Set up Your Raspberry Pi Zero in “headless Mode” When You Don’t Have Access to a Monitor
Setting up a normal sized Raspberry Pi in headless mode (where you don’t need a monitor or keyboard) is easy because you have access to the Ethernet port. The Raspberry Pi Zero doesn’t have an Ethernet port, so you’ll have to take a different approach. Coder and blogger David Maitland explains how to do this.
Since the Raspberry Pi Zero does not have an Ethernet port, you cannot easily SSH into your computer for remote configuration, making headless operation difficult. You will also need a USB Wi-Fi dongle if you want the Zero to connect to a Wi-Fi network. So, to set up Zero without a monitor and keyboard, you need to dig into the settings files on the SD card from your desktop computer. This basically means you plug in an SD card with a Raspbian image (or whatever operating system you choose) on your desktop computer, dig into the configuration settings to set up Wi-Fi, and then remove the SD card from your computer. … and put it in your Pi. It sounds complicated, but it’s very simple. Once you’ve got everything set up, you can access your Pi remotely from your computer, without an additional monitor or keyboard. Go to Maitland’s website for a guide.
Installing a Headless Raspberry Pi Zero | David Maitland