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How to Transfer ZIP Files to OpenELEC Devices

OpenELEC is a dedicated operating system that installs on a handful of single board computers and runs nothing but the Kodi Media Center software. There are several reasons why you’d need to transfer zip files to OpenELEC devices. The primary one is to transfer Kodi repositories and add-ons that you download from a different computer and need to install on your OpenELEC device.

OpenELEC Home

Today, we’ll start off by discussing what OpenELEC is, its advantages and its shortcomings. Then, we’ll cover the different reasons why one would want to transfer zip files to an OpenELEC device. We’ve come up with three different methods you can use to transfer zip files to OpenELEC. For each one, we’ll tell you exactly how to do it and when to use that method as each has different requirements and not all are applicable to all situations. Before we conclude, we’ll also briefly discuss other transfer methods that you might want to explore.

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About OpenELEC

OpenELEC is “…a small Linux-based Just Enough Operating System (JeOS) built from scratch as a platform to turn your computer into a Kodi media center“. At least, this is what they say on OpenELEC’s website. And this describes quite well what the operating system is. Although there seems to be somewhat of a contradiction between “built from scratch” and “Linux-based”, this is beyond our point. OpenELEC can only run on a handful of platforms. Those include “standard” Intel-based computers, Raspberry Pi as well as We Tek, Cubox and Hummingboard devices.

OpenELEC debuted in 2009 as yet another flavor of Linux. Linux, in case you don’t know, is a hugely popular open-source operating system. This distribution–a term used to describe the different flavors of Linux–was unique in that it was primarily focused on running XMBC, the ancestor of Kodi. It didn’t any of the extra packages that make most other Linux distributions tick. OpenELEC was a fast and efficient operating system, that included XMBC.

When the Raspberry Pi was launched back in 2012 people saw it as a suitable, inexpensive platform to build a media player. After all, it had all the required hardware and enough power to handle most video formats of then. Very soon, OpenELEC was ported to that platform. The operating system’s built-in Kodi media player software and its ability to run on limited hardware made it the operating of choice. Nowadays, not many people run OpenELEC on an Intel-based computer anymore and it’s almost exclusively used on single board computers.

Using OpenELEC

Assuming you’re familiar with Kodi, you’ll feel right at home with OpenELEC. The operating system doesn’t have a user interface or even an accessible command line. It boots right into Kodi which kind of is its user interface. You won’t even know OpenELEC is there and that it is using Kodi. Everything that can be done in Kodi, can be done in OpenELEC. You can add file sources in the File Manager, install repositories and install any add-on using most any method available on Kodi. Using OpenELEC will be very easy for any Kodi user. And considering that the operating system is freed up of all extra software and useless modules, all the available hardware resources can be dedicated to making your media experience even greater.

The Case of Open ELEC’s Numerous Cousins

OpenELEC is not one of a kind, though. Throughout the years, several other similar albeit different operating systems have been launched. One of them is called OSMC. OSMC actually started as RaspBMC, one of the two originally available operating systems on the Raspberry Pi when it first came out. OSMC was–and still is–a scaled-down Raspbian–the other original Raspberry Pi operating system, itself a scaled-down version of Debian Linux–with XMBC–again, Kodi’s ancestor–built-in.


Also similar to OpenELEC is LibreELEC which came out in March 2016. It was created by a group of former OpenELEC developers who left the project due to “creative difference”. OpenELEC being open source, they were free to fork the OpenELEC code into their own OS. Rumor has it that today, most of the former OpenELECdeveloperss are with the LibreELEC team.


Yet another OpenELEC cousin–albeit a distant one–is Xbian. It is a small media center-oriented operating system built specifically for the Raspberry Pi, the CuBox-i or the Hummingboard. Based on Debian Linux, it is lightweight and runs well on limited hardware while still offering most of the freedom of a full Debian installation. It feels like XBian’s designers have found the right balance between small footprint and customization possibilities. XBian’s default configuration fits on a 2GB SD card, uses little RAM and CPU and has Kodi preinstalled.


The Need to Transfer ZIP Files

If you’re familiar with Kodi, you know how any third-party add-on is installed. After enabling Unknown sources, you add the repository installation source path to the file manager. Then, you install the appropriate repository from the added source. Finally, you proceed with the add-on installation from the repository.

This is the standard method. Sometimes, though, you need to sideload either repositories or add-ons onto Kodi. This is usually done by downloading a zip file from the web to the local machine and launching the installation from there.

The Limitations of OpenELEC and Similar Operating Systems

OpenELEC being a very limited operating system, it does not come with a web browser. Actually, it not only doesn’t come with one but, since there is no operating system user interface, you can’t even install one. Ironically, despite being open-source, this is a fairly closed operating system, and so are its cousins, all plagued with the same limitation. XBian is an exception and a more open OS where more packages are or can be installed. The procedures described herein are probably not necessary on XBian.

So, if you can’t surf the web from within an OpenELEC device, how then can you download a zip file to it? The answer is easy: You can’t. But of course, there’s a way around this. What you need to do is download the required zip file from another computer and transfer the downloaded zip file to the OpenELEC device. Then, you can proceed normally with the installation.

