RogerBW's Blog

Setting up a headless Raspberry Pi under Linux 05 June 2014

I have a checklist for setting up a Raspberry Pi, which I run through before I do any task-specific customisation. It occurred to me that people might find this useful.

I don't remember whether I've ever actually plugged a Pi into a monitor; everything gets controlled over ssh. If you're stuck with Windows the commands will differ and you will probably want to do things differently.

I start with a Raspbian image, downloaded from the Raspberry Pi site. I copy this to the SD card with dd, then sync and remove it.

The SD card and network cable are inserted into the Pi; then I power on. This first boot takes a little while, as (among other things) ssh moduli are generated.

I have a DHCP server which interacts with the local DNS, so as soon as the Pi has booted and performed DHCP there is a DNS name "raspberrypi" pointing to it. If you are not so blessed, you'll need to look at the lease list on your network's DHCP server to find out the Pi's IP address and use that rather than the DNS name.

I connect to the Pi with

ssh -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null pi@raspberrypi

(Ignoring the hosts file means that I don't have to worry about other Pis that have shared that hostname.)

On the Pi:

sudo su -

which brings up a menu: I expand the filesystem to fill the SD card, then finish and reboot. This can also take a little while. Later reboots are quicker.

Once the Pi has rebooted, I ssh in again, as above, and:

sudo su -
passwd

to set a root password for the Pi. (I know, the kids today don't use root shells, they run everything through sudo. Tough. If a root shell scares you, that just means you're doing it right.)

Then:

aptitude purge vim-common vim-tiny nano
apt-get update && apt-get dist-upgrade
apt-get install rsync nvi

The first line gets rid of some packages I never want to see. (One could probably add the graphical stuff here, but it takes a while and since it's not started automatically all it consumes when idle is space on the SD card.)

The second line will take a while, and is optional: it gets the system up to the latest versions of everything.

The third line installs my preferred lightweight text editor (if you don't speak vi, you may want to keep nano instead) and a synchronisation program that ends up on everything I build.

From the Linux host:

rsync -e 'ssh -o UserKnownHostsFile=/dev/null' -Pvaz home-pi/ pi@raspberrypi:~/

My "home-pi" directory contains all the files I want by default: my preferred .bash_profile and .bashrc, and my SSH key so that I don't have to keep retyping passwords (.ssh/authorized_keys). If you have no preferences here, you can omit this step.

Back on the Pi, at the root prompt:

cp -a ~pi/.ssh ~/
chown -R root.root ~/.ssh
vi /etc/hostname /etc/default/rcS
shutdown -r now

The first line copies that ssh key to root; the second sets the permissions. You can now log in as root with the ssh key rather than using the password.

Changing hostname is mostly useful because the Pi will register on the DHCP server with that name, so if you have multiple Pis running at once you need be in no doubt as to which one you're talking to.

/etc/default/rcS needs to have its last line changed to FSCKFIX=yes, so that if errors are found during boot the Pi will attempt to repair them and keep going.

Finally, you reboot the machine ready for installation of specific programs, or if you prefer shut it down (shutdown -h now).


  1. Posted by Owen Smith at 01:22pm on 05 June 2014

    So you don't run IPv6 on all your headless Pis then? That needs adding to the modules file.

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 01:25pm on 05 June 2014

    No; for the GPS trackers, I don't use the networking capabilities after initial setup (I just stick the SD card in a socket and mount the filesystem to get data off), so there's not much point. This may change with the birdcam when I get that sorted out.

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