Installing an OS on your Raspberry Pi is about to become a lot simpler

Raspberry Pi Network Install
(Image credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has created a new Network Installer tool that allows Raspberry Pi owners to install an operating system onto their devices without the need for a separate computer.

Previously, tinkerers needed to use another computer to run Raspberry Pi Imager or something similar to flash an OS onto an SD card when setting up a new Raspberry Pi. Now though, if you intend to use one of the foundation's single-board computer as your main computing device, you can do so with just an Ethernet cable.

According to a new blog post, there is now a beta version of the Raspberry Pi bootloader available that implements network installation. While existing Raspberry Pi owners will have to update their bootloader, the Raspberry Pi Foundation plans to ship Raspberry Pi boards with the new network bootloader pre-installed directly from the factory at a later date.

Network boot

After updating the bootloader on your Raspberry Pi 4 or 400 using Raspberry Pi Imager, you'll be able to test out network boot for yourself.

When a Raspberry Pi is switched on, the bootloader first searches the SD card and then a USB flash drive for software to load. If no software is found though, you'll see a diagnostics display on the screen after a few seconds. However, if you have a keyboard connected, you'll now see a message which reads “Press and hold <SHIFT> key to start install process”.

To install Raspberry Pi OS using network boot, you'll need to press the “Space” key after holding down “Shift” for three seconds. From here, you'll be prompted to insert an Ethernet cable. This means that you will need to physically connect the device to your router to begin the install process.

Eventually, the Raspberry Pi Imager application will start which will allow you to install a full OS to an SD card or USB flash drive.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has done an excellent job adding this new functionality to its single-board computer and we'll likely hear more once the new tool exits beta.

Anthony Spadafora

After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.