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Getting your hands on a Raspberry Pi opens up a remarkable world of computing projects – from media centers and NAS boxes to Android emulation, robotics, retro gaming, and software development.

To do these things, you’ll need to know how to install software on the Pi. Typically shipping without a microSD card, this also means you’ll need to know how to install the main software: the operating system.

Neither of these tasks is particularly difficult, but if the Raspberry Pi is your first taste of Linux, they might seem unfamiliar.

1. A New Operating System

The installation of an operating system for the Raspberry Pi is particularly unusual. However, as it is the first thing you need to do if you want to get your Pi up and running, you’ll need to get a handle on it.

Unless you have a pre-installed microSD card with NOOBS How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users How NOOBS For Raspberry Pi Can Help First Time Users There is something about the Raspberry Pi that might just put people off: until now, setting it up has not been particularly user friendly. NOOBS aims to change that! Read More ready to insert into your Pi, installing an operating system requires a Windows, Mac or Linux computer. Without a third-party microSD card, it’s up to you to download a suitable operating system and load it onto the card.

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Once this has been done, the card should be inserted into the Raspberry Pi and the device booted up. Installation will then begin as the operating system is unpacked and organized into the necessary directories. After this has happened, the chosen OS will boot. Several operating systems are available for the Raspberry Pi, including the Debian-based Raspbian Jessie 5 Ways New Raspbian Jessie Makes Raspberry Pi Even Easier to Use 5 Ways New Raspbian Jessie Makes Raspberry Pi Even Easier to Use Following the release of Debian Jessie in July, the Raspberry Pi community has been blessed with a new release of the Raspbian variant, based on the "parent" distro. Read More , and the various versions of Kodi Install Kodi to Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Media Center Install Kodi to Turn Your Raspberry Pi Into a Home Media Center You need a media center solution, and you've heard about Kodi. Is it suitable, and can you install it on your Raspberry Pi? And how do you take it beyond the basics? Read More .

You’ll find full details on installing Raspbian Optimize The Power Of Your Raspberry Pi With Raspbian Optimize The Power Of Your Raspberry Pi With Raspbian As befits a man with too much tech on his hands, I’ve been playing with my Raspberry Pi recently, configuring the device so that it works to its fullest potential. It continues to run as... Read More , here on MakeUseOf. Various other Raspberry Pi operating systems 7 Operating Systems You Can Run With Raspberry Pi 7 Operating Systems You Can Run With Raspberry Pi Who can argue with a $40 computer? Especially one that also forms a good base for electronics projects! I certainly can't. But the hardware alone is only one side of the story: you still need... Read More are also available, though nearly of our projects assume you’re running the default Raspbian.

2. Using APT in the Command Line

Perhaps the most common means of installing software on a Raspberry Pi is to use the command line.

The apt utility is built into Debian-based operating systems (like Raspbian Jessie), and you can use the apt-get command to find the package you’re looking for, like this:

sudo apt-get install [packagename]

So, if I was to install PHP on my Raspberry Pi, the command I’d use would be:

sudo apt-get install php5

After the package repositories have been checked, you’ll be asked to confirm installation. Minutes later, the software will be installed.

The repositories that are selected by default are where you’ll find compatible, stable software. If you’re looking for other software, other repositories can be added, but software installed from these may not deliver reliable results.

3. Add/Remove Software for Raspberry Pi

Another way of installing software on your Raspberry Pi is via the graphical package manager. Many Linux operating systems come with a package manager installed, and as of Raspbian Jessie, so does Raspbian.

You’ll find Add/Remove Software via Menu > Preferences. A modified version of GNOME Packages from other distros, if your Raspbian version doesn’t have it for some reason, open a Terminal and enter:

sudo apt-get install pi-package

Add/Remove Software is a straightforward, intuitive tool that lets you browse for apps and utilities via the category buttons in the left-hand pane. Once you have found the software you want to install, simply check the box, then click Apply, and OK to download and install. Multiple packages can be installed if so desired.

Removing software is a case of clearing the checks, and clicking Apply and OK. You’ll find games, alternative desktops, fonts, browsers, multimedia tools and much more using Add/Remove Software. This is a welcome addition to Raspbian, and replaces the abandoned Pi Store.

4. Install Software with Python

If you cannot find what you’re looking for in the Raspbian archives, check packages in the Python Packages Index (PyPI). This is installed by default in Raspbian Jessie, where you can use the pip tool in the command line.

