We’ve used Etcher several times, mostly to make a bootable SD card for a Raspberry Pi or to put a bootable image of a Linux distribution onto a USB thumb drive. But we’re rethinking that now because we’ve read some concerns about privacy when using Etcher, or balenaEtcher as it is now called. Here are just three links where the issue is discussed:
What is a good replacement for Etcher (ads and ignores privacy) – from the Raspberry Pi Forums.
Serious Privacy Concerns with Etcher 1.4.4 – from forums.balena.io – in case that page disappears, it’s also archived here.
Etcher 1.4.4 Ignores Privacy Setting #2497 – from Github – also archived here.
Some users have opined that balenaEtcher might violate GDPR regulations in Europe (see for example balenaEtcher and privacy/GDPR #1266 from Github), but balena appears to disagree. We are neither lawyers nor European residents, so we are staying out of that dispute. All we wanted to point out is that if you do have any concerns about using Etcher or balenaEtcher, there are alternatives, depending on which operating system you are using:
Windows: The program to use here is Rufus – their tag line is “Create bootable USB drives the easy way”:
Mac: A program called ApplePi-Baker v2 is a great alternative. It’s designed to allow backing up an SD card, but the “Restore” function allows you to to create a bootable SD card or USB drive in a manner pretty similar to how it’s done in Etcher:
ApplePi-Baker v2 is actually a much more capable program than Etcher. For example, if you are creating a Raspbian Lite image to use as a server on a Raspberry Pi, you may want to enable ssh access. To do that just go to the Additional Functions and Options settings and “Enable SSH”:
One other option on a Mac is to keep using Etcher or balenaEtcher, but use Little Snitch to block all outgoing connections. It will still try to go out to various Internet sites, but Little Snitch should stop it in its tracks. However, Little Snitch is not free software, so unless you’ve already purchased it for other reasons, this might not be be the best option.
Linux: Some users (generally those who love using the command line) swear that using dd is the answer. One example we saw posted was this:
dd if=/path-to-image of=/path-to-sdcard
Sometimes other options are also shown, for example to specify a block size. The problem with that is that is that if you make a mistake while using dd, for example by mixing up the paths, you can destroy your hard drive! This is why some people say that “dd” stands for “Drive Destroyer” – they’re sort of joking, but pointing out a serious problem for inexperienced users trying to use dd! If you are trying to create a bootable SD card for a Raspberry Pi, this article explains how to do it using dd: Installing operating system images on Linux. Unless you are an experienced Linux user, we do not recommend using dd if any other alternative is available, due to the potential for inadvertent destruction of data you want to keep – of course this can also happen with other software, but dd just makes it too easy to destroy your hard drive if you are not paying close attention!
If you are running Ubuntu, there is a better option: Use the Startup Disk Creator utility that’s included with Ubuntu. Other versions of Linux may have the same or a similar utility installed, or available for download in their repository.
This How-To Geek article explains your options: How to Burn an ISO File to a USB Drive in Linux. While the article specifically talks about ISO files and USB drives, the same techniques should work for IMG files (with the .img extension) and SD cards. Note that if the files are compressed you will probably need to expand them first to get the actual .iso or .img file. In some cases you may need to format or re-format the USB drive or SD card first, but there are many tutorials available, as well as videos on YouTube, that show how to do that in Linux.
More options: If none of the above work for you, there are other options, though some require a greater level of technical expertise than those mentioned above. You can easily find several of them at this page on the AlternativeTo site. Many of them are not as user-friendly as the ones shown above.