Getting Plan 9 running on the Raspberry Pi

More Unix than Unix

Do you like Unix? Do you really like Unix? Well, what if I told you there’s a little-known operating system out there that’s more Unix than even Unix is. Cool, right?

Well it is true! Plan 9 occupies an interesting niche in the open source operating system world. It is a full-fledged descendant of Unix, but not in the way that most systems out there are. It took the bones and beating heart of Unix and then built a brand-new cybernetic exoskeleton around it, with lasers, and heat vision… oh wait. You want to boot this bad-boy up, right? Well, okay, we’ll do that. But what hardware shall we run it on? Hey, you got a Raspberry Pi? Well then, read on!


Installing Plan 9 on the raspberry pi couldn’t be much easier. Thanks to Richard Miller of 9fans, there’s a ready-to-go image for the Raspberry Pi.

  1. Grab the image:
  2. Unzip it:

    gunzip 9pi.img.gz
  3. Pop in an SD card and find out what disk to image:

    diskutil list

    On my system (Mac) the SD card showed up as “disk1″

  4. Unmount the SD card so that you can write to it.

    diskutil unmount /dev/disk1s1
  5. Use dd to transfer the image to the SD card (this’ll take a few, but you can Ctrl-T to get a status report):

    dd bs=1m if=9pi.img of=/dev/rdisk1
  6. Guess what? You now have a ready-to-go Plan 9 system.


Now, if you’re like me, you’ll be sitting at a brand new and pretty much inscrutable desktop environment (called “Rio”, btw). In fact, here’s a short list of OSs that Plan 9 is not really like:

  • Windows
  • Mac OS X
  • Linux GNOME or KDE
  • Android, iPhone, etc…

You use one of those? I thought so. Well then it is a safe bet that Plan 9 is going to be rather foreign. So, you may ask, where to start?

Well, a great place to start would be the Introduction found in the Plan 9 Documents section of the Bell Labs website. But if you’re totally new to Plan 9, then I think a better place may actually be the Wikipedia page on the topic and the really good A Plan 9 Newbie’s Guide (pdf link).


Plan 9 is, I think, a really interesting take on networked computing. It uses a really novel approach of filesystems to do, well basically everything. It has seamless networking and what we may call “remote desktop”, but in a really different and efficient way. It has a text editor, Acme that is somewhere between both Vi and Emacs, while managing again, to not really be much like either of them, a theme of Plan 9. I urge you to check it out!