is there any way to set up a Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ wirelessly (headless) without editing the microSD card contents to enable SSH?


No. That is not possible. You can't run headless without ssh. You can't enable ssh without adding a /boot/ssh or /boot/ssh.txt (and a /boot/wpa_supplicant.conf file for WiFi) before first boot.

That is all done on the small FAT partition, so is easy to do on any Windows, Mac or Linux system.

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To amplify @Dougie's correct answer:

You'll likely be writing your Raspbian Stretch Lite image to your SD card after download. This would be the best time to do this. The ssh file need not have any contents at all. Depending on the system you've used to download & write the image to your SD card, one of the following will do it:

  • Windows: $null > /boot/ssh

  • Mac or Linux: touch /boot/ssh

Note that /boot is a FAT partition, and so can be mounted by Windows, Mac or Linux hosts.

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  • I usually use echo "" > f:\ssh on Windows (assuming the boot partition appears as F: and the root partition as G:). – Dougie Apr 28 '19 at 22:48
  • @Dougie: I was curious about that! I didn't use echo as it has that "built-in" newline, and wondered if having the Windows CR/LF stuff in /boot/ssh would gum up the works? Do you know... have you successfully used echo to create the file using WIndows? I'd try it, but don't have a Windows machine. – Seamus Apr 29 '19 at 22:31
  • It doesn't matter because the startup program only tests for existence of /boot/ssh or /boot/ssh.txt and not what's in it. – Dougie Apr 30 '19 at 15:12

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