I'm new to the Raspberry Pi platform and I just bought one! I downloaded Raspbian from the download location and then realized that I don't have a card reader to install the ISO. How can I install it without a reader? I've got a desktop computer and all other connectors such as Ethernet cables. Please help me on this.

  • You can get a USB SD card reader for $10-20.
    – goldilocks
    Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 17:01

7 Answers 7


On a B, B+, 2B or 3B you can't do it without something to write the SD card. The only things these models can boot from out of the box is a SD card.

You may well find that you can use a camera or an older smartphone as a card reader (newer smartphones tend to use MTP rather than mass storage, so they are not suitable for this) to write your card.

On a model A, A+ or Zero I belive you can use an appropriate USB cable (A to A for the A/A+ A to micro B for the Zero) cable along with the flasher utility intended for the compute module. You can find instructions for the compute module flasher utility at https://www.raspberrypi.org/documentation/hardware/computemodule/cm-emmc-flashing.md . If there are already Pi boot files on the SD card then I belive you may have to be careful when you insert it since the Pi A series don't have the special circuitry to suppress the SD card interface that the compute module has.

The Raspberry pi 3B adds USB mass storage and network boot options but unfortunately they need to be enabled by setting a bit in the one time programable memory on the SoC. To set that bit requires a special SD card.

The 3b+ enables the mass storage and network boot options by default.

(note: the above stuff about the A and A+is from memory and I haven't tested it myself, nor could I find the references I remember with a quick google)


You can use your phone as an sd card reader.Just follow below steps:

  1. Insert Your rasberry pi sd card into phones microsd slot. and connect your phone to laptop via usb.
  2. On your phone select usb options as Mass storage mode (MSC)
  3. You now should be able to see a drive F: on your computer.
  4. Now install a software called Sd card formater from here.
  5. open software and select drive f: and then click on format.
  6. Now install a software called win32disk imager from here
  7. Open software and select drive f: and then browse and select the rasbian image and click on write.
  8. remove ur sdcard from phone and plug it into the pi.

If you have an Android phone with a microSD card slot, you can burn the image right on the card using Pi SD Card Imager. It's a little buggy, but after a few attempts it did the job for me.

  • the only answer that worked for me
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 6, 2020 at 10:42

The Pi only boots from the SD card.

You must find a way of writing the image to the SD card.

Are you sure you do not have a PC or laptop with an integral SD card reader?

  • I don't have a card reader for my desktop and there was a slot in my lenovo x1 carbon which I thought was a card reader, but it turns out to be a SIM card slot for a reason which have no idea about! so I would have to buy a card reader tomorrow! :( thanks for the headsup! Commented Nov 12, 2015 at 16:36

I use a USB SD-card reader for writing all my SDs and microSDs. This one is the exact one I use - costs $6 (if you're in the US). There are cheaper ones too ($2-$3) but their quality is not guaranteed (I had one beforte I got the IOGear one that broke after a few months - refused to be recognized by any computer).


There is apparently a method that uses a "bootstrap" technique. Essentially you only have to get the Pi to boot up which takes 16MB minimum (ie a 128Mbit I2C/SPI chip) and in theory even a regular tape deck if hooked up to a handful of discrete components or LM567's can generate the 4 bits + clock to emulate an SD card. The catch is that it won't be able to write anything but just getting it to boot is enough for Pi to detect the external pendrive and install Raspbian onto the inserted SD card at the right point during initialization.

Making the special tape needed is left as an exercise for the reader, I suppose you could use a Minidisk or CD-ROM (similar idea, L/R channel) and each channel holds 3 frequencies at non linear harmonics to minimize crosstalk.

  • +1 For this crazy workaround which is technically possible, even if it's quite unfeasible. Commented Feb 13, 2021 at 17:16

If you dont have a SD card reader, but you have the following

  1. Ethernet Cable
  2. Keyboard
  3. Monitor or TV with hdmi port

then connect it to your raspberry pi and power on. A boot window will show. Press 'shift' key for few seconds and it will install rpi-imager over internet. Then you can choose the os you want and the storage (your SD card). Thats it. Selected OS will be installed to your SD Card.

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