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How to connect a Raspberry Pi to a laptop

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Now in its 4th generation, the Raspberry Pi is a fantastic mini computing device that many have used for a wide range of purposes such as building robots, game emulation, learning their way around Linux, and much more. However, when purchasing your Raspberry Pi, all you get in your kit is the device itself as well as an SD card, meaning you’ll need to provide the series of peripherals to operate it. But, don’t fret, you are able to connect a Raspberry Pi to your laptop and use all of its inbuilt features such as the display, keyboard, and trackpad to control your Pi and get started on your project.

We’re going to go through all the steps needed for how to connect a Raspberry Pi to a laptop, detailing any additional software required as well as the preparation process you’ll need to go through to get it working correctly.

How to connect a Raspberry Pi to a laptop

Before we get into the actual connection process, you’ll first need to set up your SD card with an installation of the Raspberian Operating System. If you purchased a Rasberry Pi kit that had an SD card bundled in, you might already have the OS installed but if not, you’re going to need to install it yourself. Click this link to head to the direct download for the Raspbian OS and install it onto a blank SD card.

Now you have your OS installed, we’re going to be using that SD card throughout, so don’t swap it for another you have lying around! Let’s get into the steps.

Configure your Raspberry Pi’s WiFi connection

The first step on the list is configuring your Raspberry Pi’s WiFi connection so you’re hooked up to your home’s network.

Insert your SD card directly into your laptop via the internal SD card slot or via an SD card adapter. Inside your SD card you should be able to see a /boot folder. Create a file called wpa_supplicant.conf in that /boot folder. This file will be responsible for storing your login credentials for your network so is essential for any proceeding steps.

Insert your SD card into your laptop. You should see a /boot file folder show up. First, create a file named wpa_supplicant.conf in the /boot folder.

Information like accepted networks and pre-configured network keys (such as a wifi password) can be stored in the wpa_supplicant.conf text file. The file also configures wpa_supplicant—the software responsible for making login requests on your wireless network. So, creating the wpa_supplicant.conf file will configure how your Raspberry Pi connects to the internet.

Open up your wpa_supplicant.conf file and enter the following:

ctrl_interface=DIR=/var/run/wpa_supplicant GROUP=netdev








Of course, you’ll need to replace the YOURSSID with your home network’s name and YOURPASSWORD with your associated password for you to successfully connect to your WiFi.

After you’ve made the wpa_supplicant.conf file, you’ll now need to create SSH file. An SSH file is one that doesn’t have an extension so ensure the end of your file doesn’t end in a .extension. This SSH file will enable your laptop to communicate with your Raspberry Pi via the terminal so again, is integral when trying to connect to your laptop.

Turn on your Raspberry Pi

Now you have your wpa_supplicant.conf and SSH files in the /boot folder, you can now eject your SD card from your laptop and insert it into your Raspberry Pi.

Once your SD card is inserted, turn on your Raspberry Pi. If you have successfully created both files, your Pi should be able to enable SSH ready for you to connect your laptop.

Connect your Raspberry Pi via SSH

Ensure your Raspberry Pi and laptop are connected to the same network. You’ll then need to get the IP address of your Pi to start the SSH process. To do so, run the “arp -a” command on your laptop which should bring a list up of all the IP addresses associated with your network. Locate your Raspberry Pi from this list and note down the address.

Now, to connect to your Raspberry Pi via SSH, run the ssh [email protected] command followed by the IP address you jotted down. You’ll be prompted with a login, enter “raspberry” as the password (unless you’ve done this before and you’ve changed this). This should now give you access to your Raspberry Pi’s command line.

Install VNC Server

Your Raspberry Pi should now be connected to your laptop but why isn’t it displaying on your screen? Well, you’ll need to set up a server to do so.

The server you’ll need to set up is a VNC server and this allows your laptop to control your Raspberry Pi remotely, thus allowing you to view it on your laptop’s screen. To set one up, you’ll need to open up your terminal again and enter the following:

sudo apt–get update
sudo apt–get install realvnc–vnc–server realvnc–vnc–viewer

This should install the VNC server but you’ll alos need to enable it. Type “sudo raspi-config” into your terminal. A popup should appear. Go to “interfacing Options” then “P3 VNC” and hit “Yes”.

You should be all done with the VNC server and you can now install the viewer to get looking at your Raspberry Pi’s desktop.

Install a VNC Viewer

Your server should be up and running and communicating between your Raspberry Pi and laptop but you’ll need to install a VNC viewer to see your Pi’s desktop. We recommend RealVNC which can be downloaded here.

After RealVNC’s viewer has been installed, launch it and type in the IP address of your Raspberry Pi that you’ve been using. You’ll now be prompted for your login information. Again, if you haven’t changed this, it’s defaulted to “pi” as your username and “raspberry” for your password. After logging in, you should now have complete access to your Raspberry Pi on your laptop!

This should have been all you need to know for how to connect a Raspberry Pi to a laptop but if you have any problems or additional queries, drop a comment below and we’ll try and get it answered for you.

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