How to Select and Download Your BeagleBone’s Linux Distribution

By Rui Santos, Luis Miguel Costa Perestrelo

A distribution is a complete Linux package for your BeagleBone that contains the Linux kernel and a couple of other pieces of open-source software that provide a wide variety of functionalities.

The factory defaults on your BeagleBone

The latest Debian distribution is recommended. Every new BeagleBone is configured to work out of the box by default, however. The original configuration depends on your board:

  • The Original BeagleBone includes a microSD card that has the Ångström distribution installed.

  • BeagleBone Black ships from the factory with Linux installed on the board’s eMMC memory and with an empty microSD card slot, which you can use to install Debian.

The Linux distribution depends on the board version:

  • BeagleBone Black Rev A and Rev B have Ångström installed in the built-in memory.

  • BeagleBone Black Rev C comes with Debian preinstalled.

Debian currently is the most-supported distribution in this embedded platform.

Even though there are plenty of similarities between one Linux distribution and the next, there are also a few differences. Some commands won’t work in other distributions.

Downloading your Linux distribution

You need to use a computer to download the distribution from the Internet and flash your microSD card. (Flashing is the process used when you completely rewrite a data storage device rather than simply saving files on it.) You can use a Windows, Mac OS X, or Linux computer. You can find the official distributions available for download at

The distribution you need to work with on this book depends on how you intend to run Linux and is subject to change with future releases. Regardless, the process of downloading the newest image should be very similar, as should the respective filenames. You have two alternatives:

  • If you’re booting Linux from a microSD card on a BeagleBone Black or an Original BeagleBone, download Debian using the file labeled as Debian (BeagleBone, BeagleBone Black – 2GB SD) 2014-05-14.

  • If you’re booting Linux from your BeagleBone Black’s eMMC memory, download Debian eMMC flasher using the file labeled as Debian (BeagleBone, BeagleBone Black – 2GB eMMC) 2014-09-04.

If you have a BeagleBone Black and, thus, the chance to flash the eMMC memory, use the second option, which not only increases system performance, but is also much more practical. You won’t need to have the microSD card with you at all times.

If you don’t want to reflash the eMMC memory on the BeagleBone Black — in other words, if you want to keep the factory default OS — you can choose the standard Debian image and boot the OS directly from the microSD card.

You can download the distribution in two ways. The first way is much simpler but may take some more time than the second way. Here are your options:

  • Web browser: You can download the distribution directly from your web browser by clicking the distribution name. When you click the name of the distribution, a new web page opens. After about 3 seconds, your file should start downloading.

  • BitTorrent: BitTorrent enables you to download larger files faster. It gathers all the small pieces of the file you want and starts downloading your file from people who already have them, maximizing the transfer speed. To use this method, you must have a BitTorrent application on your computer. When you open the BitTorrent link, a torrent file that’s compatible with the BitTorrent application is downloaded to your computer.