SSH the Raspberry Pi Zero over USB


In this post, we will see how to SSH a Raspberry Pi Zero over USB from a Ubuntu-based host. Moreover we will make sure the the Pi Zero has access to internet through the host so that we can install/update some software.

Install Raspbian

There exists plenty of tutorials on the topic of installing Raspbian (see the the official documentation) therefore I will not detail it here. To summarize, you have to,

  1. Download Raspian (Lite for headless)

  2. Burn the image on a micro SD card with Etcher

    Before unplugging the card we will enable SSH connections. To do so, open the boot partition on the card and simply create an empty ssh file:

    cd /path/to/root/
    touch ssh
  3. Plug the card on the Pi Zero

SSH over USB

With the micro SD card ready we can now plug the USB cable to our host and Pi Zero. However, note that while the Pi Zero has two micro USB port, only one supports USB On-The-Go (OTG). It is this feature that will allows us to treat the connection as an Ethernet connection. The port in question is the innermost one, the one closer to the center of the board, as shown in the image below.

Raspberry Pi Zero USB OTG port

Set USB Gadget mode

We would like to be able to access the Pi Zero through SSH from our machine using a USB cable. To do that we will have to edit two files.

First, edit the file /boot/config.txt and append this line at the end:


Second, we will edit the file /boot/cmdline.txt. After rootwait, we will add


⚠️ pay attention to leave only one space between rootwait and the new text otherwise it might not be parsed correctly.

Note that there might already be some text after rootwait in which case you still must add the following immediately after rootwait! Again, leave a single space after rootwait but also after g_ether.

The Pi Zero is fully configured, we can now configure our host.

Set the connection to Shared with other computers

On your Linux host, go to the network connections editor. In the ‘IPv4 Settings’ tab, set ‘Method:’ to ‘Shared with other computers’. Refresh the connection (dis/connect), after what you should be able to SSH to the Pi Zero.

To SSH to the Pi Zero, open a terminal on your host and type:

ssh pi@rasberrypi.local

You will be prompted for a password, use the default one for user ‘pi’. And do not forget to change it down the line!

We are now connected on our board, let’s try internet out. Since we are using the method ‘Shared with other computers’ we should be able to access internet:

$ ping -c 3
PING ( 56(84) bytes of data.
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=57 time=10.7 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=2 ttl=57 time=9.60 ms
64 bytes from ( icmp_seq=3 ttl=57 time=10.4 ms

--- ping statistics ---
3 packets transmitted, 3 received, 0% packet loss, time 2001ms
rtt min/avg/max/mdev = 9.609/10.276/10.783/0.499 ms

We are live!

Note: On some distro, the ‘Shared with other computers’ is not available from the default settings. In this case fire up nm-connection-editor from a terminal instead of the network connections editor.

Set a static MAC address

Because we are connecting our Pi Zero as an Ethernet device through USB OTG, each time the connection is established the board is issued with a new random MAC address. This can be quickly annoying if we rely on the MAC address for, e.g. assigning a static IP to our board directly in our router configurations. This set up it totally optional.

In the boot partition, edit the file cmdline.txt and append at the end,


where aa:bb:cc:dd:ee:ff will be the static MAC address. We can use for instance the last mac address assigned to the board. To retrieve it, run ifconfig on the host machine and look for a connection along the lines enp0s29xxxxx.

Set a static IP address

We can also choose to assign a static IP address to our board so that we don’t have to look for it every now and then. To set a static IP address, edit the file /etc/dhcpcd.conf as follows,

interface usb0
static ip_address=
static routers=

Where is your desired static IP address.

Reboot and have fun!

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