Setting up a Raspberry Pi Zero W for Pi-hole

I’ll start by saying there are lots of guides to do this already but none of them worked for me from beginning to end and I pulled parts from different ones to get things working. So after some trial and error I wrote my own guide. Some other sites I used as reference: A good quick start guide from Reddit, Info on changing the locale and keyboard layout for US, and Setting up a headless Pi Zero. I’m also assuming if you are reading this article that you already know what Pi-hole is and want to implement it on your network.

First things first. You will need a Pi Zero W (if you have a local MicroCenter they have them in store for $5 pretty often), a 8Gb micro SD card, a micro usb cable to power the zero, and a way to write to the SD card, either a SD card adapter or your computer if it has a slot for it. You may also want a case to put yours in if you plan on mounting it and don’t want to short anything out (my personal favorite that runs about $6). If you want to actually see whats going on you will also need a mini HDMI to HDMI cable although hopefully you don’t need to do that. And if you want to get really fancy you can get a Pi Zero W with header pins (or solder some on yourself) and a display such as the Adafruit one to show the IP address and some status info.

Lets grab the software you’ll need:

Then put it together:

  • Format the SD card using the SD Card Formatter utility.
  • Using balenaEtcher burn the Raspbian image to the SD card. By default it will “eject” the SD card once its done. You also might get Windows warnings about a problem with the disk, ignore these and close/cancel the warnings.
  • Pop out the SD card and put it back in. You might get the same warnings, again ignore them.
  • Using Notepad (or Notepad++) create a file named “ssh” with no extension and a single space in it. Save that to the root of the SD card along with the other files.
  • Again using a notepad program create a file called “wpa_supplicant.conf” with the following text (using your country code, SSID, and password) and save that to the root of the SD card. If your SSID is being broadcast you do not need the scan_ssid line as it will slow down the connecting slightly although it doesn’t hurt to have it in there (see here for more info on this file):
country=US
ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev
update_config=1

network={
  ssid="YourSSID"
  scan_ssid=1
  psk="YourPassword"
}
  • You should have everything on the SD card needed to boot up and connect to your WiFi. Properly eject the SD card from your computer, pop it into the Pi, and boot it up.
  • Give it 90 – 120 seconds to boot. Since this guide is for getting Pi-Hole setup you will want to have a static IP address for your Pi. Go into your router and find out what the current IP address is and also set a reservation or lock the current IP address to your device.
  • Until it reboots it will be at whatever IP it was assigned. Start up PuTTY and put in the current IP address and connect. You will get a security warning, click Yes to accept the keys.

Your Pi is now on your network so the hard part is done. Next is to configure some basic settings and install Pi-hole

  • Login using the default user “pi” and password “raspberry”
  • Now by default the Pi is setup for the EN_GB locale which means your @ symbol and some others aren’t where they normally are which caused me some issues. So lets tell the Pi to add the EN_US locale and change our keyboard layout.
  • Type in sudo raspi-config and enter
    • Select option 4 for Localization then the first option for Locale
    • In the list scroll down and select en_US.UTF-8 UTF-8 by hitting the space bar to select it then enter
    • It will ask you to select a default language for the system. Select en_US.UTF-8 and enter. Give it a minute while it makes the change.
    • At this point for me I tried to change the keyboard layout but it didn’t work. It seems the Pi needs to be rebooted for these changes to take effect so first get out of the config menu by hitting the right arrow twice and selecting Finish
  • Back at the prompt type in sudo reboot. You will be disconnected, give the Pi a minute or so to reboot. Remember if you set a DHCP reservation the IP address may change when it comes back up.
  • Connect with PuTTY and login again. Easiest way is to click the PuTTY icon in the top left corner of the program and select “Restart Session” then log back in or just close and reopen the software.
  • Go back into the config with sudo raspi-config and enter
    • Select option 4 then 2 for change timezone. Select your country and city for your timezone (US -> Eastern for example).
    • Select option 4 again then 3 for the keyboard. In the list you should have a Generic 104-key PC option. Select that then English (US) or whatever keyboard layout you’d prefer. If you don’t see English (US) click Other first then it should be in the list. Hit enter to select then select the actual keyboard layout. You will be asked a couple more questions, select the appropriate answer (usually the defaults).
    • You can also go into the same menu to select US as your wireless country.
  • Now would also be a good time to change your password to something other then the default raspberry. Select the first option and enter a new password.
  • Select Finish to exit the config menu.

So the next recommended thing to do is update the Pi to the latest software:

  • At the terminal prompt type sudo apt-get update -y and enter. It might take a minute or two.
  • Next type sudo apt-get upgrade -y and enter. Chances are this will take 10 – 20 minutes as updates are downloaded and installed.

Once the updates are done reboot again with sudo reboot, log back in using PuTTY, and install Pi-hole:

  • At the terminal prompt type in curl -sSL https://install.pi-hole.net | bash and enter

Go through the prompts and answer as you want it setup. Note the admin webpage password at the end as you will use that to login at http://YourPiAddress/admin. Lastly set your router DHCP to hand out the Pi-hole IP address for DNS instead of itself and you should be all set.

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