For the last several years I have been writing scripts to simplify and automate the setup for Raspberry Pi single board computers using Raspian Linux (a Raspberry Pi specific port of Debian GNU/Linux). It’s about time I distilled what I have learnt into some notes.

Most of this material can also be found in my Pi setup scripts

Keeping the OS up to date.

Use the standard Debian apt-get utility. For example

apt-get update && apt-get upgrade -y && apt-get dist-upgrade -y ; apt-get autoremove ; apt-get clean

How to get a reminder to update the OS

There is a little know feature in apt-get that allow you to run triggers after apt-get update runs successfully. It’s very poorly documented and only runs after an update, not the actual upgrade. None the less you can use this hook to create a timestamp to be checked each time the user logs in.

Create a file in /etc/apt/apt.conf.d/ with a name similar to 15update-stamp. Place the following content in it

APT::Update::Post-Invoke-Success {"touch /var/lib/apt/periodic/update-success-stamp 2>/dev/null || true";};

Each time the user logs in you can compare the current date to timestamp of the marker file /var/lib/apt/periodic/update-success-stamp to see how long since the last apt-get update was run.

Something in the user’s .profile like this:

# Check apt-get is run every few days
no_of_days=7 # How often we want to prompt


if [[ ! -e /var/lib/apt/periodic/update-success-stamp ]] ||
      $(( ( $(date +%s) - $(stat -c %Y /var/lib/apt/periodic/update-success-stamp) ) > $no_of_seconds )) ; then
     echo "It has been at least $no_of_days days since the last update"
     echo 'Please run "sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get -y upgrade"'
echo fi

Rename the Pi user account

I find this a convenience, rather than creating a second account. However caution is required as the following four files must be all updated consistently: /etc/group; /etc/passwd; /etc/sudoers; and /etc/shadow. Failure will often mean your OS image is useless and you need to copy Raspian to the SD card again. The following shell script will help

for i in /etc/group /etc/passwd /etc/sudoers /etc/shadow ; do
          sed -rie '/\b'pi'\b/s/\b'pi'\b/'NEW_NAME'/g' $i

You then need to immediately rename the home directory with mv /home/pi /home/NEW_NAME

You need privilege when doing this and I’m pretty paranoid about running a whole script under sudo so I run this as part of a larger setup script.

cat <<'EOF' | sudo bash -s pi NEW_NAME /home/pi
 for i in /etc/group /etc/passwd /etc/sudoers /etc/shadow ; do
      sed -ri -e '/\b'$1'\b/s/\b'$1'\b/'$2'/g' $i
 mv $3 /home/$2

Renaming the host

This is fairly easy. Just update the contents of /etc/hostname and /etc/hosts then reboot the Pi.

Force the Pi to check the filesystem (and repair if required) on every reboot

Add the text fsck.mode=force to the end of /boot/cmdline.txt

N.B. This file should be checked after every update. The following sed script will do this

sudo sed -i -e 's/ fsck\.\(repair\|mode\)=[^ ]*//;
                s/$/ fsck.mode=force' /boot/cmdline.txt

Consider installing some Python package management tools

sudo apt-get install python-setuptools &&
sudo easy_install pip &&
sudo pip install virtualenv virtualenvwrapper

It makes installing other packages (e.g ino for Arduino) a lot easier

Using Node.js?

Many node packages are very fussy about which version of Node they use on the Pi. Consider installing nvm 1st. The curl installer method works fine on the Pi.

Wish you could have something like Dropbox on the Pi?

Follow these instructions

Install Go programming language


if type go > /dev/null 2>&1 && [[ "$(go version 2>/dev/null)" =~ $INSTALL_VERSION ]] ;then
  echo $(go version)  already installed at $(go env GOROOT)
  exit 2

[ -d /usr/local/go ] && sudo rm -rf /usr/local/go

wget -O -${INSTALL_VERSION}.${OS}-${ARCH}.tar.gz | sudo tar -xzC /usr/local  -f -

echo '# Setup for golang' |sudo tee /etc/profile.d/  > /dev/null
echo 'PATH=$PATH:/usr/local/go/bin'|sudo tee -a /etc/profile.d/ > /dev/null

source /etc/profile.d/

I also like to install the Go toolchain in /usr/local/go/bin so I run this as well

sudo -i GOPATH=/tmp GOBIN=$(go env GOROOT)/bin go get -u

You’ll want some handy tools

Feel free to replace these suggestions with your own preferences

  1. A decent editor. Vim is a good choice, sudo apt-get install vim-gtk.
  2. The ssh connection to a Pi can often be broken. Use tmux to keep your login session active after your ssh session drops out.
  3. And you’ll want a version control tool, apt-get install git git-gui git-doc