I want to let some smart programers play with a few Raspberry Pi boards at an event I am running. They will all have laptops and internet access. We probably won't have access to keyboards and screens though.

  • Is it possible to use a laptop keyboard to control the Pi and use the laptop screen as a display?
  • What cables would I need to allow this to happen if so?
  • Any idea how long it might take to set up - the people doing it would be super smart - I however, am not? :-(

Thank you. (I see there is already a question about using a laptop screen but the question doesn't seem to have been resolved yet).

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    Three letters perfect for you... VNC, sorry I don't have time to expand further I am at work at the moment Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 11:08
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    How many boards have you got and how many programmers? Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 7:42
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    Why can't they just SSH to the boards?
    – Jivings
    Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 10:22
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    LOL- If they cant access the Pi- then they are not that smart- Maybe it should be a test. One line will allow them to get SSH and do whatever they want. Can I Come?
    – Piotr Kula
    Commented Aug 24, 2012 at 18:05
  • Alex, sorry for very late response. We will have about 15 or so groups of about 20 people - they will have a lot of different tasks to do and the RPs will be a prize for winning team. I bought 22 so there could be one for every team but there will not be reliable access to a network. We might just get some SD cards and preinstall so they can get started. Will be playing with one this weekend. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 19:30

4 Answers 4


You can use VNC server on rarspberryPi and VNC clients on developers laptops. You can use tightvncserver package for this. In most typical setup, each client connecting to VNC will see exatcly the same screen, will control the same mouse pointer etc. I believe you would like to setup it so that every one that logs in gets his own individual screen.

To start VNC session, you can type:

tightvncserver :X

where X is a slot number. You can use :1, :2, :3, etc. It will ask your for password twice. It's the password clients will use to authenticate to the VNC server.

You can run multiple servers as long as each of them have different slot number. You have to specify proper slot number in VNC client when connecting, using proper port number. Port 5901 is slot :1, 5902 is slot :2 etc.

If they don't need graphical output, you could setup SSH server and create accounts for each developer. Developers with Linux systems or develpers who knows how to setup X server on their machines could also use SSH X forwarding feature to run some graphical programs.

Note that you won't be able to use such a setup for many developers at the same time as RaspberryPi is just not powerful enough. Each such session will have it's own programs running and there is really not much RAM and CPU power available.

  • Upvoted because VNC is the obvious way to go, but Mark mentions this is for a bunch of laptop-equipped attendees of an event, i.e. they will not necessarily all connected to a network (and/or it may not be possible to connect all the RasPis to one). I guess the next question is what direct connection methods work/are easy to set up for the RasPi? (Ethernet "null-modem"? USB-to-USB?) Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:01
  • Well, I assumed that they will have some network connection as it's not really possible to connect otherwise. I believe the best way is to connect raspbierrypi to some wifi access point using ethernet cable and allow laptops and macbooks to use their wifi cards. Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 12:22
  • This is really interesting. Thank you. It is true they won't all be connected to a network but we think the way to go to make this simple will be to preload some SD cards. Commented Sep 7, 2012 at 19:33

You could also run the Raspberry Pi as the wireless access point itself. All you need is a USB WiFi dongle (I used a RALINK RT5370). Instructions @ http://sirlagz.net/?p=589

Then use SSH or VNC as per above answer, I would recommend SSH myself as VNC with X and multiple sessions will probably bring the Pi to its knees very quickly


The question was about what cables people would need so I assume you're actually going to physically hand the RPis to the programmers. Looking at the other answers VNC or SSH is obviously a part of the solution and I agree with that but there is some discussion about how the laptops can connect to the RPis and while all of the before mentioned solutions would work I think they're overly complex or would require a good amount of expensive network infrastructure.

So to directly answer your question to the best of my knowledge you'll need 2 cords.

  1. An appropriate USB cord and cell phone charger to power the RPis. Many of the laptops will probably be able to power the RPis with their built in USB ports but this is not recommended as not all USB firmware will support this mode of operation so better to be safe with the cell phone chargers than sorry.

  2. A CROSSOVER ethernet cable. Crossover cables allow you to directly connect two hosts without a hub or switch so with them the laptops and RPis will have connectivity without clogging up the limited network you're likely to have at your event.

You'll need to make sure the images the RPis are running all have VNC installed and are ready to use before the event.

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    You don't need a crossover cable, as the Ethernet port on the Raspberry Pi is auto-sensing, and hence you don't need a crossover cable. Even if the laptop isn't autosensing (I suspect anything made in the last 5 years would be, but who knows) you only need one end to be autosensing to not worry about using a crossover cable. See elinux.org/RPi_Hardware_Basic_Setup#Additional_Peripherals
    – Kibbee
    Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 15:47

This thread has got me thinking. Id like to use my laptop to tinker with my Pi, but access to a TV and keyboard etc is tricky at the mo (house rennovation, shared TV, family living in 1 room etc)... I'm not yet at the stage where i can VNC or SSH on to it, it needs some config. Im a techie, but not a dev or had much experience of Linux so want to play... just had a brainwave however... surely I could setup a VM to run the linux distro of choice and play with it to my satisfaction, then copy the necessary config to the RPi at leisure when i can steal the telly for a bit... My TV time would likely be less than required without the VM.

Anyone tried anything similar and have any thoughts?

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    Why do you feel "I'm not yet at the stage where i can VNC or SSH on to it" as SSH is enabled by default - all you'll need is putty or similar on your laptop?
    – Andrew
    Commented Nov 10, 2012 at 8:12
  • Hi Andrew. I'm still at image build stage so i need access to the device in order to insert/remove SD card etc. i want to get raspmc going. my house is a complete tip so actually getting network, a TV and keyboard etc and my RPi in the same room is a challenge. Hence wanting to use my laptop as a monitor and keyboard like the original poster!
    – Becky
    Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 16:25
  • Don't forget you would need a VM that can emulate ARM... Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 23:00

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