How to network boot Raspberry Pi

Using network boot on the Raspberry Pi allows you to install the operating system (Raspberry Pi OS) onto the device with nothing more than an internet connection. Contrast this to the typical way of getting an OS onto the device by using a separate PC and the Raspberry Pi imager tool. With network boot, the operating system can be downloaded online and installed onto a blank SD card that is inserted into the Raspberry Pi right before the installation process.

In this tutorial, we will cover the step by step instructions to use the network boot feature on a Raspberry Pi. To achieve this, the only thing you will need is a Raspberry Pi, an Ethernet connection, and a blank SD card (or micro SD card for newer models). You will also need to be running the latest firmware, as older versions do not have the network boot feature. If you have bought a newer model like the Raspberry Pi 4, then you should already be on a sufficiently updated firmware.

DID YOU KNOW?
In the context of the Raspberry Pi, network boot is a feature where we can install the operating system over the internet. This is not to be confused with wake on LAN or other definitions where “network boot” means to turn on a device by sending a network signal.

In this tutorial you will learn:

  • How to get into the network boot menu on Raspberry Pi
  • How to install Raspberry Pi OS via network installation
How to network boot Raspberry Pi
How to network boot Raspberry Pi
Software Requirements and Linux Command Line Conventions
Category Requirements, Conventions or Software Version Used
System Raspberry Pi
Software N/A
Other Privileged access to your Linux system as root or via the sudo command.
Conventions # – requires given linux commands to be executed with root privileges either directly as a root user or by use of sudo command
$ – requires given linux commands to be executed as a regular non-privileged user

How to network boot Raspberry Pi step by step instructions




Follow the step by step instructions below to see how to use the network boot feature to install an operating system on the Raspberry Pi. Before proceeding, make sure that your Raspberry Pi firmware is up to date. Also make sure that you have an Ethernet connection (Wi-Fi is not currently supported) and an SD card or micro SD card (do not plug it in yet) on which you plan to install the Raspberry Pi OS.

  1. For the first step, make sure that your Raspberry Pi is plugged into an Ethernet connection, and the device is turned off. If you already have your SD card or micro SD card inserted into the Raspberry Pi, make sure you take it out before starting; you will be prompted to insert it shortly. Now, start by plugging the Raspberry Pi into power so it begins the boot process. When the device finds that it can’t access any operating system installation, and detects a connection to the internet, you will be prompted with a screen like the one below.
    The boot screen of the Raspberry Pi prompts us about a network install
    The boot screen of the Raspberry Pi prompts us about a network install

    You should see a prompt like the one shown above. Just as it says, you will need to hold down the SHIFT key on your keyboard to proceed with the network installation of Raspberry Pi OS.

  2. Your device will then begin downloading the Raspberry Pi imager tool.

    The Raspberry Pi is downloading the imager tool from the internet
    The Raspberry Pi is downloading the imager tool from the internet



  3. At this point, the Raspberry Pi imager tool will allow you to select your desired operating system (which will be downloaded by the tool for you) and the device to which you want to install the OS. You will need to insert your SD card at this point. You can also configure advanced options so that the operating system is already setup with our desired settings when we boot into it the first time. We have the option to set a hostname for the Raspberry Pi, enable SSH and configure SSH keys, set a username and password for the system, input wireless LAN settings so the Raspberry Pi connects to a Wifi network, and set the time zone. Configure as many or as few settings as you would like.
    Using the Raspberry Pi imager tool via network boot to install an operating system
    Using the Raspberry Pi imager tool via network boot to install an operating system

That’s all there is to it. After the installation completes, you will be able to boot into your Raspberry Pi and the operating system will retain all the settings that you configured during the imager tool prompts.

Closing Thoughts




In this tutorial, we saw how to use the network boot feature on a Raspberry Pi system. This feature allows users to download an operating system directly to the Raspberry Pi, meaning that you no longer need an extra computer in order to use the imager tool and preconfigure the SD card before inserting it into the Raspberry Pi. This streamlines the entire installation process for any user that has the latest firmware installed on their Raspberry Pi device.



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