Headless install of Raspbian Buster

04 Apr 2019

Having recently got a shiny new Raspberry Pi 4, and needing to figure out (again) how to set it up for a headless install with a WiFi connection and ssh access, I’m leaving these notes here for future me.

Firstly, get the latest “lite” Raspbian image:

aria2c https://downloads.raspberrypi.org/raspbian_lite_latest.torrent
shasum -a 256 2019-06-20-raspbian-buster-lite.zip

Check the hash against the one on the download page, then write the image to a suitable SD card (assuming macOS):

diskutil list
diskutil unmount /dev/disk2s1
sudo dd bs=1m if=2019-06-20-raspbian-buster-lite.img of=/dev/rdisk2 conv=sync

When it’s done mount the SD card, it should appear as a writeable boot partition. We need to create two files here before the first boot of the new pi:

  1. Empty file named ssh as a shortcut to enable the openssh daemon
  2. Config file for wpa_supplicant which will be copied (on first boot only) to the appropriate location on the main partition (/etc/wpa_supplicant/wpa_supplicant.conf) to enable WiFi

First up create the empty file with:

touch /Volumes/boot/ssh

Then create a config file with appropriate credentials for your WiFi network:

echo 'country=GB
ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
update_config=1
network={
    ssid="My WiFi network"
    psk="hunter2"
}' > /Volumes/boot/wpa_supplicant.conf

This is the easiest solution, but it will leave a file on disk with your WiFi password in plaintext. If you want to avoid that, you can create a hashed version on another Buster machine (or, really, any linux box with a recent version of wpa_supplicant):

wpa_passphrase "My WiFi SSID" > wpa_supplicant.conf
<type secret password here: "hunter2">

If you edit the resulting file, you will see the hashed psk= line and a commented out line above it with the plaintext version. Delete the commented out line, add the correct 2-letter country code for your region, and you’re done.

Remember: these two files must be present and correct on the first boot of the new pi, otherwise it won’t work and you’ll need to re-flash the image to the SD card and try again.

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