Installing UniFi Controller on a Raspberry Pi?

The UniFi controller software from Ubiquiti Networks allows you to manage UniFi network devices like access points, switches, and gateways all from one centralized interface. Installing the UniFi controller on a Raspberry Pi gives you a dedicated, low power device to run the controller software in your home or small business network.

Installing UniFi Controller on a Raspberry Pi?

 

Benefits of Running UniFi Controller on a Pi

Running the UniFi controller on a Raspberry Pi has several advantages:

  • Low cost – Raspberry Pis start at just $35 for a full computer capable of running the UniFi controller. Less expensive than a cloud key or PC.
  • Low power – A Pi consumes just a few watts of electricity, less than other hardware options.
  • Dedicated platform – The Pi can be dedicated to just running the controller, reducing resource conflicts.
  • Always on – Pis lend themselves well to being always on, enabling constant availability of the controller.

Raspberry Pi Hardware Needed

To install the UniFi controller software on a Raspberry Pi, you will need:

  • Raspberry Pi board (Pi 3 B+ recommended)
  • MicroSD card (16GB Class 10 recommended)
  • Power supply
  • Case (optional but recommended)
  • Ethernet cable or WiFi dongle (if using wireless connectivity)

A Pi 3 B+ or Pi 4 will provide the best performance, but the UniFi software can also run on older Pi models if needed.

Installing the Software

With the Raspberry Pi hardware ready, installing the UniFi controller software involves just a few steps.

Enable SSH on the Pi

SSH must be enabled to allow remote access to install the software. This is done by placing an empty file called ssh onto the root of the mounted boot partition on the SD card.

Connect the Pi to the Network

Connect your Pi to your local network using a wired ethernet connection or by configuring WiFi connectivity.

Log Into the Pi

Once connected to the network, log into your Pi via SSH. Locate its IP address with your router or a scanning tool. Use the default credentials:

Username: piĀ 

Password: raspberry

Download and Run the UniFi Install Script

Ubiquiti provides an install script to automatically download and configure UniFi on a compatible Linux platform like the Pi. Run these commands:

curl -sSL https://unifi-sdn.ui.com/raspberry/install.sh | bash

This script will install all required dependencies, download the UniFi software, configure it as a service, and launch it automatically on boot.

The process takes 5-10 minutes to complete depending on your Pi model. Once finished, the UniFi controller web interface will be accessible on port 8080 of your Pi’s IP address.

Optimizing the UniFi Pi Controller

To ensure a stable, long-running controller on the Raspberry Pi, some additional configuration is recommended for best performance:

  • Expand the file system – Expand the SD card filesystem allocation to use the full space.
  • Allocate more RAM – UniFi requires additional RAM so reduce GPU memory.
  • Use a powered USB hub – If attaching multiple devices, use a powered hub to provide sufficient power.
  • Enable security options – Require login, enable HTTPS, disable portal modules.
  • Backup regularly – Backup settings and automatic database backups are advised.

With these enhancements, your Raspberry Pi can be an ideal dedicated, low cost UniFi controller for home or SMB networks.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What model Raspberry Pi do you recommend?
    The Raspberry Pi 3 B+ or Pi 4 models provide the best performance for UniFi. But it can also run on a Pi 3 B or Pi 2 if needed.

  2. What size microSD card do I need?
    A 16GB Class 10 card is the recommended minimum size. Larger cards provide more storage headroom.

  3. Can I run the software on the Pi without an SD card?
    No, the SD card stores the operating system and UniFi software so is required.

  4. Should I connect via WiFi or use ethernet?
    For reliability, a wired connection is preferred. But WiFi can also work well with a good signal close to your access point.

  5. How do I secure access to my UniFi controller?
    Require login access, enable HTTPS for the web interface, disable the guest portal module, and create backups of your data.

  6. Can I also run Pi-hole or other apps?
    Yes, if your Pi model has sufficient CPU and RAM, running additional tasks alongside UniFi is possible. But may impact overall performance.

  7. What if my Raspberry Pi controller goes offline?
    Ensure your Pi is powered correctly via an official power adapter. Check network connections and reboot it if unresponsive. Restore from a backup if software issues occur.

  8. How do I troubleshoot adoption issues with devices?
    Verify devices are on same L2 network as controller, try rebooting devices, check if old controller managing them, factory reset if they still won’t adopt.

  9. Should I enable automatic database backups?
    Yes, enabling automatic database backups every 24 hours is recommended to avoid losing your UniFi configuration data.

  10. What if my Pi lacks sufficient CPU resources for UniFi?
    Try closing all unnecessary programs and services to dedicate CPU to UniFi, or upgrade to a Pi 3 B+ or Pi 4 for much better performance.

  11. Can I manage multiple sites from the Raspberry Pi controller?
    Yes, you can create and manage multiple UniFi sites on the software running on the Pi. But large multi-site networks may require a more robust hardware controller instead.

  12. How do I migrate an existing UniFi controller to the Raspberry Pi?
    Backup your settings from the old controller, then restore the backup on the freshly installed UniFi software on the Raspberry Pi. Then adopt devices.

  13. Is the UniFi controller on a Pi suitable for an enterprise network?
    For very large networks, a commercial UniFi controller hardware appliance is recommended instead due to the more demanding requirements. But the Pi controller can work well for many SMB networks.

  14. Can I run the UniFi controller in the cloud instead of on a Pi?
    Yes, Ubiquiti offers UniFi Cloud which hosts the controller in the cloud. This removes local hardware requirements but may incur a monthly cost.

  15. What Pi case and accessories are recommended?
    For the best reliability, use an official Raspberry Pi case with integrated fan/heatsink for cooling. A high quality microSD card and official power adapter is also recommended.

  16. What should I do if my UniFi controller won’t start properly?
    Check system logs for errors, restore defaults if corrupted data, reinstall software from scratch on the SD card, replace SD card if faulty, try different power supply if stability issues occur.

  17. Can I adjust the portal timeout settings on the Raspberry Pi controller?
    Yes, the UniFi portal modules are fully configurable on the Pi just as with other UniFi controller hardware options. You can modify guest portal, hotspot portal, and other settings as desired.

  18. How can I improve WiFi performance when using the Pi controller?
    Optimize WiFi by surveying signal coverage, adjusting AP transmit power, enabling minimum RSSI enforcement for clients, tuning channels/channel widths, and enabling band steering.

  19. What is the typical electricity cost to run a Pi UniFi controller?
    Just a few watts typically, costing less than $5-10 USD per year to run 24/7 in most regions based on avg residential electricity prices. Much less than other hardware options.

  20. Can I directly attach UniFi access points to the Raspberry Pi via its USB ports?
    Technically yes, but not recommended. The Pi’s limited power output could result in disconnections or other issues. An ethernet connection is preferred for adopted devices.

Conclusion

Installing the UniFi Network Controller software on a Raspberry Pi is a great option for running a dedicated, low cost controller for home or SMB networks. With optimized configuration, the Pi makes for a compact, energy efficient way to centrally manage your UniFi network infrastructure. Just be sure to properly secure, backup, and maintain the system for long-term reliable operation.

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