You can upgrade your Raspberry Pi to the latest operating system version to use pip, or install manually:

sudo apt-get install python3-pip

…for Python 3, or

sudo apt-get install python-pip

…for Python 2.

Usage differs between the two: pip3 for the more recent Python 3, or simply pip for Python 2.

pip3 install [packagename]

or

pip install [packagename]

Should you need to uninstall these (you probably won’t), use

pip3 uninstall

or

pip uninstall

Because so much coding is done by the community in Python, it’s useful to have pip installed.

5. Rub Some Ruby Software Gems

In a similar way, you might want to run software written in the ruby programming language. Appropriately enough, these scripts are called “gems” and can be installed on a Raspberry Pi after the rubygems software has been installed.

sudo apt-get install rubygems

Finally, a gem can then be installed with:

sudo gem install [packagename]

You can find a list of gems at www.rubygems.org/gems. Many scripts are available, including the static website building tool – Jekyll.

Enhance Your Raspberry Pi with Software

Installing software on your Raspberry Pi turns the little box of tricks into a portable, compact computer that can be used for a range of fascinating projects.

We’re not just talking about broadcasting your own radio station Broadcast Your Own FM Radio Station, with a Raspberry Pi Broadcast Your Own FM Radio Station, with a Raspberry Pi Sick of listening to babbling DJs and want to broadcast your own radio station? Raspberry Pi will come to your rescue, with its previously unknown ability to broadcast on the FM band. Read More , or photographing the night sky Pi: The Final Frontier (It's About Stars and Stuff, See?) Pi: The Final Frontier (It's About Stars and Stuff, See?) I've been trying to snap the stars and moon -- perhaps even the Aurora Borealis -- using my Raspberry Pi for months. Almost every time, it fails, or at best returns distinctly average photos and... Read More , either. The Raspberry Pi can be used for retro video games Retro Gaming on the Raspberry Pi: Everything You Need to Know Retro Gaming on the Raspberry Pi: Everything You Need to Know Indeed, who in their right mind would have guessed that the little Raspberry Pi could prove so vital as a platform for so-called retro gaming, offering support for a vast array of emulators and different... Read More , while the later versions are suitable for use as a modest desktop PC Use Your Raspberry Pi Like a Desktop PC Use Your Raspberry Pi Like a Desktop PC There are so many amazing things that you can do with a Raspberry Pi, from running your own space program to building a media centre. Although ostensibly intended as a compact computer that can be... Read More .

While there is a learning curve to be overcome in using the command line, it’s good practice for anyone with an interest in coding. This, after all, is the very purpose that the Raspberry Pi was created for!

What is your preferred method for installing software on the Raspberry Pi? Tell us in the comments!

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  1. Tats4me
    March 12, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    according to what you've written here it is no longer possible to get games on the pi
    the one working method to listed here, the pistore, got deleted from existence, and you can't download any games from the terminal as far as i can tell, also there is no third way listed? it said there would be 3

    • Christian Cawley
      March 31, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      Hi Tats4me -- this is a post we will be updating shortly, for the reasons you highlight.

      Stay tuned!

  2. Elijah
    May 30, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    when i try to sudo apt get nearly any software, it says there isn't a package like that. i tried sudo apt get update but it still kept doing it. the only software that have worked is amarok, dconf tools, and a game called chromium that doesn't work

    • Christian Cawley
      June 2, 2016 at 7:46 am

      Strange; certainly doesn't reflect my experiences or those of the vast majority of the Rpi community (a quick browse of the forums will confirm this).

      Have you tried upgrade and update?

  3. mahdi
    May 19, 2016 at 11:35 am

    hi
    i used this code (sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install pistore) in Terminal in raspi and after that it says E: Inavaild operation pistore
    ??

    • Christian Cawley
      May 19, 2016 at 12:26 pm

      Unfortunately the Pi Store closed after the organization running it went bust. We'll be updating this article to reflect that soon.

  4. gpvprasad
    March 8, 2013 at 6:13 am

    I bought pi but I don't have a display unit and didn't install further any.

    • Russell
      February 27, 2016 at 1:50 am

      Did you get any further? You can remote desktop into the pi with something like xrdp. You will need to install this first which can be done via ssh. Of course you may need to borrow a display to make sure you can get this on your network first.

  5. Duane Adam
    March 8, 2013 at 1:59 am

    Interesting. Maybe a Best Of Raspberry Pi Tutorials soon? :)

  6. Garris Rago
    March 7, 2013 at 10:31 pm

    I've only ever used raspbmc, but am thinking of trying different OSs on it just to see what they are like.