry Pi OS versions history

So, Raspberry Pi OS is based on Debian. Debian releases a new version every two years or so.
Each version increments the version ID and comes with a new code-name.
Here is a table with the Raspberry Pi OS version history to help you determine if the version you have is old or not.

Debian versionCodenameRelease Date
7Wheezy2013-09-27
8Jessie2015-09-28
9Stretch2017-08-17
10Buster2019-07-10
Raspberry Pi OS version history

For your information, not all versions are compatible with all Raspberry Pi models. For example, the Raspberry Pi 4 can run only on Raspberry Pi OS 10 or more, and the Raspberry Pi 3B+ requires Raspberry Pi OS 9 or 10, etc.
You can find all the details on Wikipedia.

If you want to update your system from Stretch to Buster for example, you need to update your repository list and upgrade your system:

  • Edit your apt sources:
    sudo nano /etc/apt/sources.list
  • Replace the version name with the latest one.
    For example, replace “stretch” with “buster”.
  • Save and exit.
  • Do a complete upgrade of your system:
    sudo apt update
    sudo apt full-upgrade

There is also subversion ID for Debian, with regular major updates (bug fixes, security updates, etc.). If you are interested, you can get the exact version installed with:
cat /etc/debian_version
In my case, I got “10.7”, which was not the latest one.
If you are not up-to-date, you can upgrade it with:
sudo apt update
sudo apt upgrade

After that, the same command gives me 10.8 :).

Is my Raspberry Pi running a 64 or 32 bits OS?

So, we have seen how to determine which Raspberry Pi version is installed, but you can also look for other details. For example, the previous commands don’t tell you if you are running a 32 or 64 bits version.

To get the current architecture used on your device, you can run this command:
uname -m

You’ll get something like:

  • If it’s ARMv3 to v7: You are running a 32 bits operating system
  • ARMv8 or aarch64: You are on a 64 bits operating system

If your Raspberry Pi model is compatible with a 64 bits architecture, you can download a 64 bits image from there. For now, The Raspberry Pi Foundation doesn’t include this version on their website and Raspberry Pi Imager.
It’s probably because it’s still in beta. You can try it, but expect a few bugs and stability issues.

What if it’s not Raspberry Pi OS?

As you probably know, Raspberry Pi OS (ex Raspbian), it’s not the only operating system that can run on Raspberry Pi. By the way, you can check my 15 favorite operating systems here.

So, if the previous commands don’t work, or don’t include a Raspberry Pi OS version, it’s probably because you are on a different operating system.
If you are on a Debian-like OS, it shouldn’t be an issue, as the command will work and give you all the required information.

For example, the os-release file on Ubuntu contains something like:
NAME="Ubuntu"
VERSION="18.04.4 LTS (Bionic Beaver)"
ID=ubuntu
ID_LIKE=debian
PRETTY_NAME="Ubuntu 18.04.4 LTS"
VERSION_ID="18.04"
HOME_URL="https://www.ubuntu.com/"
SUPPORT_URL="https://help.ubuntu.com/"
BUG_REPORT_URL="https://bugs.launchpad.net/ubuntu/"
PRIVACY_POLICY_URL="https://www.ubuntu.com/legal/terms-and-policies/privacy-policy"
VERSION_CODENAME=bionic
UBUNTU_CODENAME=bionic

Debian, DietPi, Kali Linux, etc. should also be pretty easy to identify.
But, to be sure you find the solution in this post, I will give you a few other commands you can try to find the exact OS version:

  • LSB Release: print information about the running distribution.
    For example, on Debian:
    lsb_release -a
    It displays shomething like:
    No LSB modules are available.
    Distributor ID: Debian
    Description: Debian GNU/Linux 9.13 (stretch)
    Release: 9.13
    Codename: stretch
  • Kernel version: displays system information.
    uname -a
    You’ll get a bunch of information like:
    Linux raspberrypi 5.4.83-v7l+ #1379 SMP Mon Dec 14 13:11:54 GMT 2020 armv7l GNU/Linux
    So, it includes the host name, the kernel version, the release date and the architecture.
    It should be useful to find some clues about your system.

Conclusion

That’s it, I hope you found your answer in this article. Most of the time, Raspberry Pi runs on Raspberry Pi OS, so it should be pretty easy to find the exact version with the information I gave you.

For other operating systems, it might be tricky. As I can’t test all of them, it’s difficult to give you a solution that will work in any case.
If you still have a question, feel free to leave a comment below, so that I can try to help you.



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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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