Python Programming Tutorial: Getting Started with the Raspberry Pi

Contributors: Shawn Hymel
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Install the OS

You have a few options when it comes to interacting with the Raspberry Pi. The first and most common is to use it like you would a full desktop computer (just smaller). This involves connecting a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. With this setup, you are likely best served by installing Raspbian with Desktop, which gives you a full graphical user interface (GUI) to work with. This is the best option if you want an experience similar to working with other operating systems (OS), such as Windows, macOS, or other popular Linux flavors, like Ubuntu.

Raspberry Pi full desktop setup with monitor, keyboard, and mouse

Option 1: Use the Raspberry Pi like a full computer with keyboard, mouse, and monitor

The other option is to create a headless setup, which means you can skip the monitor, keyboard, and mouse. While this is the cheaper way to go, it means you'll need to be open to performing all your actions in the command line interface. For this, you will want either Raspbian with Desktop or Raspbian Lite operating systems.

Raspberry Pi connected to laptop over Serial

Option 2: Configure the Raspberry Pi for "headless" operation where you interact with it from another computer

This guide will show you how to write and run Python programs that will work in both configurations.

Option 1: Full Desktop Setup

The Raspberry Pi 3 Starter Kit Hookup Guide offers a great walkthrough to setting up your Raspberry Pi with NOOBS (Raspberry Pi's easy-to-use graphical OS installer).

From here on out, all instructions that are unique to the full desktop setup will be highlighted in blue.

Raspberry Pi 3 Starter Kit Hookup Guide

April 11, 2016

Guide for getting going with the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+ starter kit.

Option 2: Headless Pi

If you want to skip the keyboard, mouse, and monitor, you can install Raspbian Lite. This will allow you to get a terminal into your Pi using SSH or Serial on another computer. The Headless Raspberry Pi Setup walks you through setting up your Raspberry Pi without a graphical interface.

Instructions in this tutorial that are unique to the headless setup will be highlighted in yellow.

Headless Raspberry Pi Setup

April 23, 2018

Configure a Raspberry Pi without a keyboard, mouse, or monitor.

If you have the Raspberry Pi Starter Kit, you can attach the Pi Wedge to the Pi over the provided ribbon cable, and connect the FTDI Breakout board to the Pi Wedge. From here, connect a USB cable between your computer and the FTDI Breakout board. This will allow you to open a Serial terminal to your Raspberry Pi, as covered in the Serial Terminal section of the Headless Pi tutorial.

Fully assembled Raspberry Pi Starter kit with FTDI serial-to-USB breakout