An image is worth a thousand megabytes


Part I - The raspberry

Part II - An image is worth a thousand megabytes

Part III - A post-mortem

Now we have all the components we need to run our Raspberry Pi, we can start preparing them to actually work together. The first thing we need to do is get the boot record, partitions and operating system on the SD card, so our little friend can boot and run a true system. Thankfully, some nice folks have already done the hard work, so we can jump many of the complex steps.

I'm going to use the Raspbian distribution, which is based on the famous Debian (GNU/)Linux distribution, and includes many of the standard software packages already prepared to run on the Pi. If you haven't already, grab Raspbian's image, which you can find on Raspberry Pi Foundation's downloads web page.

$ wget

Note that this is the current version as I write this post. Visit the page to get the most recent version. An optional but recommended step after you download the image is to check its SHA-1 checksum. That will ensure nothing has been corrupted during the download, which is always a good thing to know, specially when dealing with sensitive data such as disk images. To do that, you can use the sha1sum program:

$ sha1sum

Compare the output with the hash on the SHA-1 section of the download page. Or, if you have the SHA-1 stored in a file:

$ sha1sum -c OK

If you don't get the appropriate result, just download the file again and check it, until you get it right. Now we are going to copy the image to the SD card. Before you insert the SD card on your computer (you may need an external SD card reader, depending on the ports available on your machine), execute the command

$ ls /dev/sd*
/dev/sda   /dev/sda2  /dev/sda4  /dev/sda6  /dev/sda8
/dev/sda1  /dev/sda3  /dev/sda5  /dev/sda7

That will list all the disks available. If you prefer a more friendly output, you can use

$ df -h
Filesystem      Size  Used Avail Use% Mounted on
    /dev/sda6        46G   30G   14G  69% /
    udev            2.9G  4.0K  2.9G   1% /dev
    tmpfs           1.2G  1.1M  1.2G   1% /run
    none            5.0M     0  5.0M   0% /run/lock
    none            2.9G   76K  2.9G   1% /run/shm
    /dev/sda4       107G   50G   53G  49% /mnt/data

This will list the devices used by the mounted file systems. Now you can insert the SD card and run the command again. You will notice that new entries will appear on the output. It will usually be /dev/sdb* entries, if you have only one disk. That is the device file for the card. If the card is automatically mounted, you can see the size on df's output, so you can be sure that it is the right device.

A really important note here: you need to get the correct device name. We are going to use a program that does raw block copying, which can destroy your data if you target the wrong device. The device mounted on root (/) is probably not the device you want, for example.

Another important thing: if the card already has partitions, some extra device files may appear, such as /dev/sdb1, /dev/sdb2 and so on. We need the device, not any partition, so be sure to use the device file with no number suffix. When you have the device name, make sure the device is unmounted so we can write data to it:

$ umount /dev/sdb*

Then use good old dd to copy the image:

$ dd if=./ of=/dev/sdb bs=4M

A couple things deserve mention. It is always good to check (and re-check) the parameters, to make sure the image is the if (input file) value and the device is the of (output file) parameter. The bs parameter stands for block size, and is the size of each chunk of data copied at a time. Larger values make the process faster. Usually, 4mb is a reasonable Following UNIX's philosophy, dd doesn't output anything while it is working. Since it can take quite some time to finish, you may think it's froze. But don't worry, it hasn't. If you want to be absolutely sure, send the program a signal and it will output the progress:

$ ps aux | grep dd
  4821 pts/2    R+     0:33 dd if=./ of=/dev/sdb bs=4M
$ kill -USR1 4821

When it is done, run

$ sync

to make sure everything is properly written and remove the card. Now insert the card on the Raspberry, plug the power supply and, if everything worked, you will get a nice show of lights as it boots. You can plug the HDMI to a monitor and see the boot messages. Here's a (somewhat light-impaired) gallery:

raspberry pi lights raspberry pi lights raspberry pi starting

I know I promised we'd get it to work! Well, if you (unlike me) think this isn't actual work, check the next posts, where we will put the Pi to good use.

df sha1sum raspbian linux dd wget raspberry pi