If you download an ISO for a Linux distro for x86 and burn it onto a disc or USB stick, and put that device into the target computer and start it up, it shows an interactive installer.

If you want Linux on a Raspberry Pi, you have to use a special tool to put the files onto its "hard disk" in the form of a flash memory card, and then put that into the RPI, and then start it up. There is no installer; it goes straight into the "installed" OS.

This prevents setting up encryption on the RPI (since there is no installer), which has caused me to be unable to use my RPI for anything nontrivial. While it's technically possible (allegedly) to do encryption post-installation, I have been completely unable to do so and no online guides help.

But what exactly causes this? I think it has something to do with the lack of a PC/x86 "BIOS" on the ARM-based Raspberry Pi, but why can't there be an installer for ARM systems if they can make the entire Linux run on it? Is it quite possible, just nobody has put in the work to do so?

Is there something about the ARM architecture or the RPI specifically which technically prevents an installer? And is there any difference which version of RPI you have?

  • When you burn an ISO onto a disc or USB, do you install that linux on the disc or USB? no, you install it onto a different device. The Pi has ONE disk device, the SD card slot - so, where are you going to install TO? you can't install over the installer
    – Bravo
    Jul 13, 2021 at 2:36
  • Having said that, it'd be perfectly reasonable to create an installer for the Pi - say, you boot from USB (pi 3 or later) and install to sd card ... or boot from sd card and install to USB drive - but since the Pi is an educational device, made simple for simple purposes, nobody has bothered to create such an installer - YET - I dare say it wouldn't be very difficult for the right person to do so
    – Bravo
    Jul 13, 2021 at 2:38
  • @Bravo Frankly, I don't see why it can't load the installer into RAM when booting, and then install the OS onto the same flash card where the installer was loaded from. It could be fetching the files via the network, or from an USB stick, or even load the entire thing into RAM! Why not?
    – C. H.
    Jul 13, 2021 at 2:53
  • Is 0.5, 1, 2, 4 or 8GB big enough to hold installation media plus run the installation? Guess the debian net installer is only 340MB or something, so, yeah - it could be done. Probably not enough people need it, that's why nobody's done it
    – Bravo
    Jul 13, 2021 at 2:56

1 Answer 1


This is not really a Pi question.

Most conventional computers have a BIOS which is in a ROM (containing 32 MB of code). Later models use a different, but similar technique.

The BIOS contains all the code required to mount images, initiate hardware etc. but even there require a boot loader on the install medium.

The install medium contains code to run a "live" image and install to a HD.

The Pi by comparison has no such BIOS. The SOC contains sufficient code to mount a FAT partition and run the loader contained on the SD Card.

There are programs PINN & (shudder) NOOBS which can install OS.

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