Transfering Zip Files to OpenELEC

Now that we know what OpeneELEC is and why we need to transfer zip files to it, it’s time to have a look at how it can be done. There are many ways you can accomplish that. Some are easier than others. In fact, some are quite complicated. We won’t talk much about those here. We’ve kept the three easiest ways one can transfer zip files to OpenELEC. Why three? Why not just THE best way to do it? This is simply because each method is used in a different situation, depending on your OpenELEC device and the computer from which you’re transferring the zip files from.

Let’s see what the three methods are. But before we begin, we want to make it clear that these methods will work on OSMC or LibreELEC just as well as they will on OpenELEC

Method 1 – Using a USB key

This is by far the easiest method. If you can use it, we strongly suggest you do. It has a couple of requirements, though. Both the source computer–the one from which you want to transfer the zip file–and the OpenELEC device must have an available USB port. In most situations, this will be the case. The other requirement, of course, is that you have a suitably-sized USB key to copy the zip file to.

By now, you’ve probably already figured out how it’s done but let’s review the steps.

  1. Insert your USB key in the source computer.
  2. Copy the zip file from its folder on the source computer to the USB key.
  3. Eject the USB key from the source computer.
  4. Insert the USB key into the destination OpenELEC device.
  5. The operating system will automatically mount the newly inserted USB device within seconds.
  6. Leave the USB key plugged into the OpenELEC device and proceed to install the zip file as instructed.
  7. After choosing Install from zip file, you’ll need to navigate to your USB key and find the zip file.

We’ve kind of cheated with this method as we haven’t actually transferred to file to the OpenELEC device. But in real life, you don’t usually have to anyway. You just need the zip file until the installation of the repository or add-on is complete.

Method 2 – From a Windows Computer Via the Network

This second method requires no extra hardware but the two devices–your computer and the OpenELEC device–must be on the same network, either wired or wireless. The steps below are for a Windows computer. If your source computer is a Macintosh, skip to the next section as they are slightly different.

  • On your OpenELEC device, go to Settings > OpenELEC > Services  and click Enable SAMBA
  • Now, on your Windows computer, launch the File Explorer
  • In the sidebar at the left of the File Explorer window, click Network
  • The main File Explorer window will display all the devices on your network that have shared connections. Unless you have renamed your OpenELEC device, one of the devices listed will be called OpenELEC. Click it.
  • Navigate to the Downloads folder or whatever folder you want to transfer the zip file to.
  • Press ctrl+n to open a new File Explorer Window.
  • In the new File Explorer Window, navigate to the folder where the zip file you want to transfer to the OpenELEC device is located.
  • Now you need to drag the zip from the source File Explorer window to the File Explorer window we on your OpenELEC device
  • If a dialog box asks what you want to do, you can select either Copy here or Move here, depending on whether you want to leave the original file on the source computer.
  • You could be asked to confirm that you want to move the file. If you are, click Yes.

That’s all! You’ve copied the zip file which is now in the Downloads directory on your OpenELEC device.

You may now proceed to install the zip file as instructed. After choosing Install from zip file, you’ll need to navigate to the Download folder on your OpenELEC device.

Method 3 – From a Macintosh Computer Via the Network

The third method is similar to the second one except that it is for Macintosh computers running MacOS. And just like the previous method, it requires no extra hardware although both computers must be connected to the same network.

  • Make sure you OpenELEC device is turned on and connected to the network.
  • On the source computer, open a Finder window.
  • At the left of the Finder window, there’s a section named Shared. This is where you’ll find all the devices on your network that have shared connections. If you have not renamed your OpenELEC device, one of the listed devices listed should be called OpenELEC. Click it.
  • After clicking OpenELEC, you will be logged in as a guest and see a window with all the folders on the OpenELEC device.
  • Double-click the Downloads directory to open it.
  • Now, open a new Finder window–or a new Finder tab if you have that feature
  • In the new Finder window or tab, navigate to the folder where the zip file you want to transfer to the OpenELEC device is located
  • Click and hold of the zip file and drag it into the Downloads window or tab of your OpenELEC device.
  • All done! You’ve copied the zip file which is now in the Downloads folder on your OpenELEC device.

You may proceed to install the zip file as instructed. After choosing Install from zip file, you’ll need to navigate to the Download folder on your OpenELEC device.

Other Possible Methods

As we said earlier, there are many more methods you can use to transfer zip files to OpenELEC devices. While we can’t give you all the details of each method, we can at least mention the mort common ones. Feel free to search the web for more detailed instructions should any of them be of interest to you.

Filezilla is popular open-source a file-transfer software that you can use to transfer files to OpenELEC devices, the software can use several different transfer protocols, including SCP (Secure CoPy) which is usually supported on OpenELEC and similar devices. WinSCP is another such program that can be used to transfer files. In fact, there are quite a few of them.


As we’ve shown, transferring zip files to OpenELEC devices is not complicated. By following the right set of detailed directions that best applies to your situation, you’ll get it done in no time. However, you should keep in mind that operating systems change very often. And although the general methods of copying files using the Windows File Explorer or MacOS Finder will most likely be there for a long time, the exact way to use them could change.

How about you? What method do you use to transfer zip files to OpenELEC devices of other similar devices with no operating system user interface? Use the comments below to share your experience with us.

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1 Comment

  1. I have used LibreELEC before. IMO it seems so restricted. Unable to perform certain operations, I had resorted to standard Raspbian OS and installed Kodi on it. Never heard about Xbian before. It sounds interesting and seems to offer more customization than open/LibreELEC. I need to give it a try.

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