I would like to know if there is a way to change the Raspberry Pi OS boot options to CLI in a headless manner before first boot; much like enabling SSH by creating a file in /boot or by setting up wifi using wpa_supplicant.conf

Currently, once booted, I have to run raspi-config which presents an ncurses type CLI interface which I then have to use manually to select CLI from boot options.

Failing that, a single command line option would be good for scripting.

  • 3
    Why don't you just use the "lite" version?
    – goldilocks
    Sep 12, 2020 at 17:25
  • It would have taken you longer to ask this than fix it.
    – Milliways
    Sep 13, 2020 at 5:07
  • @goldilocks I should have read the specs closer, I didn't realise the lite version came without the GUI..
    – myol
    Sep 13, 2020 at 12:06
  • I just connected my USB-serial adapter to the Pi and booted and it worked out of the box. rapsi-config runs fine on the serial console. Sep 27, 2020 at 16:34

2 Answers 2


Not easily as the process requires a couple of steps to set up CLI boot:

systemctl set-default multi-user.target
ln -fs /lib/systemd/system/[email protected] /etc/systemd/system/getty.target.wants/[email protected]

and the removal of /etc/systemd/system/[email protected]/autologin.conf if it exists...

If you think you need to GUI at some point, then I would install the GUI version, add the SSH enable file and then run sudo raspi-config post first boot via SSH and work through the options you need. No need even to see the GUI, connect a keyboard / mouse or screen.

Above is based on the code on GITHUB for raspi-config 3rd Sept 2020 commit 2125ae6d1876231ae94ff28547bd5aba25463de3

  • Pretty sure all "systemctl set-default" does is rearrange symlinks. On Raspbian, that's /lib/systemd/system/default-target -> /lib/systemd/system/multi-user.target, so you could try this without booting first. There maybe some gotchas, I'm not sure if I've ever tried it with Raspbian, but it works elsewhere and should be much the same.
    – goldilocks
    Sep 12, 2020 at 19:13

To enable autologin, raspi-config does the following:

systemctl set-default multi-user.target
ln -fs /lib/systemd/system/[email protected] /etc/systemd/system/getty.target.wants/[email protected]
        cat > /etc/systemd/system/[email protected]/autologin.conf << EOF
ExecStart=-/sbin/agetty --autologin $USER --noclear %I \$TERM

There's no easy way to make this happen before first boot but you can unpack the distribution onto a fresh SD card, mount the root filesystem on some other computer, make the changes, then re-pack the distribution.

For example:

unzip -p ~/Downloads/2020-08-20-raspios-buster-armhf-lite.zip | sudo dd of=/dev/sdd bs=4M conv=fsync status=progress

Remove and reinsert the sd card; the two filesystems will be mounted as /media/$USER/boot and /media/$USER/rootfs (by Ubuntu on the desktop). If not automatically mounted, mount them.

Change directory to .../rootfs and execute the ln and cat commands above, after removing the leading slash from the pathnames (lest you edit your computer's files, rather than those on the sd card).

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