What Programming Language does Raspberry Pi Use?

One of the Raspberry Pi’s star features is that it can be used with a litany of programming languages, new and old. When it comes to picking the “best” one, things definitely get quite nuanced. The good news is that there will always be a best choice for you depending on your particular project’s needs.

My name is Jamie Smith, and I’ve been using (and coding on) various Raspberry Pi models since 2015. It’s fair to say I’ve got a good overview of exactly how useful they can be for programming!

Today, I’m going to not only explain why the Pi is a good development PC, but I’ll also cover why it’s a good first-time machine for coding, how suitable it is for use with specific popular programming tools, and also how to use it to produce applications for other platforms.

Now, let’s get to the nuts and bolts of this article!

Why is the Pi Ideal for Programming?

Since it first hit the market in 2012, the Pi has sold over 38 million units (source). While many users have adopted them into their setups as media centers and emulation boxes, it’s easy to see why others have invested in them for coding purposes; not only are they cheap, durable, and massively versatile, but they also have minimal power requirements.

Traditional Programming Languages Included with the Raspberry Pi

The Pi is a great choice for first-time programmers, but it can be equally useful for those of you with more “serious” experience; out of the box, it’s equipped with Python 2, Python 3, C, C++, and Scratch support. 

However – because it’s so easy to port Linux software to Arm devices, you can conceivably use just about any major programming language – this includes, but is in no way limited to, PHP, Perl, smartBASIC, Fortran, and even various assemblers!

Block-based Programming Languages Included with the Pi

Whether you’re young or old, the truth is that learning to program can seem very daunting. A great way to begin understanding the fundamentals of how computer code works is to use a block based programming language. 

One of the most popular block-based programming languages ever created is Scratch, which was developed by MIT. 

This incredibly versatile development environment allows you to learn how to code games, multimedia apps, and even your own art projects without ever needing to write a line of traditional code!

For anyone looking to make the leap from Scratch to a slightly-more conventional programming environment, Raspblocks allows you to generate python code from blocks. 

Likewise, Piper gives users the power to create embedded Raspberry Pi Pico projects without the requirement for traditional programming.  

Can You Use C++ on Raspberry Pi?

You can absolutely use C++ on a Raspberry Pi. 

In fact, Raspberry Pi OS comes equipped with everything needed to begin writing C/C++ code as soon as it’s installed. It’s also equipped, by default, to support the Pi’s hardware capabilities (such as its GPIO pins and camera).

You can utilize the GNU C++ compiler to test your programs on a Pi. If you’re doing this, we’d probably recommend installing geany, a fantastic tool for just about any programming project (and easier to learn the vim or nano).

Is Raspberry Pi Good for Learning Python?

Again, the answer is yes! 

In fact, coding Python on Debian-based distributions (such as Raspberry Pi OS and Ubuntu) can often be much more intuitive than doing so with Windows. 

For one, your Python environment will be configured by default and easily invoked from the terminal by typing “python”.

Additionally, the fact that Linux encourages terminal commands so heavily can often mean that it’s easier to integrate complex file operations – or automate onerous manual tasks – into your Python code.

What Is the Best Programming Language for Raspberry Pi?

As with software development on any computer, the best programming language for the Raspberry Pi is going to be the one that suits your needs the best and (hopefully) also provides ready-to-use tools you can integrate into your code.

For kids and beginners who just want to understand the fundamental concepts of programming, we would recommend Scratch purely due to its ease of use and ability to run extremely well on the Pi.

For traditional coding work, it gets a little more nuanced. If your project is relatively lightweight (perhaps a file-management script, content management system, simple integrated Pi projects involving the GPIO pins, or even something like a basic graphics application), developing using Python will likely be a very smooth experience.

For more demanding projects which would benefit from memory optimization and low-level instruction calls (things like fully-featured multimedia apps, games, and perhaps even some integrated projects), C++ is the way to go. It also happens to be one of the most popular languages in existence, so knowing how to use it will likely benefit you in the long run.

FAQs

Here are some other questions related to Pi that you might be interested in, I’ll briefly answer them below.

Can you develop Android or iOS apps with a Pi?

Yes and no. 

Developing native Android or iOS apps on your Pi just isn’t going to happen. However, there are workarounds that will allow you to produce your own simple apps which can be used. 

The most relevant of these would be Progressive Web Apps, and we highly recommend you have a look at this MagPi article if it’s a route you’re interested in going down. Progressive Web Apps can be used with both iOS and Android.

Can you develop Unity games with a Pi?

No. In fact, just running Unity games on a Raspberry Pi can be a fairly hit-or-miss experience. 

When is a Pi less suited to your programming needs?

For any of the above-mentioned development environments (the iOS, Android, or Unity SDKs), you should try to invest in a decent PC if possible.

Likewise, while the Pi’s GPIO pins can make it an affordable and incredibly useful driver for integrated projects, it’s worth remembering that more advanced endeavors will likely benefit from the generally cheaper (and more complex) Arduino.

Closing Thoughts

The Pi is such a versatile device that it’s hard to designate any one language as “the best”. With that said, the fact that they’re all so accessible makes the process of getting started a whole lot easier. 

Let us know your thoughts on which programming languages are most suitable for the Pi in the comments section!

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